Sometimes in design you can’t just jump in and see what works. And for me, that is a bit hard. When people are standing around deciding the “best” way to do something, arguing the merits without seeing the result, I will often just go and do the thing. That way we have something tangible to compare, change, and discuss rather than abstracts. So finding something where that approach is… counterproductive, is a bit like hitting my head on a low beam: startling, annoying, and gets my attention.
So if I can’t just jump in and mess with things, what do I need to do instead? Simply put: I need to make a “prototype”. By which I mean, I need to make a rough draft of what I want the final product to look like. And that leads to three possible ways of doing it.
First is the option I use most often, make a mock up in program. For my game projects that would mean either making a new scene or rearranging an existing scene in Unity. The big advantage is that this is like putting paint on canvas, if it works no further work is needed. The two big downsides are that it can take a lot of time and suffers a lot from “good enough” syndrome, where you have it in place so it is “good enough”.
Next up is to make a mock up outside of the development software. My first instinct would be to make a Power Point “presentation”. This would mostly be an artistic representation of the final product, sometimes with screenshots of the game itself. Upsides are that it is fairly easy to edit a “completed” idea and doing repetitive images is as simple as copy/paste. Downsides are that, again, it can take a while to get things in the positions you want them. And once you have invested that much effort you might say “good enough”.
Finally is the solution I was resistant to trying, but now embrace: paper prototyping. Simply put it is drawing out the ideas on paper. Even if it is just prototyping a part of the UI design, it is so much faster and cheaper to test things in paper. That is the primary advantage of paper prototyping: the speed of being able to try things. So long as you can put aside the idea of needing the prototype to “look good” and simply accept it as “functional” it works wonders. But on the downside, if you need to wow someone with the looks… this isn’t going to do it. But that isn’t the point anyway. The point of paper prototyping is to get lots of ideas out rapidly. Then you can see what works and what doesn’t.
To loop everything back to the start, and my method of “just try it and see if it works”. I think I have come around on the idea of paper prototyping actually fitting that idea. It isn’t just debating ideas, but seeing how they could work. And doing it much faster than most other methods.