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User Testing: Paper Prototypes

Overview

Paper prototyping is a prototyping method where paper models are used to simulate computer and web applications. It is a simple method of drawing out designs to test how users would interact with a website of similar design. 

Below is an example of a paper prototype for a pizza order website. It illustrates the process of the pizza order process.

How Many Users?

As a form of facilitated user testing, 3 users are recommended to test.

How Often?

Testing aside, Nick Babich states that paper prototyping is useful throughout the project design- initially used to brainstorm ideas for the general product design, then used again later to decide on specific aspects of the design. It can also be appropriate to test these aspects before investing time into developing a functional prototype.

Pros

  • Quick- It only takes minutes to draw a basic design
  • Cheap- the only cost is the paper it is drawn on
  • Low investment/commitment- it’s much easier to scrap a design that has only taken a short time to do
  • Honest feedback- People are more likely to give honest feedback to a very rough design, rather than a design that has had a lot of time spent on it.

Cons

  • Visual issues- some testers can find it hard to visualize a website off a paper prototype, which can affect the test

Pre Test

Before testing a paper prototype, it is best to do a walkthrough of the prototype with the project/design team to make sure it has all relevant aspects included. Essentially, the team identify parts of the prototype that still need to be created and outline all the possible paths a user may reasonably take and makes sure that all team members are on the same page with how the product interactions should work.

Test Process

It is recommended to have two people present for a test session (not including the tester) who fill two roles:

  1. Facilitator- this person instructs the participants and interacts with them
  2. Human computer- this person stays silent during the testing and is responsible for changing the screens as the user navigates through the prototype

The steps involved in developing & conducting a paper prototype test are as follows:

  1. Develop a script & consent form for the test (see resources page)
  2. Do a pilot test on a staff member/student to ensure the script runs smoothly
  3. Recruit users to do the test
  4. Conduct the test
  5. Record the results
  6. Analyse the results
  7. Feed the analysis back to relevant group

Recommendations

As a form of facilitated user testing, 3 users are recommended to test in iterative cycles.

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