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After watching the creative teams for my Agency Clients struggle with the conversion from print to digital, I think it’s time for some radical new rules for the entire creative and account teams.

Some agencies are still clinging to the print processes that made them lots of money in the past, but that print-based project work is going away, or at least it will never be the cash cow it once was. The entire workflow is still based on the familiar print process of high fidelity comps, giant printouts, and bloated job jackets migrating around the building. It would make Mad Men proud.

It’s Digital Stupid

Most of what agencies are getting paid to deliver now is digital. Web sites, iPhone and iPad apps, and HTML5-heavy web sites. All digital. All of these have one thing in common: user experience. User experience is what the user can see and do with these client projects.

Print-based descriptions of the user experience always falls flat. Wireframes, detailed functional specs, storyboards, and such all try to give you a flavor for the user experience, but most clients at best don’t get them, or at worst won’t even read them.

Prototypes: Early, Fast, Iterative

The successful agency clients are migrating to prototyping. The really smart ones are using prototyping as the first step, and an ongoing process throughout the project life cycle. Even in the pitch stage, prototypes help clients understand what they are buying, and help agencies focus on the parts they need to deliver. All the other collateral (project briefs, functional specs) becomes less important.

Every TEAM MEMBER Must Be Able to CREATE a Prototype

The new rule going forward, is everyone on the team, including the account folks must be able to understand what a prototype is, learn how to prototype, AND  be able to create one as needed. Anyone that can possibly interface with a client in any capacity, should be able to create a prototype.

I’m talking about making the images of an interface, linking them in some clickable or tappable fashion, and then running them on the device they will be consumed on, from the desktop, to the iPad, or to the iPhone.

Interactive and on the device. Not storyboards. Not handwaving and explanations near comps on the wall. Get interactive on the device.

Thinking Digital

There is an entire thinking process that happens when you start with a clean sheet of paper, and try to define a user experience. It’s the answers to the questions, such as what does the user see first? What can the user do next? How does this process work? What if I want to skip a step? How do I get back to the home screen?

All those questions carefully answered, becomes a user experience.

Training AND Coding – It’s Too Expensive

Clients often say,”It would be way too expensive to train the members of my team.”

Not really. I’ve trained clients in a simple process to using Keynote, and exporting linked PDFs, and then running those PDFs within really inexpensive iPhone or iPad apps, that make the tappable PDF look like an app.

How long did that training take? One hour in a lunch and learn. I’ve taken folks that don’t have a clue about programming, HTML or any technical ability, and had them creating prototypes the same day.

I started with paper prototypes. Something they could do with some 3 x 5 cards, and a Sharpie. Then I had them create a simple resume-like app for the iPhone. I asked them to start on the iPhone home screen, then go to their app home page, and flesh out the rest.

For some it was an epiphany. For some others it was a little daunting. But for all, it introduced them to a concrete way of “thinking digital”.

I had them pair off with their paper designs. One would play computer, one would be the user, and have them interact with their prototypes.

Paper Prototype Testing

Paper Prototype Testing


At the end of the exercise, everyone in the room knew what “thinking digital” meant.

In a simple process, I showed them how to create a Keynote presentation, import those images, add some hyperlinks, and export a PDF. I had a version of my paper prototype running on an iPhone in a few minutes.

Watching the class see the paper prototype, then the one on the device for some was mind blowing. “It is that simple?” They could not believe it.

Then you could see the wheels turning in people’s heads. “I could show a prototype concept to a client, and make sure we’re on the right track”.

There is a company called Keynotopia that has created templates for Keynote and Powerpoint for all of the major digital platforms. And a special PDF viewer for the iPad and iPhone that loads every single page in memory, and provides a smooth display with all the transitions from taps lightening fast.

It took me less than an hour to make my first prototype. A few days later I was teaching others one-on-one. A month later I put together a one-hour lunch and learn. After that, a book that explains the process.

Schedule Your Team Training for Next Week

There is no excuse. Everyone on your team should know how to prototype. You can be the evangelist that learns it, then teach your team.

Imagine if everyone could prototype. Imagine if everyone on your team could put together a tappable prototype on the target device, and show it to the team for group discussion, or to the client.

Would that help you sell more digital business?

Chris Kania

Chris Kania

Freelance UX Consultant
Chris Kania


UX pro by day, drummer by night.
Chris Kania
Chris Kania

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