I am a big believer in prototyping. The quicker I can get functionality to my users the better. I often find that it helps my users visualize how to use the system I am building and often this will lead to useful feedback. However, I do have a caveat when building prototypes for customers—make sure they understand the difference between the prototype and the product.
I remember the first major contract I landed many years ago which was to build online trading system. After we signed the contract I did a little prototyping. A week later I met with my client to show him some panels I had designed and get his feedback on the layout and usability.
As I was walking him through the different screens I could see he was starting to get uneasy. As I talked I could see him becoming paler and tenser, as if he saw a ghost. After a while I asked him if he was ok. He finally said, “You mean to tell me that I just wrote you a check for over $100,000 for less than a week of work?”
“No” I said. “See, I’m clicking the Ok button and nothing’s happening. These are just ideas on what the screens could look like; there’s no functionality yet.”
About 18 months later as we were wrapping up the project I reminded him of that first “demo” and of how far we came since then. He finally understood.