Paper Prototyping

4th January 2020

What is Paper Prototyping?

Paper prototyping involves creating a minimal version of your interface using easily movable and replaceable elements, created from pieces of paper.

The paper prototype serves as a way of getting essential feedback from users so that you can tell if you’re on the right track. It’s the first time in the user-centred design process that you can take your ideas back to your audience to see whether you’ve got things right. You do this by running a usability test with your paper prototype as the interface that participants work with to complete their tasks.

Benefits of paper prototyping

Paper prototyping is a fast, cheap, flexible way of laying out your design ideas without being constrained by the tools that we typically use for interface design.

Paper prototyping uses commonly accessible resources and takes very little time. Its flexibility lies in the way that it lets you combine interface elements on the page and reuse those same elements between pages.

Where it fits in the process?

Paper Prototyping it’s about putting together the work we have done with wireframes and user flow. It is an awesome technique on its own but you won’t get the true benefit of it unless you created it from the user research.

Building a prototype

Creating a paper prototype is a methodical process if you’ve previously made good scenarios, storyboards, user interviews and wireframes. Your storyboards will describe every aspect of the interaction between users and the product. Select the wireframes and lay it all down the table to get the interaction between each one of them right.


The prototype can be created in a day. And then usability tested with consumers the next day to see how well it works with them, whether they understand the concept, and what changes you need to make before testing again until you get it right.

There’s no need to do a hight fidelity at this stage. You’ll get more honest feedback from users if you keep the interface low-fidelity and sketch-like because they’ll realise you’re still open to making changes.

Their feedback can be brutal, but it’s much better to hear it now than after you’ve spent weeks or months crafting it, only to realise you have to redo everything.

Check out this example of usability test with a paper prototype:


But the truth is, we hardly ever do paper prototypes. Actually, paper and pen doesn’t get used much in UX Design. That’s because we might not have the space to work on it.

I watched a documentary about how Ian Spalter worked on the Instagram logo. Ian was drawing every possible example and sticking it on a wall. He had a room for himself and he worked there for months. He also asked all stakeholders to draw the logo from memory. Can you imagine having a room where you can leave all the tools, sketches, flows, until you are done with it?  

Our offices are usually constrained spaces, there are many small tables in a row, the most important thing there is our screen. The office design helps to create a culture where people become afraid of pen and paper. 

So, if necessary, once in a while, get away from your computer. Rent a meeting room for the day to work on your paper prototype (and also user flows, wireframes, card sorting, etc). Don’t worry about the curious looks of your coworkers, they are just keen to get involved and see the result 🙂


The Art of Design. Abstract: The Art of Design: Season 2. Ian Spalter: Digital Product Design, Netflix. 46m

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