Friday, November 24, 2017

Paper prototypes - From idea to reality

If your students are anything like mine, they hate planning. Whenever they hear something along the lines of "Create a presentation, website, game, etc.", they immediately run to their devices and open a tool, never mind that they have no idea what will be put in there. Then, they blankly stare at screens or worse, start furiously typing (or copy/pasting) with little thought as to why they are putting any kind of content or ideas in there. Much like writing an essay without an outline, they just want to get to what they consider the "fun part" and skip over the very boring planning stages.

As teachers, we have tried to solve this problem with graphic organizers, templates, storyboards and a myriad of other tools which, while useful, tend to thwart creativity. We then have to sit through presentations and products that look basically the same. What's worse is that students seldom see the connection between the planning tools and the end product, so there is little cross-usability.

Pondering this problem, I took inspiration from game developers and introduced the idea of paper prototypes to my students. It went something like this:


What is paper prototyping?

Paper Prototyping is exactly what it sounds like. It's your opportunity to make a usable version of your game/website/app/presentation on paper or with other physical objects. This means you don't need any electronic device to make your product.

Making a paper prototype allows you to create a version of your product much quicker; this gives you time to include as many features as you like. DREAM BIG – now's your chance!

Creating your prototype allows you to test your product before it is made. This means you can make fast decisions about your product without wasting hours adding features you may realize you don't like.

Sketch your main screen:

Get out your sharpies, coloring pencils, etc. Make a sketch of your product. You may use this general template, or a specific template for your particular product. The paper prototype is like a draft, so don't worry about creating perfect drawings.

Add Functionality:

Once you have your main screen, it is time to add buttons, sprites, or whatever you need to help the user of your product navigate through your product. Cut each element out, and play around with placement.

Sketch other screens:

Continue the process of sketching, cutting out items and placing them. You can reuse backgrounds as needed. Just make sure you keep all papers and cutouts organized.

Play test:

You have all your screens and cutouts. You have a general idea of how your product works. Create a video where you demonstrate your product.

Here are some sample videos of paper prototypes:


Have a partner play test with you. This conversation will help you become aware of possible interactions with your product that you have not foreseen. Use the I like, I wish, I wonder format to provide feedback:
  • I-LIKE: Highlight what you see as a strength in the work. 
  • I-WISH: State one area that could be improved. Focus on the big ideas.
  • I-WONDER: Ask clarifying questions and offer specific solutions to the stated I-Wish.




Needless to say, I was very happy with the results. Going through this exercise allowed my students to think in terms of usability and content and helped them make better decisions for their final product. They had a plan for creating, unburdened by the constraints of a specific tool.

Moving forward, I plan to incorporate paper prototyping for all sorts of products, even presentations, hoping to see more creative final products. I think it is well worth the effort. What do you think?

More paper prototype resources: