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By Patricia Anderson

Paper prototyping is a simple way to get complex and valuable insight into your user interface. It is a user-centric design technique that can be an effective means of early usability testing. The typical application is software of some sort, be it an app, website, or other software interface.

To create paper prototypes, different screens are typically sketched on a series of papers that can be manually navigated by switching the piece of paper you’re looking at. These sketches are usually made without extensive work going into choosing the “final” fonts, colors, or images. Rather, they may have the words, buttons, placeholders for pictures, text boxes and other elements arranged as they might be arranged in the final version to test the readability and understandability of the screens, and how well users can navigate between screens.  

Usabilitygeek.com compiled a list of some of the largest benefits to paper prototyping:

  • User involvement at an early stage
  • Cost-effective
  • Encourages creativity
  • No design or coding skills needed
  • Less resource consuming
  • Rapid evaluation and testing
  • Assists in documentation
  • Endorsed by several usability professionals

These are all excellent benefits of paper prototyping, and I would add a little more to them. Paper prototyping lends itself to iterative design changes during formative testing as well as outside of usability testing. Since screens are so easy to modify and reprint (or re-draw) you can address a usability issue in-between usability sessions and let the next few participants let you know whether or not your change worked. Also, if you are up for it, using paper prototypes during your formative testing could result in direct pen-on-paper feedback from your users.

At Core, we have used paper prototyping for a variety of applications, and have found they give valuable, early-stage feedback into the usability of the overall user interface. Paper prototypes are easy to make, and easy to incorporate into usability testing. Users are able to provide feedback that have allowed clients to eliminate spending a lot of time coding complex screens.

For more information, blog.marvelapp.com has a great article on paper prototyping.