Thursday, February 01, 2007

Streamlining the Design Process with Paper Prototyping: An Interview with Carolyn Snyder

An informative interview on paper prototyping ...

"You can't think of paper prototyping without acknowledging Carolyn Snyder's influence on the technique. Her many years of experience teaching and utilizing paper prototyping have made her a recognized authority figure in the field. In 2003, Carolyn wrote the definitive book, Paper Prototyping, which explores many of the method's nuances and acts as a complete guide for design teams.

Carolyn has 23 years of experience in the software industry and 14 years experience in user-centered design, usability testing, and paper prototyping. Prior to her major publication, Carolyn spent 6 years working as a principal consultant for User Interface Engineering before founding Snyder Consulting in 1999. She continues to teach, write articles, and present at major conferences while remaining active in professional organizations. Carolyn received a BS in Computer Science from the University of Illinois and an MBA from the University of Chicago.

Recently, UIE's Ashley McKee talked with Carolyn about the increased popularity of paper prototyping, what the technique is, who can use it, and how it's beneficial to the design process.

UIE: More and more organizations are incorporating paper prototyping into their development process. Is there a reason for this technique's increased popularity?

Carolyn Snyder: I think it's simply that more and more people have tried paper prototyping and found it useful. Fifteen years ago, when I tried to explain to design teams that they could prototype a computer interface without using a computer, they looked at me like I had three heads. These days, many designers are aware of the technique even if they haven't used it.

It may be partly because we live in the era of Google and Wikipedia, which makes it easy to conduct a bit of quick research. Also, as the usability profession matures, I believe efforts like the UPA's Body of Knowledge project ( will be an increasingly useful resource for design teams wanting to learn more about accepted usability testing methods.

What kinds of interfaces can you prototype?

By definition, if it has a user interface, you can prototype it. Design teams can prototype software, web applications, web sites, and handheld devices.

However, paper prototypes are less suitable for visually complex or highly interactive interfaces such as video games. It's also more challenging to prototype mobile devices or those that operate in a rich contextual environment. But for the vast majority of business and consumer applications, paper prototypes are quite useful.

What types of problems can paper prototype tests find? What won't they find?

Paper prototypes are great for finding most usability problems including issues with concepts, terminology, navigation, workflow, and screen layout. Although usability testing isn't the best method for researching user needs -- you should do that before you design -- if you missed a requirement or got one wrong, a paper prototype will reveal it.

Paper prototypes are less useful for rapid, subtle, or complex interactions because the human "Computer" can't respond as quickly and unobtrusively as a real computer. Low-level interactions, such as scrolling, are also hard to mimic. And because color and solution are different on screen than on paper, graphic designers may not get all of their questions answered with a paper prototype."    (Continued via UIE)    [Usability Resources]


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