Paper Prototyping 101

Using paper prototypes is a great way to test an idea and get feedback quickly. You can test whether a layout makes sense to users and make changes quickly if they run into issues in addition to layout. You can also test information, architecture, content, structure, task flows and interaction design. Let’s run through how to run a test using paper prototypes. First, you’ll want to gather your supplies, your paper prototype tape to create a focus area and extra paper for iterations. Your paper prototype should be a collection of screens, one sheet of paper for each screen. I prefer to use hand drawn sketches, but you can also use low fidelity digital wire frames if you’re more comfortable, whichever is easiest to iterate in your collection of screens. You’ll want to include some type of loading indicator, whether it’s an overlay or an entire sheet of paper. This will be used when it’s taking longer than expected to find a screen in your stack so it doesn’t take the user out of the experience. You may also want to include in under-construction page in the event a user clicks on a link for a page that isn’t represented in your collection of screens to keep the user focused on the prototype and tasks. You may also want a printed or written list of tasks for the user to refer to while going through the test. A focus area for the screens can be blocked out on the table with tape, or you can cut out a shape of a phone or browser to maintain a single area for the test. The last thing you need is another person to help with the test. One person should be designated as the facilitator, giving the user tasks, and another person will act as the computer, making sure the appropriate screens are in front of the user as they navigate through the prototype. The person playing the role of the computer should rehearse to make sure she’s familiar with the screens before testing.

Once you start the testing standard, usability testing best practices still apply. If you start to see obvious usability issues while testing, use your blank paper to draw out and improve design in between tests. Once your tests are complete, your paper prototypes can become documentation or notes for future iterations of the design paper. Prototyping is great for early stages of design and experimenting with new ideas. It’s inexpensive, allows for rapid iteration, and anyone can contribute to the design.

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