Paper Prototyping

Paper prototyping is a UX design process that helps designers test rough ideas using paper sketches instead of complicated prototypes.

Updated on February 21st, 2023


Paper prototypes are also known as throwaway prototypes because they involve hand sketches and drawings of an interface with just pen and paper. Although it seems simple, this method provides useful usability insights and feedback.

This method became popular in the 1990s thanks to companies like IBM and Microsoft, which started using paper prototyping to develop their products. However, paper prototyping is very rare now because digital ways of testing your designs have clear advantages in terms of time saved and collaboration.

Main benefits of paper prototyping

First of all, paper prototypes save time and money due to their simplicity and quick way of creating them. There's no development involved, and you can easily make updates and modifications.

For these reasons, it is a method well suited for the early stages of a project or when there's little to no budget for a more high-fidelity testing method.

Secondly, users are more focused on the experience rather than the polished look when giving feedback because of its low-fidelity nature.

Main cons

Paper prototyping sounds pretty perfect right now. However, there are also some cons. Let's review a few of those to compare the pros and cons.

Lack of realism

Paper prototypes can lack realism because it's impossible to completely mimic an interactive version of your designs. As a result, your users' feedback and reactions differ from a polished product.

Accessibility issues

It's impossible to bring users' constraints onto paper, especially the ones related to accessibility. There are no alternative texts and screen readers available when doing a paper prototype test. You have to facilitate your tests well to prevent this from becoming an issue.

Difficult to interpret

Since users can not get a real look and feel of the product, receiving positive feedback might be less accurate. Instead, use your feedback only as a good indicator of how to proceed. Be mindful that positive feedback from paper prototyping does not guarantee success in the future.

Useful resources

Paper Prototyping: The 10-Minute Practical Guide - UXPin

Paper Prototyping - IDF

The Magic of Paper Prototyping - UX Planet



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