Tips to Help Stakeholders Understand Prototypes / by Gavin Lau

“Presenters need to steer the ship.”

As designers, we typically pick up new software pretty quickly. Often due to most of our days being spent working with it. Technical software like Lightroom, Photoshop, Sketch or even text editors like Atom become normal to us. Thus, when we incorporate simplified prototypes, we could never expect there to be any confusion. 

Yet, there can be. 

It’s important not to project our familiarity with software, or practices onto others–especially, stakeholders. From small startup CEO’s to the founder of a global fashion brand, I’ve seen people stumble through prototypes. It has nothing to do with their position or knowledge. What matters is that hiccups can imprint themselves on the brain of someone you’re seeking approval from – or collaborating with, potentially affecting your ability to move forward.

For example: you go to a new restaurant. You wait a while to get seated. Your server forgets to refill your water. You start to get hungry and your order hasn’t been taken. They’re playing Barbara Streisand classics a little too loud. Finally, you get your dish. It’s delicious, yes, but you feel like the experience was a let down. The product didn’t exempt the errors of the service. Each imperfection was a dash on a board that was tallied up at the end of the experience. It is up to the designer to minimize those marks. 

“The product didn’t exempt the errors of the service.”

No matter how perfect a user flow seems, there’s always a bit of barrier to entry on learning a new tool. Think of the first time you encountered a new product. Was there a slight moment of intimidation when first experiencing its interface? Think of that and amplify it by ten. Designers are accustomed to new tech. Many aren’t. Clients may often just want to stick with what they know. Still in love with PowerPoint, using Internet Explorer or still rocking skeuomorphic iOS 6. Preferring endless email chains to concise Slack conversations. Hesitant to trust Venmo or Square Cash. I’m generalizing a bit, but you get the point. 


How can we smooth prototype presentation to stakeholders?

A former creative director I worked with wanted to understand Marvel. We sat down, walked through the front end and back end of a prototype. With each tip, the time needed to understand each lesson minimized. She was proficient in only a few minutes and became a fan of the tool I was hoping to standardize.

After showing a simple navigation open interaction for a mobile site, my client was so pleased with how simple the prototype was and how easily she could understand my thinking that she happily approved the design.

I once presented a customization tool to the founder of a company that generates hundreds of millions of dollars a year. I thought sharing the link with those in the room to follow along would be a wise idea. I was wrong. Each person started tapping away leading to question after question, which I was eventually going to methodically manoeuvre them through. I spent my time belaying questions instead of presenting. Point being: presenters need to steer the ship.

You may find prototypes have a different use in your work, so also explain their purpose when sharing. I will sometimes use prototypes outside of UI/UX; I can easily share 20 pictures, allowing users to slide through them and simply reply with which are his or her favorite. Without conveying a basic function of the prototype – or how to use it – you may add a hiccup to their experience.

I’ve made the mistake of saying “Ok, I’ve changed the color of the header. What do you think?” only to receive: “Where’s the updated file?” This was due to the failure of doing tips one and two.

  1. Get the ball rolling. Show your audience a simple interaction to trigger that “ah, that’s how it works” moment that smashes down any entry barriers.
  2. Make them feel savvy. Like familiarizing yourself in a new city, you can know your way around without knowing every nook and cranny. Explain the purpose of a prototype and show them how hotspots and gestures work to help them feel proficient in use. Their empowerment is your empowerment.
  3. Keep the presentation on track. When an interface is in front of someone with vested interest and the freedom to man the device, they will begin tapping away. You’ll be talking about how you access your account page while they’re off looking at an ‘About Us’ page. Their distraction is ground you have to make back up.
  4. Give them a journey. If you want to show a stakeholder a flow, tell them what task to try. For instance, “try accessing your shopping cart” or “now, navigate back to your profile page”. Giving them a destination allows them to stay in the confines of what you’re trying to explain. They see through your eyes how their product should work, whilst reinforcing trust. Each one of these wins gets you closer to an affirmed approval on your work.
  5. Explain how they’ll receive your changes. With tools like Marvel, your prototype link magically updates. Clients may often expect an updated file.
  6. Bookmark it! Busy clients are always on the go. They don’t want to sift through emails/Slack channels for links you’ve sent. Suggest they add your link as a bookmark, so that they can easily access it from their phones when revisions are ready. It’s a nice way to show you care about saving their precious time. Remember it’s all about delivering a good experience!
  7. Feedback! Most prototype apps allow for direct commenting, which saves a lot of time for both parties. No need to toggle between Slack and the prototype for them to send feedback. Their thoughts are expressed directly on top of your design, so nothing can be missed. This pairs perfectly with the bookmarked link. A bustling stakeholder can simply tap the bookmark icon and immediately let me know what they think.

It sounds silly to have to explain such simple things like prototypes to stakeholders or even to have to explain how to explain it to them. As I’ve learned, however, the ingrained ability of designers to understand visual messages and the familiarity with such practices can be a luxury that not everyone has. That’s why we’re helping them in the first place. 

“Anything we can do to help familiarise them with best practices and tools is a service to our industry.”


On a bigger scale, anything you can do to optimize the experience of a client/stakeholder working with you only enriches your value to them. The founder of a bustling startup has a million things to worry about. Don’t be number 1,000,001.