As we are getting toward the end of our iPhone application project in GDes 5342 Web and Interface and talked a lot about the U's Mobile App Challenge last week, I thought I would talk more about the process of prototyping a mobile app. I have really enjoyed the class and this project so far. If you have any interest in user interface or user experience design, I would highly recommend you take it.
The first step in creating an iPhone applicaiton is to do user research in order to get a better idea of what there is a need for. At this point, you might only have an extremely vague idea of what your app might do - talking to people about your vague ideas often helps them develop. When starting user research, I had an idea to make something to the effect of an anonymous social network. If you have ever heard of PostSecret, you might have a better idea of what I wanted to do. After completing some preliminary user research, I had a ton of crazy ideas for what the app might amount to. Even if an idea seems crazy, it's important to keep it in mind - often times the craziest ideas are the best ideas, they just need to be toned down a bit.
After getting a better idea of what the app would do specifically, a flowchart and paper prototypes of the user interface of the app were made in order to conduct usability testing. Creating specific tasks for users to perform on the paper prototype helped me to understand where they would expect to find things and where buttons would take them.
Paper prototypes (above) usually aren't "designed" at all (aside from basic layout)- the point is to use the lo-fidelity mockup to find most of the usability issues before moving onto hi-fidelity prototypes (below), where making drastic changes takes much more time.
Now that we are getting to the end of project, we are currently conducting our last round of usability testing with hi-fidelity interactive prototypes. After that, the next step would be to start collaborating with a developer and making your prototype into a real working app!