What is a Paper Prototype?

A paper prototype is a type of lowest of low prototypes when it comes to its fidelity. This type of prototype is often used during an early part of the design process when you don’t have time to render it on Actuar or Adobe XD so you literally draw it out.

Paper prototypes are not to be confused with wireframes. While both are not mutually exclusive, a paper prototype could be a type of wireframe of a website, or it could just as well be a brochure.

Paper prototypes work excellent as a prop for an interview to ask how something should work. For example, you could have a drawing of the website and say when you visit this site; you’ll click on the navigation. Then you ask the interviewee where they would press. Next, the person you’re interviewing will click on the navigation bar, and you may switch to another piece of paper to show what the About page navigation looks like. These prototypes work great to create physical renditions of a project.

Paper prototypes are a way to get answers on something quickly. Be intentional in limiting the scope of what you are trying to find out. By adding too much detail to the prototype, clients or other professionals may get distracted by those. This could be a wrong phone number, an image they dislike, what a menu will say, or a name spelled wrong.

By keeping it really low fidelity, people won’t even assume those images or details should be there. It is also helpful to use during client meetings to gain an understanding of their project needs and wants and gain approval on it.

Being able to paper prototype well is critical to getting a job in the design field. For executives and business owners, practicing how to sketch paper prototypes will help them communicate better with their designers and developers.

Paper prototypes are used for speed, low time investments, and in response to new information that needs to be tested right away. Don’t use paper prototypes for finalized versions of a project or if you want it to be a higher fidelity.

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