|Which Type of Prototype?|
|Biography of Carolyn Snyder|
|Review of Effective Prototyping for Software Makers (Arnowith, Arent & Berger)|
By Christine Wiegand, SAP User Experience, SAP AG – June 13, 2003
This review takes a personal look at Carolyn Snyder's book Paper Prototyping.
Carolyn Snyder is an independent usability consultant at Snyder Consulting. Prior to that, she worked for, among others, Jared Spool's company User Interface Engineering, where she was introduced to usability. She co-authored the book Web Site Usability and now presents her accumulated knowledge of the paper prototyping method in her latest book, Paper Prototyping.
As Jakob Nielsen mentions in the foreword of Carolyn Snyder's book, paper prototyping is one of the fastest and cheapest techniques you can employ in the user interface design process. But because of the fact that it is simple and cheap, people tend to think that it doesn't work. Two years ago, I was one these people. I was, however, convinced of this effective and easy-to-use tool in a training course. There we had to build a paper prototype in order to test our paper and pencil design sketches.
The design of a paper prototype was really fast and very effective. It is amazing what you can achieve with just paper (we used post-it notes) and a pen. Paper prototyping is an excellent way to visualize, structure and evaluate your ideas. In some cases, you also get a feeling for screen dimensions. If you, for example, have to design the UI of a mobile device you can afterwards see if your design fits the available space. It is also intuitive for the user. In this training course, I also realized that paper prototyping is not only a good tool for building screen designs; it's also excellent for building teams.
Figure: Paper prototyping session at SAP
At CHI 2002, I visited a SIG session about paper prototyping with Carolyn Snyder, where we discussed topics, such as the validity of paper prototypes, computer-based prototyping tools, tactics for convincing skeptics, etc. At that time, she was already writing her book Paper Prototyping, which was published this spring.
In her book, Snyder gives detailed and practical advice, accompanied by many examples, how to do paper prototyping. But the book does not stop at the creation of paper prototypes – you can use it as a manual during the whole design process. Now let's take a closer look at it. The book Paper Prototyping comprises four main parts:
Part I: Introduction to Paper Prototyping
The first section of the book, especially Chapter 1, introduces paper prototyping – what it is, and some reasons why it's useful – and provides many examples. Chapter 2 presents several case studies that demonstrate how paper prototyping supported the design process.
Part II: Process: Conducting a Usability Study with a Paper Prototype
The chapters in this section describe the process of using a paper prototype to conduct usability tests. This is all the "how-to" material. Chapter 6, for example, describes the characteristics of a good usability task and provides real task examples. You can download a template for the task creation process from the "Downloads" page at www.paperprototyping.com, the Website companion to the book. Moreover, Snyder explains how to capture data during a usability test and what to do with it afterwards.
Part III: Deciding Whether to Use Paper
Like any technique, paper prototyping works well in some situations but may not provide sufficient value in others. The third section provides an in-depth look at the strengths and weaknesses of paper prototyping, the political issues you may face when introducing the technique into your organization, and factors that can argue for or against the use of paper prototypes in real-world project situations. A checklist, "Working Interface versus Paper Prototype," at the end of the section summarizes these factors and helps you to decide whether you should use a paper prototype or not.
Part IV: Broadening the Focus
Most of this book focuses on the specifics of paper prototyping. But paper
prototyping fits within the larger context of user-centered design, which also
includes techniques like usage scenarios, contextual inquiry, participatory
The last section of the book looks at additional case studies of how paper prototyping was used as one activity within a larger context of product development.
In my opinion, the statement on the back cover of the book says it all:
..., this book is a practical how-to guide that prepares you to create and test paper prototypes of all kinds of user interfaces. ... You'll learn about the practical aspects of paper prototyping, such as deciding when the technique is appropriate, scheduling the activities, and handling the skepticism of others in your organization.
The book is easy to read and well organized and illustrated. However, I don't think that practitioners will have the time to read it in one go. I suggest starting with "Part I – Introduction to Paper Prototyping" to get a first impression of the method, the rationale behind it, and its application. Then I would read the respective chapters as they are needed within the context of a real project. Parts III and IV are more general and provide background information; they can be read any time. However, "Chapter 12 – What Paper Is (and Isn't) Good For," should be read timely (perhaps after you have completed your own first project so that you can compare it with your own experience) in order to get a feeling for the pros and cons of paper prototyping.
The book is accompanied by a Website (www.paperprototyping.com). In the "Downloads" section of the site you can find useful material like checklists, rules, templates, etc. You can also use this Website as a resource for further information about paper prototyping.