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  • Writer's pictureantoniodellomo

Paper Prototyping in UX Design

At the beginning of a design project, you might start with storyboards that show the overall interaction. As you continue, you may get to paper prototypes, then build something that's a pixel level digital mock-up, wireframes, then get to something interactive. And finally, over time you may add in the database and get it ready to launch.

UX designers have long promoted paper prototyping as the ideal way to quickly create and test new designs at an extremely low cost. In comparison to digital prototyping, creating paper prototypes is much quicker, easier, requires no technical skills, makes iteration easier, and focuses less on design perfection. Plus, participants feel more comfortable criticizing sketches rather than polished designs. But, in my opinion, this technique is not very popular by designers despite its potential is huge and can bring a valuable contribution in creating a high-quality user experience.

What is Paper prototyping?

The process that helps designers in designing and testing user interfaces. It is throwaway prototyping and involves creating rough, even hand-sketched, drawings of an interface to use as prototypes. While paper prototyping seems simple, this method of usability testing can provide useful feedback to aid the design of easier to use products.

Why does paper prototypes matter in UX?

Paper prototyping saves time and money since it enables developers to test product interfaces before they write code or begin development. This also allows for easy and inexpensive modification to existing designs which makes this method useful in the early phases of design. The beauty of paper is that it’s also collaborative, allowing you to design as a team, collectively. Lastly, another benefit is that users feel more comfortable being critical of the mock-up because it doesn't have a polished look.

The more you draw, the more you improve your thinking and communication skills.

When there is no need for paper prototypes?

In the initial stages, making some quick sketches and getting some initial feedback is always a good idea. But there are also some cons, especially when it comes to testing them with users. Your paper prototype often can’t give you functional feedback because your participant will have to imagine the design’s interactions. You’ll never build things like overlays and screen transitions accurately with paper, no matter how much time you spend on it. Your paper prototype will always be a bit abstract. Abstract drawings do not give you the same level of information you would get from a more realistic one.

What is prototyping?

Prototyping is an experimental process where design teams implement ideas into tangible forms from paper to digital. Teams build prototypes of varying degrees of fidelity to capture design concepts and test on users. With prototypes, you can refine and validate your designs so your brand can release the right products. If you are interested in prototyping and would like to learn more, I would love you to read this other article on my blog.

Pros and Cons of Paper Prototyping

Below the strengths of paper prototyping:

  • Cheap, paper is inexpensive.

  • Universal, everyone in the team can make quick sketches of ideas.

  • Team-building, as below, everyone can be involved and that can strengthen the team spirit.

  • Honest feedback, people feel more comfortable being critical of the paper prototype because it doesn't have a polished look

Below the limitations of paper prototyping:

  • Lack of realism, your drawing can’t wholly mimic an interactive design. Also, users’ gut reactions will differ compared with the finished product.

  • Accessibility issues, you can’t always translate users’ constraints onto paper, especially regarding accessibility. Users can’t get a real feel of the product

  • Lack of user control, without an interactive design, users must give blow-by-blow accounts of their actions and thoughts.

  • Extra work, in a way or another you’ll end up making digital prototypes, anyway. Therefore, paper prototypes may become just extra work.


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