What is paper prototyping?

Posted by on May 9, 2013 in Uncategorized
What is paper prototyping?

Who better to explain paper prototyping than Neontribe (user experience designers, programmers and Doc Ready partner), who are currently working with the paper prototypes developed through our recent workshop to build the very first digital version of Doc Ready. Take it away Neontribe:

Paper prototyping uses a hand-drawn vision of how an interface might work as the starting point for rapid improvement. It’s the best method we’ve found for co-designing digital products.

We take these prototypes out to meet the sort of people who’ll actually use the finished products. One of us plays the part of “the computer”, the person helping us test imagines our paper prototype is a real digital tool. Their finger is the mouse: when they click, we reflect that click in the prototype. Maybe they’ve clicked on a navigation element, and we’ll add an overlay to the prototype to reflect this. Maybe they’ve clicked on a “next” button, and we’ll move them on one stage in a process we’re developing.

At every stage, we stress that it’s the paper artefact we are testing, not them. Any difficulties they find using the interface are our fault as designers, not theirs. There’s much cutting and sticking during this process as their thoughts and ideas can change the look and feel of the prototype right there and then.

We believe a key advantage of paper prototyping is that people feel more relaxed about challenging the design. It does not have a polished look, it’s clearly not finished, so it is obviously mutable. We have found that the personification of the computer by a real person who consistently acts in a self-deprecating fashion, reassures the person helping us test the prototype. It helps make it clear that we are there to listen to them, and that we’ll listen to their feedback.

In our experience, time spent on prototyping is very cost effective. It’s far quicker than building a test interface with code and rapid change is very easy.

Testing DocReady

People interested in the idea behind Doc Ready were invited to attend a paper prototyping workshop in Brighton with a team from Enabled by Design, FutureGov, Neontribe and Social Spider.

FutureGov’s designers had already run a series of workshops to explore the people who’d use Doc Ready and the situations they’d be in. That done, they built a series of paper prototypes as strong starting points for improvement.

On a gloriously sunny afternoon in a Brighton Hotel, a group of very willing volunteers got together into small groups. Each of these groups was given a fictitious persona to check, and the start of a user journey to imagine. Then, with the assistance of a facilitator, they used a paper prototype to follow that journey through.

The afternoon created some great discussion points, some really useful feedback and challenged us with some interesting points of view and some searching questions. All this helped to change the way these prototypes worked as the afternoon unfolded.

People’s opinions turned into activity and often their feedback was added to their prototype right there and then. It’s paramount, and very satisfying for them, to see they are having such a direct influence on the future of the product. After all, these test groups will be our first voice to the rest of the world when Doc Ready goes live.

It’s also quite an entertaining afternoon, especially when “the computer” slows down or errors. Everything is catered for during a paper prototyping session!!

Following on from that, the groups then took it in turn to present their version of Doc Ready to each other prompting more interesting debate.


As designers, we do not simply do as our testing groups say. For one thing, each of them took their prototype in a different direction. What we do do is guarantee to listen, and use what’s been said as a springboard for the next stage of the project. That’s when we’ll develop a digital prototype, a minimal viable product, ready for review at the end of the first sprint.

We’ll get some new faces in to challenge our work with fresh eyes and experiences, and we’ll invite the young people we worked with back to see what they think. They’ll get the opportunity to see how their valid and valuable input on that sunny day in Brighton has grown into digital form.

Next week we’ll be sharing more about the user engagement work we’ve done so far, including the paper prototyping workshop already mentioned, so see you then.

1 Comment

  1. Doc Ready » Power to the young people – Engagement workshops
    May 23, 2013

    [...] prototyping workshop we ran in April. The process used on the day is explained in our previous blog What is Paper Prototyping?. We gave the young people at the session free reign to adapt, add and delete features in the Doc [...]


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