Most of us knew that prototyping is a way to communicate quickly about what is possible with a given idea; an easier method of prototyping could be done via paper prototyping. The video "paper prototyping" illustrated below is a good one to get started with, if you are thinking about creating prototypes of your own.
Paper prototyping is a quick and an easier way to learn:
1. Is your idea, effective?
2. what your customers might be interested?
3. Find gaps in your idea, or fill in the missing pieces!
Once you collect the feedback from your paper prototyping, it might be a good idea to do a digital (software) prototype, using several tools that are available today. If you want to target a broader audience, then paper prototyping doesn't scale up and hence it would be worthy enough to invest in a digital prototyping. Based on my experience, I would recommend MS Expression Blend 3.0; it is a quick way to build your web portals or UI designs; bounded by SQL, or static data. I have used Visual studio and Power point in the past to build proto-types, but found that Expression Studio does a better job. How is Expression Blend better than others? One major aspect of the prototyping is the layout of the UI elements, Expression studio's layout is closer to human drawing when compared to the layout that you get out of other tools. But how does human drawing does better, over a polished look, exactly? To understand the difference, here is what I am talking about:
As you can see, the first combo box was done using power point and it is polished; while the second is done, using Expression Blend. When we use a polished outlook, the reviewers might tend to focus more on the aesthetics aspect of the design, rather than the design itself; that's how our brains work. So having a rougher sketch will help our brains to think broader and it does not funnel our thoughts.
Try it and share your thoughts!
Happy prototyping :)