Paper Prototyping for Digital Solutions...
Even if you can code up a digital product quickly, a paper prototype may be a better starting point.
WHY paper prototype
- Prototyping your way to a better-defined solution is always a good idea, but doubly so for digital prototyping – when the product isn’t something physical you can see in front of you, it’s easy to forget all the design decisions that go into it. As you build a paper prototype, you’ll find yourself thinking through your prototype more clearly. You’ll need to take a stand as you go, from small decisions (“should login happen before or after purchase?”) to big ones (“does it even make sense for this to be an iPad app?”)
- Paper prototyping removes one big barrier to testing your digital solution with real users. You may need to work with somebody else to create a digital prototype, but you can create a paper prototype with materials you have at your desk.
- A paper prototype looks much less polished than a digital prototype, so users are likely to give you more honest feedback. Of course, you’ll always tell users that you want honest, no-holds-barred feedback, but they still may be reluctant to criticize your work. By presenting a rough-edged prototype, you’re making it very clear that you’re not attached to your idea and that you welcome all reactions to it.
- Your paper prototype is a physical record of design decisions. Digital prototypes change so fast that it’s nice to have a tangible representation of where your solution is.
HOW to paper prototype
- Draw screens on paper, using one piece of paper per screen. To avoid redrawing similar screens, you can use Post-It notes to change out buttons, images, or other dynamic data.
- Instruct your user to use her finger to “click” on buttons and text. You play the part of the computer, manipulating the screens. Don’t explain to the user what’s “supposed” to happen – the assumptions she makes about your solution are incredibly valuable to you! Keep the principles for good user testing in mind.
- A think-aloud protocol is one way to get visibility into your user’s experience as she “clicks” through your prototype. Ask your user to explain her thoughts as she goes. You may need to prompt your user with “what’s going through your mind right now?”, “please, keep talking,” or “why did you make that choice?” to keep her in the think-aloud mindset.
- Use the physical dimensions of the device you’re prototyping for. A manila folder makes a great laptop. A large post-it pad is about the same size as a smartphone. A letter-size piece of paper folded in half is a good stand-in for a tablet.
- Also, remember to set up the use environment. Don’t just focus on what appears on the screen. Is your user in a grocery store? At the kitchen table? At a restaurant? In bed?
- If you don’t feel confident sketching out buttons, menus, and icons, there’s lots of inspiration out there to help you. Icon sets like this and this can be a visual reminder of what certain symbols look like. You can even order stencils that will help you draw UI elements. Be warned, though, that stencils may artificially limit what you decide to include in your prototype.