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This installment of UX Design Techniques brings together all of the information you've gathered from previous steps. Here, Chris Nodder shows how to get fast, inexpensive, and early validation of your design ideas, using the simplest of materials: paper, Post-it notes, index cards, and Sharpies. With these tools, you'll learn how to create paper prototypes and present them to representative users of your product or system. It's a great way to test your ideas before you write any code.
Over the years that I've been running paper prototype tests, I've picked up some useful tips that help to make the session more successful. My first tip is to relax. It's okay not to have the whole interface ready. You're very early in the process, and your main goal is to find out whether the large ideas behind the interface design work or not. If someone clicks on an area you don't have paper interfaces for, it's a great opportunity to ask them what they expected to see.
You may even be able to quickly mock something up using your existing interface elements that you created for the prototype. This is a learning environment, so make the most of it. I find that it's best to only have one person interacting with the participant. So I normally make it a rule that the person playing the role of the "computer" shouldn't talk unless they have a procedural question for the moderator. It's a hard role to play but it's important not to confuse or distract the participant. It helps to let the participant in these studies know when the computer is working, because that puts them more at ease.
They realize they aren't required to add further comments. We're just waiting for the computer to draw the next screen. The easiest way to do this is to have a picture of an hourglass drawn on an index card and to put that down on top of the prototype screens whenever the person playing the role of the computer has to spend any length of time finding or even creating the next piece of the interface. I don't often record these early prototype test sessions because the interface is likely to change very quickly and it's highly unlikely you'll go back and watch the session again.
However, if you do want to video record the session, I suggest that you make a square of masking tape on the table where you run the test. Make it the same size as your paper screens. That way, users will not be tempted to move your interface around so much, and the camera will stand a better chance of picking up the action. In an early paper prototype study like this, it's okay to make changes to the interface between participants. If you find that something obviously isn't working. You're running these usability tests to workout whether your interface is suitable, not to gather metrics on its performance.
This early formative usability testing doesn't require you to run the exact same protocol for every participant, like you would in later summaritive testing. What's important is to find as many conceptual issues as you can, using this cheap and easily changed interface, and to find fixes for as many of those issues as you can, before you move to the expense of coding real interfaces. And that comment leads to one final tip on recruiting. I tend to run no more than 5 people per round of testing.
It's early in the development process and you'll learn enough from 5 users to know what the common issues are. It's better to iterate the design and then do another round of paper prototype testing, than to just keep running more participants through a design that you already know is broken.
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