The Power of Paper Prototyping in Design

I recall sitting in an interview for a large software company running through one of my project processes. Unexpectedly, the interviewer stopped me to ask why I had “wasted time making a paper prototype” as if it was some form of kindergarten style process that held no benefits to software development. As I began explaining the advantages of using paper prototyping, I could see he had already drifted away. I knew then that this was not a company focused on its Users.

What is Paper Prototyping?

Paper prototyping is a process where you create hand-drawn User interfaces. It evolved in the 1980’s, gaining popularity in the following decade within companies like IBM and Microsoft. Though it fell out of practice for a while, it’s use has experienced a resurgence recently with the rise of agile design methodologies. Paper prototyping allows all stakeholders to come together and get involved in the development process at the same time.

How to create a Paper Prototype?

Paper Prototyping can be as complex or as simple as you want it to be, depending on your audience and supplies available to you. Paper is essential to start with, but in my experience it is best to create your prototype using a mid-weight paper card so it is not too flimsy. After that all you need to begin is a pen and a bit of imagination, however you may also wish to include:

  • Tracing paper
  • Sticky notes
  • Sharpies
  • Pencils
  • Sharpner
  • Eraser
  • Stencil
  • Blue tac

First you sketch out the screen or device background. Following this you create  all of the interactive elements and actions, such as, buttons, search bars, cards, dropdowns, etc. It is as simple as that.

Benefits of a Paper Prototype

The most obvious advantage is that they are low cost and quick to produce. It allows for Usability Testing to take place early in the design process and get instant feedback as the design evolves. In addition, because you are using paper, people feel more at ease giving their opinions or criticisms. This feedback can be implemented right there on the spot by simply sketching out how an element needs to change or if it might potentially behave differently. This is a fundamental difference (and benefit) I’ve found between the flexibility of the Paper Prototype compared with the fixed nature of a clickable one created for example with Sketch and InVision.

The Graphic Mint Approach

We regularly use paper prototyping within the office throughout every  stage of a project. We like to present and test paper prototypes with stakeholders to get instant feedback, iterate and address pain points as soon as possible. It also allows everyone to start empathising with the end User at an early stage in the process. This approach has helped us ensure that all key stakeholder requirements are fully incorporated and tested early within our designs. Paper Prototyping is one of the ways you can also get the benefits of UX Design.

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