My experience has been that to create a prototype is to create a working model to allow users to test functions and features. Because so much time and effort goes into creating the protototype, time constraints prevent refining the design, and the product is rushed to market-design issues are fixed in the next release. There's a solution that's low-cost, quick, and effective in finding design issues-paper prototyping. If you want to learn about paper prototyping from a renown practioner then I highly recommend Paper Prototyping by Carolyn Snyder.
Snyder advocates paper prototyping because it's easy to design (requires minimal drawing skills), cheap to create (needs only paper and markers), and offers and opportunity for developers and users to evalute design concepts. If you wonder where the beginning of the design process starts, it begins when great minds meet and brainstorm ideas, and drawing is a natural approach to illustrate them.
Paper Prototyping consists of four parts:
1. "Introduction to Paper Prototyping" has case studies for a variety of products (e.g. Web applications, e-commerce Web sites, small screen displays, and touch screen interfaces), lists benefits for users and product team, and the materials to create a paper prototype.
I learned the how to plan and design a prototype. Understanding how to conceptualise ideas is a critical skill. Fortunately, Snyder included examples that proved helpful because they are real and relevant.
2. "Conducting a Usability Study with a Paper Prototype" describes how to plan a usability study, how to choose tasks, how to create a paper prototype, how to prepare for usability testing by doing walkthroughs, how to facilitate a usability test, the do's and don'ts of usability testing with a paper prototype, observer protocols, and what to do with the results of testing.
If you are not a usability specialist, you may be doing some of these tasks for the first time. If you have a process for conducting a usability study, this chapter will help you identify the activities that are different from what you typically do. Conducting a usability test with a paper prototype is unique, because the goal is to verify ideas and correct the prototype to validate improvements. An additional bonus is the ability to evaluate the types of tasks the product would be able to perform.
A paper prototype does not rely databases, networks, servers, or any form of technology, eliminates most of the things that can go wrong. It's portable-if the users cannot come to you-you can take it to the users. You don't need a sophisticated lab to conduct usability tests or big budget to get good feedback.
3. "Deciding Whether to Use Paper" covers the advantages and disadvantages of paper prototyping, the dimensions of a prototype, and the politics.
Synder describes how paper is not suitable to evaluate interaction issues:
* It will not show subtle screen changes that are typically shown at the bottom of the screen.
* It will not allow scrolling, a variety of menu effects, and cascading menus.
* Download time and other response time.
Obviously, paper is not the medium to evaluate interaction, but it is ideal to evaluate the following "look" issues:
* Design concepts and terminology
* Work flow
* Task flow
* Documentation and online help
* If the design satisfies user requirements and functionality
* Screen layout
Understanding the strengths and weaknesses of paper prototyping is essential to managing the expectations of proponents and opponents. Snyder describes how to respond to concerns of skeptics that using paper is a valid and professional technique.
4. "Broadening the Focus" consists of case studies that Snyder collected from usability specialists of The MathWorks, IBM, and Dictaphone. The case studies reveal how paper prototyping is one of several techniques to conduct task analysis and evaluate product design.
I learned a use for index cards; they are useful for smaller prototype pieces: dialog boxes, pop-up messages, drop-down menus, etc. Snyder describes how a team at The MathWorks created a method for capturing and managing information about screen design. During prototyping and design sessions, team decisions about how the prototype would behave were recorded on index cards. The index cards were also used to track problems to be solved. Some members of the team used the cards to create a test plan. The technical writer used the index cards to create a first draft of the tool's documentation.
What I like best about Paper Prototyping is that cach topic is supported by case studies and testimonials. Illustrations and photographs of exhibits enhance thorough descriptions of concepts and instruction. I wondered how Snyder could cover product design with profound insight, and then I read her credentials: software engineer, project manager, student, teacher, and consultant-she is an astute observer of all facets of product design.
Paper Prototyping is particularly useful for people testing print documentation. The techniques of testing paper prototypes apply to any situation in which the test facilitator sits in the room with the participant. "Introduction to Usability Test Facilitatation" is one of the best discussions of the advantages of working in the room with the participant, and the human and logistical issues that might arise.
Yes. I am convinced that paper prototyping is the fast and easy way to design and refine user interfaces and you will too. If you buy the book and have questions that you would like to ask the author, you will be happy to know that Carolyn Snyder will be appear at annual STC conference in Baltimore (May 2004). You can also visit her Web site at www.synderconsulting.net for more information.