Paper Prototyping: The fast and easy way to design and refine user interface
Welcome to PaperPrototyping!

"Paper prototyping is a variation of usability testing where representative users perform realistic tasks by interacting with a paper version of the interface that is manipulated by a person ‘playing computer,’ who doesn’t explain how the interface is intended to work." – Paper Prototyping

image of hand-drawn prototype

The "Computer" highlights the item the user has just selected. A member of the development team observes and takes notes. The facilitator (not visible) is sitting to the right of the user. (Photo courtesy of Timo Jokela.)

What kinds of interfaces can you prototype? Paper prototyping can be used for virtually any type of human-computer interface – software, Web site, hand-held device, or even hardware. Its purpose is to get quick feedback from users while the design is still (literally) "on the drawing board." Some paper prototypes are hand-drawn, while others use printed-out screen shots.

How is paper prototyping related to usability testing? The above definition of paper prototyping overlaps with usability testing, but the two concepts are not quite the same. It’s possible to conduct usability tests on real interfaces, not just paper prototypes. And paper prototypes can be used for purposes other than usability testing – some product teams find them helpful in generating design ideas and conducting internal interface reviews.

What skills do you need? You do not need to be a graphic artist or software engineer to create a paper prototype, though those skills might come in handy when you’re ready to build the real thing. If you have ideas for your interface and can draw them – rough sketches will do – then you can create a paper prototype.

Next, check out some examples.

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Morgan Kaufmann

... Any mid-sized design project will probably get an ROI of several thousand percent from following the advice in this book.
--from the foreword by Jakob Nielsen, Principal,
Nielsen Norman Group

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