Agile Project Management Tips #7: Simplify Design with Paper Prototypes

Requirements people, designers, and developers think on different levels. When they meet to plan what needs to be done they focus on different aspects of the specifications rather than on the problem that needs to be solved.

One way to avoid this is to embrace paper prototypes. When the team goes to work on a screen design, the fastest way to get everyone’s participation is to use paper, markers, scissors and tape or glue stick. In a just a few minutes, one team member can sketch out an initial screen and then let others add to the work. Using black markers enforces simple screen design and removes colors and fonts from the equation. If people make mistakes or suggest changes, tape and scissors make it easy to rearrange the screen. A photocopier can be used to duplicate parts if necessary.

Working interactively on the page turns it into a shared design problem. Everyone in the team can participate in naming items, and the business analyst can remind the team of the real-world terms. Once the prototype takes shape, testers can apply their tests to the paper: How many characters? Is this required? Where do you go when you click on this?

Paper prototyping has been used for years, and it continues to be useful in this age of mobile devices. Whether you are designing a screen for a tablet, a smart phone, or a computer, the basic rules are the same. Using a paper model makes initial design easier. Print out an oversize template of an iPhone, photocopy it, and then use that to draw in the screens with markers. To replicate the user experience, you can stack up the pages, hold them in your hand like a phone, and then flip through the story.