Paper Prototyping

Blogging has been light lately and it always makes me feel a little bad. I feel this sense of neglect, like I’m not doing my job or something. In actuality nothing could be further from the truth.

A project for my biggest client has recently been thrown into high gear. I’ve been traveling for the last two weeks doing usability studies using paper prototypes. We’re trying to turn around a new version of the same process every week and it’s about to kill me. Yesterday was an 18 hour day, I got up this morning after 3.5 hours of sleep and now I’m on a plane back to Seattle, where I will go directly into meetings- and in one of which I’m am presenting. Last week was the same schedule, and I’m really hoping next week will change.

The usability testing has been awesome. I am continually amazed at how valuable paper prototyping can be. People easily suspend reality and use sheets of paper like a computer. Clicks are done with a pen and the participant writes instead of typing. It takes a lot of prep work and discipline (something I’m starting to learn). We have identified many, many problems that we can solve without touching one piece of code. They are just drawings.

I feel like we could never test enough, having gone though a couple of weeks of this process. It’s fascinating to see multiple people stumble on the same problem and then make changes to fix it – then see new people totally “get it�? the next round. However, there are always new problems that crop up in the early stages.

My biggest challenge right now is experience and practice. I’m learning that becoming a disciplined usability tester is something that can only come with practice. I’ve read many books, but nothing is a replacement for the real world experience. I’m really trying to focus on paying attention to the user’s actions and trying to pick up on what is REALLY happening.

Yesterday, a user came to a page and read the description. The first words out of his mouth were “excellent�?, said in a normal tone. I noted this and asked him about it in the debrief. As it turned out, he was being sarcastic. He read the description and thought “yeah right- too good to be true�?. To date, this was my greatest testing moment- probing for deeper meaning and finding that reality was very different from my perception.

Soon we’ll be moving to Flash implementations of the product, which will take things to a new level. I’m hoping that the level it comes with sleep and less travel.