A stylized UX workflow featuring a screen, some gears, and user interface icons
In an era where responsive, or mobile-first, design is ruling the day, it’s essential to use a design process that is quick and efficient. As Scott Hurff put it in his article on rapid prototyping for Smashing Magazine:

Rapid prototyping’s primary purpose is to focus your already limited time. You’re cutting out fluff, tangents, and feature-creep to bring to life a very specific use case or workflow. Your job is to identify that:

  • You’re building the right thing.
  • This piece of your product solves the right problem.
  • This interaction is something your team is capable of building within a reasonable timeframe.

The first goal of prototyping is to test, prove, or conceptualize an idea that’s in your head within a limited timeframe or budget.

I use a tool you may have heard of called UXPin for rapid prototyping. I use it on client projects to create deliverables such as personas, wireframes, clickable prototypes, and even business process models.

Below I explain why I like UXPin in particular, and why tools like UXPin have sprung up due to the changing needs of designers everywhere.

People Are Making Stuff in as Little as Two Weeks

Most organizations simply don’t have the time or budget to spend months vetting a new design, or redesign, of a product or service. When a client approaches me with an idea, my first job is to help them conceptualize that idea as quickly and efficiently as possible.

For me this means:

  • Showing them something visual that displays key functions and design features
  • Making something I can test with users
  • Not locking them into code

The great thing about tools like UXPin is that they allow you to do all the above with a few simple clicks and virtually no training.

A screenshot of the UXPin rapid prototyping tool showing the design of a mobile app

Essentially, this new generation of tools allows you to use common UI elements like buttons, typefaces, and screen sizes to collaborate on prototypes with team members. You can drag and drop an image from anywhere, or can use the common elements from UXPin’s UI library.

It’s kind of like Photoshop, but made specifically for UX designers.

People Are Re-Making Stuff All the Time

The other thing I use UXPin for is redesigns. Clients often come to me with an existing website or mobile app they’ve cobbled together, but it’s not working like they’d hoped. They’re not getting enough hits, their content isn’t trending in the right places, or they’re way behind where they thought they’d be for monthly downloads, or monthly active users, or both.

Here, UXPin allows me to test a new, clickable prototype against the existing design, as I just recently did with this prototype of an interactive tour for an online mapping tool:

A screenshot of an interactive tour I designed as a rapid prototype

You can insert screenshots or actual UI elements from developers, or use those native to UXPin. This enables you to make a full-blown prototype in a few hours, or to prototype individual features in minutes.

Most importantly: any prototype you make in UXPin can be deployed as a link to a clickable prototype, so you can transition to usability testing very easily.

UX Designers Need Tools that Don’t Lock Them into Code

This is a bit of a controversial topic in the design world right now, where lots of developers are learning about UX and adding it to their list of skill sets. I firmly believe that UX is something you have to practice full-time to be any good at, however. I wouldn’t describe myself as a developer, even though I make custom WordPress sites for people, because I just don’t live in that world full time.

There’s also a real danger in putting a particular design platform in front of the needs of the people who will be using the design. I’ve never met a developer who is equally good at every language or platform available. Similarly, people that describe themselves as being equally good at development and UX are typically people who are either geniuses, or are mistating some of their expertise.

Don’t get me wrong: the design unicorns do exist, but the rest of us need tools that can help us make and remake things quickly to keep up with a very agile web-based marketplace. Without these tools, it’s too easy to shortchange UX in favor of going with what makes the most sense from a purely technological point-of-view.