Applying Paper Prototypes
The most important areas of application of paper prototypes are the following:
- Communication in the Team
- One of the major applications of paper prototyping is brainstorming in the development team, to collect and visualise ideas on how an interface might look. The interface is built up step by step, meeting the expectations of all team members. To probe the applicability of the software design, typical use cases are played through and possible pitfalls are identified. The prototype can then be used as a visual specification of the software.
- Usability Testing
- Paper prototypes can be used for usability testing with real users. In such a test, the user performs realistic tasks by interacting with the paper prototype. The prototype is manipulated by another person reflecting the software's reactions to the user input actions. Though seemingly unsophisticated, this method is very successful at discovering usability issues early in the design process.
- Three techniques of paper prototyping used for usability testing are comps (short for compositions), wireframes, and storyboards. Comps are visual representations, commonly of websites, that demonstrate various aspects of the interface including fonts, colors, and logos. A wireframe is used to demonstrate the page layout of the interface. Lastly, the storyboards are a series or images that are used to demonstrate how an interface works. These three techniques are useful and can be turned into paper prototypes.
- Design testing
- Especially in web design, paper prototypes can be used to probe the illegibility of a design: A high-fidelity design mockup of a page is printed and presented to a user. Among other relevant issues the user is asked to identify the main navigation, clickable elements, etc. Paper prototyping is also the recommended design testing technique in the contextual design process.
- Information architecture
- By applying general and wide paper prototypes, the information architecture of a software or web site can be tested. Users are asked where they would search for certain functionality or settings in software, or topics in a web site. According to the percentage of correct answers, the information architecture can be approved or further refined.
- Rapid prototyping
- Paper prototyping is often used as the first step of rapid prototyping. Rapid prototyping involves a group of designers who each create a paper prototype and test it on a single user. After this is done, the designers share their feedback and ideas, at which point, each of them creates a second prototype - this time using presentation software. Functionality is similarly unimportant, but in this case, the aesthetics are closer to the final product. Again each designer's computer prototype is tested on a single user, and the designers meet to share feedback. At this point, actual software prototypes can be created. Usually after these steps have been taken, the actual software is user-friendly the first time around, which saves programming time.
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