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When creating a web application prototype, I find it's pretty easy for me to put together a fast prototype. What are the advantages to using a paper prototype instead (or before that)?

This video does a good job demonstrating some of the value in complex interactive situations, but I'm still unsure.

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Really awesome video –  eklam Feb 15 '13 at 10:14
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4 Answers

up vote 6 down vote accepted

Paper prototyping lets you forget about the constraints of the tool that you are using, and forget about the fine details so that you can focus on the bigger picture.

That said, there are other tools that work well as substitutes. I often use Draft on my iPad as a replacement, and I'm sure there are other similar tools out there. The key is that when you are focusing on the concepts or the higher level design, you need a tool that helps you ignore the lower level detail. Paper prototyping is just a very effective way of doing this.

But, some people prefer to not start with paper prototyping and would rather jump right in with html mockups, or Balsamiq. While others prefer to start with more powerful tools like Handcraft.

Use whatever works for you. Paper mockups work well for me, and many others, but not for everyone.

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On forgetting about the constraints of the tool: can't that be a serious downside? I understand that the purpose is user-centric design, but I feel like designing within constraints is pretty important (e.g. Ryan North of Dinosaur Comics has no reason to 'prototype' a storyline that doesn't fit his medium). I guess like you said, it's about what works for each person (I am more effective when thinking with constraints instead of without them). –  jandjorgensen Feb 14 '13 at 22:39
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@jandjorgensen, There's a difference between designing within constraints and designing with constraints. –  Brendon Feb 14 '13 at 22:41
    
@jandjorgensen We are talking about different types of constraints. I am talking about the constraints of you tool not the constraints in your design. –  JohnGB Feb 14 '13 at 22:42
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When I think of forgetting about constraints. I think about how something that provides you with buttons and checkboxes "forces" you to use buttons and checkboxes... Whereas with pen and paper, I'm free to imagine anything that will best help the user accomplish their goals. –  daydalis Feb 14 '13 at 22:42
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@jandjorgensen By tool I mean prototyping tool. With a pen, I don't have to think about what tool to use for a text box, or a line, or a bezier curve. So the constraints of thinking about the tool are taken away so that you are free to think about the problem. –  JohnGB Feb 14 '13 at 23:00
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I really liked reading about how they used paper cutouts in this Crayola project to come up with their page designs.

As a programmer, there's something that can be said about taking a step back from the screen. You're not bound by conventions imposed by working with digital media -- no screen boundaries, you can use both hands to manipulate objects on the table, ect. The design process is much less methodical and feels more natural.

Sometimes you might just ask yourself, "What if I do this instead?" Since it's such a rapid process you can try out more designs than if you were on a computer. You may even accidentally stumble upon a design that you wouldn't have thought of trying out to begin with.

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For me the advantages are:

  • It's faster. Significantly faster than any other prototyping tool for many situations.

  • It encourages different kinds of feedback. People respond differently to sketches on paper than they do to things on a computer - even rough looking things on a computer. One is very obviously temporary. People seem to be more open to different kinds of feedback.

  • It's adaptive. I can change what a paper prototype does in the middle of an interaction. Somebody clicks on the photo rather than the edit button next to the photo I can go "gosh - they think that will let then edit" and just throw up the edit page. A new interaction model comes to mind during a session - and you can sketch something out and try it live.

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Different kinds of feedback seems like a really important thing, and adaptability is something I hadn't considered. –  jandjorgensen Feb 15 '13 at 19:29
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Paper prototyping is perfect for general describing of the UX ideas and adjusting them on the go. So, as the initial phase prototyping it does have a lot of pros:

  1. you can quickly draw the idea, even on a meeting with a client or during a session with user (as in the video)
  2. it will let you avoid overworking, by throwing away some ideas right away
  3. as a result, you will switch to another idea of solving a problem

There are also some cons - the screens themselves are not much flexible regarding making changes. Sometimes you need to redraw completely the whole layout just to make a simple change in a part of it. To reuse some parts of the views, you need to draw it manually, which may result in inconsistent look of the same elements on different hand-drawn layouts.

So one big watchout: no "hard" dependencies between the system/website/application screens need to have an eye on any incostistencies. This is why after paper prototyping you should prepare a proper wireframe in an application, especially for more complicated systems (the one in the video is a simple one).

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