Prototyping On Paper

Prototyping on Paper
Reading Time: 3 minutes

Overview

Prototyping with pen and paper is arguably the easiest and fastest way to start. There are many opinions (as usual) whether it’s worth using this method or not. Like any tool, it has it’s own good and bad. I use it almost daily for clarifying the ideas for myself, to communicate it to others, and sometimes for testing with users.

Pros

  • Super fast
  • Dirt cheap
  • Can iterate quickly
  • Easy to throw it out (don’t get too attached)
  • Roughness makes it easy to position it as a work-in-progress
  • Helps with getting early user feedback
  • No need for any equipment, power, internet connection, etc.
  • Anyone can do it

Cons

  • Roughness makes it hard for some people to grasp that it’s just a conceptual prototype
  • May require more explanation and setting the expectations

Tools needed

You can use any piece of paper and something to write on it. I’ve used napkins, scratchpads from the hotels, random pieces of paper from conference handouts, and of course my notepad which is (almost) always with me. I really like the dotted grid paper, as it’s not as heavy visually and still provides a grid for straight lines.

And, of course, something to sketch with – pen or pencil. I tried both, and even though it’s easier to make corrections to pencil sketches, I personally prefer a pen. And whenever I need to “fix” a mistake, I just sketch it again on the next page. This enforces the idea of a throw-out prototype =) Also gives you an opportunity to add other tweaks whenever you need to re-draw a sketch. So, instead of polishing your pencil-made prototype, you can quickly iterate right away. Helps to build this habit.

Some people use special stencils with various UI elements (e.g. iOS standard interface objects like tabs, buttons, toolbars, etc.). I tried this once but didn’t like it. I felt it like I was back in school with rulers and other tools to make perfect lines. I prefer hand-writing though there is nothing wrong with using the tools that you find may be working better for you. However, I think the fewer tools you have to rely on the fewer obstacles you may have when prototyping with what you have at that moment. And these metal sketching stencils will become another thing not to forget to carry in your bag.

How to

Not sure how what to say here =) you just draw lines, circles, and other geometric shapes. Transfer the images to your head on the paper. As I said, in most cases I use just simple dot-grid paper, so I start with drawing a box to sketch in. For a mobile app – a rectangular that looks like a smartphone screen, for a web app – a rectangular that looks like a web browser. When you get this first shape – time to go wild =)) If you screw up a line, just turn the page and do it again. The more you do this – the better you will become in thinking about these sketches as just a temporary first step in your prototyping journey.

Tips

  • Do not wait until you get your favourite sketching notebook to start, use any paper you have right now.
  • Do not get attached to the prototype, treat it as a throw-away draft to learn something from it and move on.
  • Do not spend too much time on it, it’s a temporary phase.
  • Show it to somebody other than yourself, that’s the main point of the prototype.

{These tips are the ones I could think of at the moment, will be adding more over time}

Examples

Here are a few recent ones I made. You can see how rough (and fast) they are. And yours can be, too. That’s totally OK. The sooner you can get comfortable with the idea that your prototype doesn’t have to be pixel-perfect, the earlier you’ll start ripping the benefits for your product.

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