Paper prototypes is a tool that utilizes paper in order to evaluate interaction and usability, while eliciting feedback from users. As a creative, hands on learner, paper prototypes are one of my favourite techniques to use when I’m stuck in a rut and need more ideas. Creating the paper prototypes allows me to visualize in a different light, I can quickly shuffle things together, or I can create/modify certain interaction elements that I discovered was awkward or tricky to use. I have utilized paper prototypes while creating data visualizations at the Ilab. During one project, I needed to find a home for an element in the layout and so I created a quick paper prototype to quickly shuffle areas around and experiment on what works best. I showed the different layouts to one of the post-docs working on the project and we ended up deciding on the layout that we thought was the best.
Below are some images of the paper prototype that I made for the project. We needed to find a home for the province selection menu for our rosebud visualization. (A modification on the nightingale roses)
During another project, a co-worker and I created a quick prototype in order to help test out an interaction we were unsure about. We went around the lab and asked both non-data visualization experts and data-visualization experts to interact with the prototype and give us some feedback with what they thought. We also had a few questions for them afterwards about their experiences and thoughts on possibilities to make the experience better. We tested it out on four people and were able to get valuable feedback, unfortunately, due to time constraints the feedback was not able to be reflected into the final mock up, however, the entire testing experience helped showed the team the benefits of trying out our ideas early on so that we can quickly iterate on them before deadline.
After all is said and done, there are some issues with paper prototypes that should be kept in mind when using them. An article from Mockplus highlights some of the issues with paper prototypes. It should be noted that, these views might have been somewhat bias as well because in the end they were trying to sell their product, MockPlus, to designers, but still they do have some good points. When used incorrectly paper prototypes can lead to only reactions and not feedback, I can see this point being an issue. It can easily be avoided by asking the tester and yourself questions when playing with the prototypes. This allows a good balance of reaction and feedback.
There was another point discussed regarding how making paper prototyping takes a lot of time, I would like to disagree with this point, depending on high of the fidelity you want the prototype to be it can take time. The photos I have shown above didn’t take that long. At most an hour to produce. Is that a lot of time? Not really, especially compared to the amount of feedback we were able to gather from them, it was worth it in the end.
The other point that the article talked about was false positives. This I can see as being an issue, however, it can be avoided by providing some interaction options to the tester and asking which one they liked best and which one felt more fluid to them. In the end, it’s up to the designers on how they use paper prototypes. When done correctly, it should be providing insight and clarity to the design process while avoiding pitfalls such as false positives, lack of feedback and time usage.
What do you guys think? Are paper prototypes a waste of time? Should we only be focusing on making mockups on a prototyping software instead? I would love to know what you guys think, so feel free to leave a comment down below and let’s get the conversation started.