Mark O'Brien recently wondered out loud how we ever planned new sites before prototyping was standard procedure at Newfangled. That distant era was before my time here, but I can imagine that compiling all the details before programming must have been very challenging. A recent project (the site is not live yet) made me appreciate how quickly a prototype can be adjusted for a team to focus on substantial changes and efficiently make solid decisions.
The prototype for the new Dynisco site (not yet live) was all but approved when the team decided to change the product organization, which at that point strictly followed the product catalog. There was a simple hierarchy of category > subcategory > product page.
We were close to our intended deadline for the prototyping phase and suddenly faced with many options and new ideas. We needed to reorganize the products with the goal of keeping any product reachable via two mouse clicks or less, and the clients needed to be allowed to approve decisions as quickly as possible.
We left the staightforward catalog organization and ended with one category, Sensors, split into two types, each having two levels of unique subcategories before the destination product page.
In order to allow access to the product pages by two clicks, one of the sublevels became sorted sections on a subcategory page.
The remaining three first-level categories, Instrumentation, Materials Properties Testers and Accessories, had no sublevels, so for them it is one click to a Product page.
We ended up with a better sorting funnel for Dynisco's products. In this case the schedule had to be adjusted a bit, but not too much, and I know that the amount of communication between us, the agency, and the client would have been exponentially more without the quickly adjustable prototype to focus on.
Our client appreciated this too; he added that he "felt the ease with which the changes could be made, sometime even live on our calls, [making] the process easy and overall very fluid."
--Matt Carrara, Dynisco