October 28th, 2014 Paper Prototyping Exercises for Your Startup


Last October 28, Lean Product Best Practices held a short workshop on how to use paper prototyping as a tool to facilitate successful participation design/research sessions at Kaplan Center with UX experts Tricia Okin and Caroline Romedenne making sure everyone participated. 

Before starting the basic workshop, the two experts explained how paper prototyping is simply a research tool to help you break out of the two-dimensional thinking.

For paper, you can use cut-outs or post-it notes and sheets of paper on a big paper. Someone at the audience called it simply as scrapbook prototyping.  Paper may not be enticing enough for people to use when they can use a software application but Okin and Romedenne showed how even a big company like eBay once engaged people to use cut-outs in order to change its site.

You want quick iteration? Nothing is faster than paper prototyping. It allows you to iterate quickly.

Why even bother to prototype in general? For many companies, it’s an effective way to create ideas and iterations. One discovers a litany of things-- problems and serendipities as well as interfaces on mobile or site templates. “It’s all about communication and how you uncover and discover how your end user would see, navigate, understand or even design your content or interface,” he said.

To make participatory design work effectively, though, one has to understand that any exercise needs a facilitator.  Being a democratic process, participatory design is democratic, perhaps too democratic that it’s both good and bad.

“We’ve all heard the saying, too many cooks can spoil the broth,” Romedenne said. “There has to be an adult in the room.”  The audience added how there has to be some ground rules, with some boundary of respect and making sure each voice is heard.

However, the facilitator should not lead a group to a solution and should be careful not to interfere with the ideas. Other times people might be stymied by their own inherent knowledge.  Even as simple as asking how do I take the subway may be too obvious a question to communicate right away. People cannot immediately explain anything until they are asked to show or demonstrate their ideas.

This, the two experts said, makes prototyping and participatory design a good combo. 

Below are the following exercises the attendees tackled as groups within a set period of time.

Exercise: Brain dump

1.    Write 3 priorities throughout the day (ex. Okin: her slides)

2.    Write your 3 favorite parts or components in your day (ex. shower)

3.    Write your top 3 pain points throughout the day (ex. trying to find a location)

Exercise: Affinity map

·         Discuss your thoughts and work amongst your group members

·         Create an affinity map of your thoughts by grouping similar findings

It’s about putting all your thoughts or post-its on a wall or paper. And if you need to jumpstart your thinking, use the Five Whys. Take a cue from how a child asks questions—and you’ll get the idea.

You can also label your affinities. In one group,  they called their similar findings and grouped them accordingly: productivity, connections, rituals, staying informed, waste, efficiency.

Exercise: Check in with the Class. Then ask yourself what commonalities you found

Exercise:  Define a problem to be solved or write a hypothesis

·         Draw/sketch while ideating over a possible “to-do” list application that would help each of you throughout the day (smartphone, smart watch, etc.)

·         Build your interface with paper

Okin is a lead instructor for General Assembly’s User Experience Design Immersive course in both the New York and London campuses. Romedenne is a User Experience Designer and User Researcher at Kaplan Test Prep.