What is rapid application development (RAD) and how can it help user interface designers?
Rapid application development is a software development methodology that emphasizes minimal planning and rapid prototyping. It is an act first, think later method. The planning takes place through the fast flow of creative ideas and problem solving that take place during the rapid prototyping process. Thus, rapid application development is very flexible and leaves room for endless improvements and a quicker software writing process. In this article I will take a look at the history of the method as well as the pros and cons of using the strategy in user interface design.
Rapid application development: history and implementation
Rapid application development was introduced as a software design method in 1991 by James Martin, an IT consultant and Pulitzer Prize nominated author. Since its inception, rapid application development (RAD) has evolved from strictly iterative development and prototypes to a method that can be defined more broadly, encompassing the use of various software frameworks and web application frameworks.
Rapid application development is a method that is designed first and foremost to deliver systems fast. Before venturing down this speedy path in a user interface design project, make sure that you are using it to develop an interface design that can be delivered quickly. For example, it is probably not the best method for designing a complex air traffic control system, but would work well if you are revamping an extant e-Commerce site. Here are a few criteria that can help you discern whether or not to implement the method for the design of your new user interface:
- Project Scope: a project with a scope that is narrow and well-defined is suitable for rapid application development, but a project with a broad and obscure scope is not.
- Project Data: Project data that already exists (and therefore does not need to be analyzed) is suitable for RAD, but project data that needs to be generated and analyzed is not.
- Project Decisions: Project decisions that can be made quickly by a small group of people who are always on-call are suitable for RAD, project decisions that must be made by a wide-range of people who are not always available are not.
- Project Team: A small project team (about six or less) is suitable for RAD, a large product team (more than six) is not. The abovementioned criteria can serve as a guideline to help you discern whether or not rapid application development is the right user interface design method for you, but it is ultimately your choice. If you do decide that rapid application development is a good fit, a typical RAD process can be broken down into the following steps:
- Select a team: you should choose a team of designers/collaborators who will be able to give timely, efficient input and feedback.
- Analysis: Assess your project goals and understand what you need to do, why you need to do it, and how you need to do it to realize the goal of your project.
- Design workshop: Create a design workshop during which you and your team can rapidly iterate, prototype and conduct usability tests on each updated version of your user interface design until it has reached a point of satisfaction that aligns itself with your goals. At this point you are ready for implementation. The process of RAD is relatively unstructured so as not to impede the creative flow, but make sure you can work many uninterrupted hours—RAD is not for the faint of heart.
Pros and Cons of rapid application development in user interface design projects
Rapid application development can be a very effective user interface design method if used for the right reasons and under the right circumstances. RAD promotes a collaborative and creative environment in which all stakeholders can take part in a very detailed project. RAD can give fast results and bring forth successful new ideas that might have seemed too risky to use in a more deliberate process. However, RAD also has its drawbacks. Its use is contingence upon a strong, cohesive team that does not have time constraints. Its quick nature can allow for many errors and does not promote organization or well-thought-out solutions. However, experience shows that the consequences of RAD pitfalls can generally be avoided if you carefully assess whether or not it is an appropriate method for your project—careful assessment at the beginning can open the floodgates to rapid success.
About the Author:
Pidoco.com – Interface Design, Wireframe Software, Interface Design Software, Wireframe Tools, Interface Prototyping, Clickable Wireframes, Usability Testing and Digital Paper Prototyping. User centered design for improved user interface design.
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