January 31, 2016
Paper prototyping is such a great way to flush out ideas and engage the entire team, designers and non-designers. It is fast and collaborative, but most importantly accessible for everyone on the team. We have such great digital tools today like inVision and Proto.io, but there is always a place for good old sketching and doodling. There are a lot of good articles and books out there on paper prototyping (see links below). I will outline my process and some tips.
Paper prototyping is great for early ideation stages when your team already knows the user needs and features you want to build, but you are still working on exact user flows and interactions.
- Collaborative: the simplicity of paper brings on board people of different backgrounds and all levels of design and technical expertise.
- Tactile: just as user interactions should be; makes it easy to prototype mobile applications.
- Get good early feedback: allows users to focus on flaws in overall interaction, and not so much in details of visual representation.
Don’t try to create art
The goal is not to make your paper sketches look like blueprints for visual design. You can figure out those aspects later. It is important to focus on task flows and not how you would design them in high fidelity. A common misconception about paper prototyping is that you cannot use it for user testing. On the contrary, you will get more quality feedback on interaction flows. High fidelity prototypes give users a feeling that the app is almost or already finished, and might prevent your interviewees from giving feedback on the important features. There is a high risk of getting superficial feedback, like “I don’t like this color” or “maybe you could make these buttons more round”.
To get the most out of team prototyping sessions, make sure that everyone knows the rules of the game.
- Agree on some conventions. Make sure you all agree on the visual language, like what color you are using for clickable elements or what images and other common elements are.
- Create reusable stencils. Make paper widgets for different areas of your application: header, footer, buttons, and even larger parts. It will help your team to experiment easily with different layouts.
Who said paper prototypes cannot be interactive? If you are designing a mobile app, try POP app. It allows you to take pictures of your prototype screens and link them together through hot spots. This way you can test your ideas with real users and see how they move through tasks.