UIEtips Article: Streamlining the Design Process with Paper Prototyping: An Interview with Carolyn Snyder

Jared Spool

January 30th, 2007

UIEtips 1/30/07: Streamlining the Design Process with Paper Prototyping: An Interview with Carolyn Snyder

Even though paper prototyping surfaced back in the days when I was admiring Members Only jackets and leg warmers, only over the past several years has it come into “high fashion,” adopted in most successful organizations. But once its benefits were realized, paper prototyping was well on its way to becoming one of the most attractive usability testing methods.

Just as fashion designers repeatedly sketch out and model their ideas for a new clothing line, design teams create multiple prototypes of their products before beginning mass production. Getting a design right the first time is only possible if you are Coco Chanel, and since her time has come and gone, design teams are forced to iterate, iterate, iterate.

That’s why paper prototypes are so valuable. Design teams can build interfaces using basic office supplies and gather valuable feedback from users with minimal effort very early on in the design process.

While no usability testing technique is perfect (did you see Cameron Diaz’s Valentino dress at the 2007 Golden Globes?), the amount of time, money, and frustration paper prototyping saves makes it one of our favorite tools for gaining quick insights. Paper prototyping is only going to continue to grow in popularity as its methods are proven valuable time and time again.

In this issue of UIEtips, UIE’s Ashley McKee sat down with Carolyn Snyder, author of Paper Prototyping, and founder of Snyder Consulting, to get answers to some of the most pervasive questions surrounding paper prototyping. I believe Carolyn’s responses to these questions are invaluable to any design team considering paper prototyping, and hope you do too.

Read today’s UIEtips article.

Is your organization currently using paper prototypes? Did you experience any major benefits or drawbacks? Are you considering the technique? Is there anything holding you back? Tell us your thoughts. Leave a comment and join the discussion below.

[If you enjoy today's UIEtips article, you'll definitely want to check out Carolyn Snyder's upcoming Virtual Seminar, Paper Prototyping: Streamlining the User-Centered Design Process, on February 6th. Space is limited so sign up today ]

7 Responses to “UIEtips Article: Streamlining the Design Process with Paper Prototyping: An Interview with Carolyn Snyder”

  1. Maree Kimberley Says:

    Our team is currently in the process of preparing for paper prototype user testing. In redesigning a current transaction process we came up with three very different designs, so we are using the paper prototypes to find out which design users find easiest to use. Paper prototyping is perfect in this situation because it can be done fairly quickly and cheaply.

  2. Deb Biggar Says:

    Carolyn’s UIE Tips article was great. I planned to just read a paragraph and ended up reading the whole article. I am excited to attend the virtual seminar next week. Will we be able to see a paper prototype usability test in action? I’d love to see a video of one to see how Carolyn does it.

  3. Zoe Says:

    I’m using a paper prototype on a current project — sort of. Instead of writing on a piece of paper, I just made a schematic in Illustrator. This worked better for me since making the prototype was not a group effort — I work as an in-house designer with only one other designer for a small organization. Anyway, I just have printed out the wireframe and taken it around to officemates and friends to test. After every few tests, I’ve met with the person in charge of the site, we’ve brainstormed solutions to the problems revealed by the testing, then I’ve made these changes and printed the revised prototype and taken it around for further testing. I don’t think this is traditional paper prototype testing, but it seems to be working.

  4. Martijn van Welie Says:

    I think paper prototyping as described in the article is totally outdated. Snyder values it becauses it forces people to sketch first before going to any more high fidelity specifications. Nowadays most designers do this but it is called ‘wireframing’. Using tools such as Visio, Axure or iRise it is very quick to come up with sketches and move stuff around. Even better, with those tools you can even produce a clickable wireframe that runs in a browser. Ideal for testing!

    So I’d say that if the point it that we should sketch before we make detailed design, then yes I agree. But doing it by hand on paper is a waste of time in my opinion.

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