Prototyping

How Prototyping Fits Into Your Product Life Cycle

October 19, 2017

People often ask us questions about what we do and how the average person can use our product. They might see how it can be helpful for mobile app designers, but some entrepreneurs have a hard time grasping how it fits into their own business idea. The versatility of mobile app prototyping is even more difficult for them to understand.

We’ve worked really hard to make sure entrepreneurs with no prototyping experience can use Proto.io just as easily as seasoned mobile app designers. Because we love what we do and believe in our company, it’s easy for us to tell anyone and everyone all about mobile app prototyping and how it can fit into their product life cycle. It’s a simple answer, really: it fits in everywhere!

A Brief Overview of the Product Life Cycle

Decades ago, business analysts developed a chart to illustrate the general cycle that every product goes through during the course of its life and they called it the product life cycle. It consisted of four major phases that are still widely accepted today: development, growth, maturity, and decline.

Since its inception, some MBAs have separated the development phase into “development” and “introduction” and some other nicknames (shown in the image below) have been given to each stage, but for the most part, experts agree the cycle holds as true as it did in the 1960s.

A graphic representation of the product lifecycle.
Where is your mobile app right now?

It’s important to remember that, while every product goes through these stages, the amount of time products spend in each stage could vary wildly. For example, let’s say your new app hits the App Store and it doesn’t seem to go very far — it gets released, gets maybe a couple hundred downloads, and then you see a steep drop-off as your app quickly dies. It might not seem like the app touched all the phases, but it did. It was just very quick.

In this case, the development phase was probably the longest. It might have taken you years to design, develop, and test that app before it finally got released. But unfortunately, your shining star lost its sheen before long and your cash cow ran a bit dry. Before you knew it, you had a dog on your hands.

How Prototyping Fits In

If this is how your product life cycle looks — with short growth and a quick decline — you likely skipped one of the most important tools at your disposal: mobile app prototyping. We might be a little biased, but we believe prototyping is like a secret weapon. One you can use over and over again to work out the kinks and find ways to improve your mobile app. One you definitely want to steal and keep all to yourself.

The Development Phase

It’s easy to see how prototyping fits into the development phase because you’re still in “pre-production.” The designers are wireframing and sketching, the developers are starting to consider code, and with any luck, the investors are writing checks (we have some advice on that front). But before your mobile app heads to your developers, you need to make sure you’ve tested things inside and out, and mobile app prototyping is the way to do it.

Some entrepreneurs rush mobile apps to the developers because they want to get the ball rolling — and that is completely understandable. They’re investing their own money and spending a copious amount of time getting this venture off the ground. Who wouldn’t want to push things along to get to the revenue generation point? Impatience can easily kick in, but skipping the prototyping portion of development can end up costing you more in the end.

A top-down view of a development team sitting around a wood table for a meeting.

By pressing pause long enough to create a functional prototype, you’ll be able to find problems before you pay a coder a bunch of money to write it. Proto.io makes testing easy by creating a link so you can let anyone play with your prototype. Using their feedback, you can refine your interactions, tweak your color scheme, and make sure the app you’re envisioning is the app you’re actually creating.

The Growth Phase

Even the most astute designers can believe their work is done at this point. The app launched, it’s gaining some traction, and (hopefully) the download total is adding up pretty quick. And if you were strictly hired on a contract basis, this might be true, but if this is your baby, your dream, then your work is basically just getting started.

What makes the growth phase so important is that this is going to be the time when your users can start providing feedback. Some particularly happy (or unfortunately unhappy) users will choose to leave reviews in the app store on their own volition — and you should be prompting users to leave reviews on occasion when your app opens. But you need to ask pointed questions as well.

It’s important to ask your users if your app is accomplishing your goals. If you developed an app to keep people organized, this is your first opportunity to make sure it’s actually keeping people organized, because if it’s not, you’ll be hitting that decline much sooner than you want to. The way you figure this out is through surveying.

This is also when you start to build a bank of user data. You can see how they’re using your app, what pages they’re visiting the most, and how much time they’re spending with your pride and joy. This is especially important because it’ll show you what’s working, versus what isn’t.

A photo of five people on their smartphones leaning against a fence.
Make sure to keep a core group of testers throughout the life of your mobile app.

Maybe people are making their to-do lists and using the app often, but aren’t taking advantage of the calendar sync feature or pop-up reminders. This allows you to create more specific (and therefore, effective) surveys. Do your users even know these features are available to them? If they do and choose not to use them — why? Are the reminders annoying or do they just want more customizable parameters?

And this is where prototyping fits into the growth phase. You’ll always want to be tweaking your mobile app design based on feedback from users and updating it in accordance with the newest design trends. But before you roll out that update, you need to make sure everything is working properly, so log back into your Proto.io account and edit your prototype.

Keeping your mobile app fresh with the irreplaceable assistance of prototyping can help prolong this growth phase. Current users will get more out of the app and with some prompting, may just leave you a glowing review, which will lead to more downloads and more satisfied customers.

The Maturity Phase

The maturity phase is tough because it happens around the time you start to feel comfortable. Your mobile app is doing well, you’re getting good reviews, and you’re feeling like you’ve finally landed on solid ground. This phase is often dubbed the “cash cow” because your expenses are pretty low and you should raking in the dough (unless your app is free, in which case, you should be adding up your downloads).

This is often when business owners start to ease off the gas and coast a little bit. They take a vacation or they buy a new car and those are fine things, especially if this is their first taste of success. But it’s crucial at this point to not coast for too long because this is precisely when your competitors are coming for your users.

Hopefully, you used prototyping during your growth phase and you’re now enjoying a nice cushy maturity phase. This is the perfect time to dive back into your user data and see how they’re faring.

A photo of a woman checking her smartphone at night on the boardwalk.
Our app lets you check your prototype from anywhere and everywhere.

What new features aren’t going over as well as you’d hoped? What are users really enjoying? What do they want more of? Send new surveys out, sift through the responses, and then get back into your prototype. Doing so can extend your product’s life cycle for a few months or even a couple years (depending on the market saturation level and superiority of your mobile app).

Of course, this is assuming you want to continue with this particular app and that it’s still relevant. If it’s not something you wish to pursue further, this is the perfect time to start developing a new product to take its place.

And the Decline

This is the beginning of the end, most likely. It happens to every good mobile app at some point. The market is saturated and users have dropped off. There’s no shame in it, but you do have to make a decision about where to go from here. There are basically two ways to go about this phase: revitalization and re-launch, or moving on to a new mobile app. Either way, let prototyping be your guide as you move forward with your plans.

If you’re planning to revitalize your app, you’ll need to revisit that user data and be prepared to make major shifts. You’re basically starting over in development and looking for ways to completely change your product. As if we even have to say it, mobile app prototyping is going to be your best bet here.

And if you’re planning to let sleeping dogs lie and focus your energy on a new project, prototyping will be your best friend as you start fresh. As you move through the life cycle with your new app, be careful to not take the prototype for granted.

A photo of a woman typing on her laptop in a brightly lit office.
Prototyping is a useful exercise for any mobile app designer.

Mobile App Prototyping Provides a Competitive Advantage

Be sure to revisit your prototype whenever you’re making changes or adding new features. Send the testing link to as many people as you want, but it’s important to keep a core group involved throughout the life of your app. These people will seek out the problems that used to exist and really push to make sure these aspects are fully functional.

By the same token, new testers will be able to offer a different point of view and may be able to see potential in your mobile app that you can’t even see. We can’t say it enough: seeing the problems and ideas for future improvement before your app launches will save you both time and money. Who wouldn’t want that extra competitive advantage in this dog-eat-dog industry?

Proto.io lets anyone build mobile app prototypes that feel real. No coding or design skills required. Bring your ideas to life quickly! Sign up for a free 15-day trial of Proto.io today and get started on your next mobile app design.

How do you use mobile app prototyping during your product life cycle? Let us know by tweeting us @Protoio!

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