Paper Prototype

What is a Paper Prototype?

A Paper Prototype is a paper representation of your interface that you construct, out of paper, in order to test your designs during the earliest stages of design.

The quality of these prototypes can range from a hand-drawn wireframe with just enough detail for testing, to a series of screens printed out from beautifully detailed designs. Paper Prototypes are used to capture fundamental flaws in functionality long before any code has been written, and though it may feel lengthy to build as a designer, as you can take 2-3 days to fully create one, they are extremely cost-effective as you can be saving a whole team of developers much more time than that.

True Paper Prototyping is a UX method that is almost outdated, as digital programs, like inVision, have replaced the need to physically create the prototype out of paper. These programs allow you to create them and make adjustments much faster, they can be shared easily, and they often integrate with several other tools, making them much more efficient to work with. Though outdated, it's important to understand the fundamentals of creating a Paper Prototype, which will explain why it became so popular in the first place, and why these digital programs are even more popular now.

A few pieces of paper, with hand drawn interfaces on them, being interacted with.

What do you need for a Paper Prototype?

timeTIME

  • Each Iteration: 10 Minutes – 4 Hours (maybe longer, depending on the complexity of your tasks and the detail you want to replicate)

materialsMATERIALS

  • Paper!
  • Pens and markers if you are drawing the interface by hand
  • A printer if you are printing out all of the screens and elements
  • Cutting tools, like scissors, an xacto knife and a cutting board

How do you run a Paper Prototype?

A person cutting orange paper on cutting board with a hobby knife.
  1. Step 1: Determine what needs testing

    First you are going to have to determine the specific area of your product you want to test, as building a paper prototype of your entire site or app would not be practical.
  2. Step 2: Create tasks for the user

    Next you need to create specific tasks for the user to accomplish in your prototype. These tasks should represent what users will do in your live product and will also allow you to keep the prototype focused to only the areas that are affected by this task.
  3. Step 3: Create and test your interactive elements

    Create every screen and element that the user may interact with during each tasks. Organize them neatly close to your main testing space. You will want them within arms reach when the user is going through the tasks. Once you have everything created and set up, run through it a few times with a test user, like a coworker.
  4. Step 4: Run the test and take ntoes

    You will want a partner here who can help you move interactive elements onto the screen so you can focus on running the session and take notes. It's always a great idea to film the session from an angle that will let you see what the user is doing so you don't have to take such detailed notes.
  5. Step 5: Iterate based on feedback.

    Iterate your paper prototype based on the feedback you get, and test the new version with more users.

Tips for a great Paper Prototyping

  • If a user somehow strays from the flow and navigates to an entire area that you do not have prepped, make note of what happened and simply explain that they have strayed from the flow, or place a 404 page in front of them.
  • While running a test and you come across a small element that is missing from your prototype (like an error message or notification), you can quickly draw it and add it in.
  • If the participant uncovers a fundamental flaw in the functionality of your design or your prototype, try to fix it in between test sessions if you can. It may only require an extra element or two and may allow you to get better feedback from the rest of the participants.
Carefully placed papers with wireframes on them, next to a few perfectly lined up pencils.

More resources for Paper Prototype

Discovery SessionSurveys (Qualitative)