In all their infinite wisdom, U2 once proclaimed, “You’re the real thing, even better than the real thing.”  While it’s debatable what that line exactly means, the important thing to remember is that it’s wrong.  Nothing’s better than the real thing, but sometimes you have to work with the closest possible thing – not nearly as catchy.  So you know, this is all just a long-winded way to start talking about prototyping.

Mobile app prototyping has become an essential tool in product development.  Gone are the days of only being able to envision your product through pencil sketches.  Initial drafts might still begin there, but there’s certainly no way to test actual app functionality with sketches, no matter how hard you press on the paper.

A static mockup simply can’t tell you everything you need to know.  It’s an outdated method.  Nowadays designers need to communicate what they are doing as directly as possible, so that adjustments can be made in the most efficient manner.  Developers can talk about how something works forever, but until you actually show it, it doesn’t truly sink in.

Apps, of course, are interactive.  There’s no substitute for experiencing that first-hand.  Apps are about touch.  What did U2 say about touch?  All I could find was their 1980 song “Touch” where they said, “T-t-touching you, t-t-touching you, t-t-touching you.”  Not groundbreaking lyrics, but touch is important… you get it.  A prototype might be a practice design, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be fully functional.  You’re testing user experience after all.  Remember, you’re looking for the closest possible thing.

With a working prototype, Product Owners get a better sense of what their app will look like – in their hands, not just their heads.  A PO can understand and agree or disagree with what’s being developed.  The really important aspect here is that they are looking at their app from a user’s perspective.  The way a user sees and interacts with the app can be truly visualized; their experience can be predicted and estimated.  The surprises can be minimized.

A functioning mobile app mock up serves more purposes than you might think.  Not only does it demonstrate an idea, it can further explore and test it as well.   That’s why mobile app prototyping is an essential part of the Rootstrap process.  It’s a major component of your detailed blueprint that will be given to your development team.  It makes sure they are on the exact same page as you.  It helps identify early issues and problems.  It makes the process cost effective and can streamline development to help your MVP.  Sometimes the closest possible thing is the best possible thing.

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CEO and Co-founder of Neon Roots

Ben Lee is the co-founder and CEO of Neon Roots, a digital development agency with a mission to destroy the development model and rebuild it from the ground up. After a brief correspondence with Fidel Castro at age nine, Ben decided to start doing things his own way, going from busboy to club manager at a world-class nightclub before he turned 18. Since then, Ben has founded or taken a leading role in 5 businesses in everything from software development to food and entertainment.