When designing learning experiences, we often jump right to the computer. It feels intuitive to start, sitting at our machines, building out the screens and interactions using technology. However this isn’t always the best place to start. Sometimes it’s best to step back and work out our ideas on paper, and test them on potential users while still in a draft form, in order to more quickly and easily make corrections or change course.
Paper prototyping is a method of putting our ideas onto paper in order to test out the screen design, interaction and flow of the content within our design. Paper prototyping is created just as it sounds – by developing quick sketches that can be shown to members of our target audience for testing. By creating quick sketches, we are able to get our ideas out without investing too much time in the actual product. This means that we are less attached to our ideas, and more open to feedback from our testers. This enables us to more freely have a conversation about what might be changed, then would be possible if we had invested hours getting things just right to fit our vision on the computer.
The focus should always be on the interaction, rather than the interface. What actions do we want to make available to our users, and what will happen when they take each action? The best way to begin the paper prototyping process is to develop a list of tasks that your users might want to complete using your product. From there, create a rough sketch of each screen they will see in order to complete those tasks. You can then arrange the screens in the order in which they will be accessed, and test them on members of your target audience. You can easily switch gears and edit your design on the fly, testing new ideas in rapid iterations, since your prototypes were created in such a low effort and low cost fashion.
Paper prototyping is an effective way to express some of your earliest ideas around the product you are designing. Due to their low requirement of technical skill, anyone can create paper prototypes and use them to share ideas. They also enable you to focus on a very bare bones version of your project, placing emphasis instead on the interaction you are trying to evaluate. Paper prototyping will ideally lead to multiple, rapid iterations of your project, and eventually lead you to the best possible solution to your design challenges.