I create concept models in order to provide a high-level view of an initial idea. The models usually take the form of flowcharts or diagrams that show the interrelatedness of all project components. I may also create a sequence of screen sketches or a storyboard to fill in pivotal details.
Several documents may be involved in any given software development process. I often draft concept documents in order to present an idea to a potential funder. These papers include an overview of the project concept, possibly a diagram or flowchart showing how the separate components are connected, and usually several screen shots to suggest an overall "look and feel." I draft design documents to flesh out project components, features and navigation, and I draft functional specifications to fill in details such as feature parameters and user experience.
Every software development process benefits from prototyping in one form or another. In the early stages, I find that showing pencil sketches to a small group of potential users often saves significant time and effort down the road. During the design phase, creating rapid prototypes can help to determine whether a suggested feature or interface will work in practice. Toward completion, I may build a highly functional and graphically sophisticated prototypes for both usability testing and marketing purposes.
Usability testing involves showing project ideas to potential users and incorporating their feedback into the design. Depending on the stage of the project, this process may use materials ranging from simple pencil sketches to more functional prototypes. Regardless of method, in order to get the most useful results testers must allow users to manipulate the materials themselves, and they must collect valid feedback. It is then up to the design team to determine whether and how to integrate that feedback while considering time and budget constraints.
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