Paper prototypes don’t have to be fancy or slick, just do the minimum you need to get your idea on the page.
When usability or user testing is portrayed in popular culture, it’s usually shown as something that happens at the very end of a product’s development cycle, with users testing a near-complete version of the final product and giving their impressions. The results can be disastrous and hilarious, but testing at this late a phase in development is often not that productive, as so many key aspects of a product are already cemented in place. It would be too drastic to make needed changes to something if major problems reveal themselves during late-stage testing.
But, thankfully, there’s a better way! That way is paper prototyping.
Paper prototyping is exactly what it sounds like: building a working version of your software/website/design with paper, usually drawn by hand. Paper prototyping can also extend into the physical space, with cardboard or large drawings taking the place of physical objects. The whole point of paper prototyping is that it’s incredibly cheap to produce, but can give you hugely meaningful feedback on your product with virtually no cost.
Paper prototyping is a great way to just get your ideas out into the world without worrying about feasibility, cost, or a lot of the other logistics issues that will inevitably come up in any large project. With paper prototyping, you can test out ideas that might lead to completely unexpected developments, and by doing it this way, you have very little stake in the success of any one idea since you haven’t spent dozens of hours on developing it.
That’s the real strength of paper prototyping. Because the stakes are low, you can be more free to test out more radical or unconventional ideas. Sure, there’s a chance those ideas may not get beyond this phase for any number of reasons, but this way, you can at least bring them out into the world and get some feedback. You never know what that feedback will yield, so, get a pen and paper, start drawing, and put your prototypes in front of people!