I spent some time today developing a rapid prototype of an app idea using Briefs, a brilliant open source framework by Rob Rhyne. I’ve only been using it for 6 hours, but I can already see it becoming an essential part of my design process.
I’ve been drawing flow diagrams, rough screens, building paper prototypes (using my iPhone “template”, pictured above), but the benefits of being able to quickly test functionality directly on the device are huge – there is nothing like being able to interact with your sketches to get a sense of how the app will feel.
Briefs is a very clever idea – you write instructions in a simple CSS-like syntax (it actually reminded me a bit of my early days of timeline-based flash scripting), compile the actions and images using a command line tool and load them on to your device through XCode – what you get is a functional imitation of an app.
Because it’s basically just a list of images, links, and transitions you can use anything from rough sketches to fully fledged designs, all without having to invest the time coding – great for trying out screen flows and sequences without any risk.
In building my prototype today I’ve already identified a few flow issues that I missed on paper and that would have been much more difficult to change after implementation.
What I love about briefs as compared to other similar concepts is the fact that I can test out ideas in extreme low fidelity – when I’m playing around at this stage of a project I don’t want to get bogged down in small implementation details or finicky design changes (that all comes later). I just want to know if I’m on the right track. For this purpose I actually find very rough wireframes more useful than hi-fidelity ones – it helps keep focus on the action (and interaction) instead of the superficial aspects of the application, and for working at that level of detail Briefs is perfect.