Paper Prototype

A prototype in simple words is a working model of any system. A prototype gives an idea of the system/product before actually building it and plays very important role in any design process.

A Paper Prototype essentially is a very basic, draft version of your website [or particular screen(s)].  In User Centered Design process, Paper Prototype is part of Rapid Prototyping which comes after User needs, goals, tasks and also used for Usability Testing.  Paper prototype is used in various phases of design process, it is used at the initial stages like conceptual design, screen design, screen flows and in Usability Testing, particularly in formative testing (at the initial design stages).

Creating a paper prototype is fairly simple, you just need user’s tasks list, flow which describes how user is going to perform the task, some papers, pencils & markers. Look at the flow/task and decide, brainstorm for conceptual design, draw rough layout, decide form controls, placement of these controls, content, interaction, no. of screens/popup etc. You don’t need to consider the website’s / applications main layout, navigation at all. Paper Prototyping should be iterative so create multiple design options to get the best one.

Generally Paper Prototype is used in–

  1. Concept Design in which designers sketch out possible approaches for problem/task/flow in a brainstorming environment.
  2. Interaction Design in which designer sketches for multiple pages/screens for a particular task flow. Here we can use some post-it notes to manage multiple sketches.
  3. Screen Design deals with the screen level designers decide the layout, placement of group (controls, information), decide controls to use, etc
  4. Usability Test where you validate your ideas, design options with users.

Paper Prototypes are used to clarify user goals/needs, to locate potential usability problems in initial design phase, to decide the conceptual design approach, deciding interaction, etc.

Some of the benefits of Paper Prototype includes –

  • You validate your designs through Paper Prototypes in early design phase which gives you user feedback before you invest in development.
  • Promotes rapid iterative design process, you can experiment with your many ideas rather than just one.
  • Promotes communication within development team, users and stakeholders. 
  •  Does not require any technical skills.
  • Quick and cheap

However there are some limitations 

  •  Sometimes difficult to test with users (difficult to show interaction, loading time, effects, etc) 
  •  limited

Though Paper Prototypes are rapid, basic and rough in nature there are some tools available in market to make it more better. These sketches can be made attractive by following some simple tips. There are some screen layout with grid printed on it are also available which makes it easy to create good looking prototypes. You can download It at http://konigi.com/tools/graph-paper


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