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Paper Prototyping

Your constantly-updated definition of Paper Prototyping and collection of topical content and literature

What is Paper Prototyping?

Paper prototyping is a process where design teams create paper representations of digital products to help them realize concepts and test designs. They draw sketches or adapt printed materials and use these low-fidelity screenshot samples to cheaply guide their designs and study users’ reactions from early in projects.

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See why paper prototyping is a small, yet invaluable investment.

“Paper prototyping is great for exploring design possibilities. You can try as many as you want, and if they don’t work for you it’s fine, just throw them in the bin and start over. It opens your eyes on things you haven’t thought of and gives you new design perspectives.”

— Chaymae Lougmani, CEO & Co-founder at www.Snaget.io

Paper Prototyping saves Money—and Designs

Paper prototyping is a core activity in design processes. You depict screenshots (in what you can call paper-shots) to help determine how your design/product should appear. Like other forms of low-fidelity prototyping—e.g., card sorting—paper prototyping is a cheap-and-easy way to help shape concepts. If you use it early on, you can prevent unwanted development costs.It’s useful in brainstorming, where your team searches how to address users’ problems best. As you proceed, you can do down-and-dirty or guerrilla testing to informally test ideas with users and course-correct as needed.

Pros and Cons of Paper Prototyping

Consider the strengths and limitations of paper prototyping:


Quick iteration

You can build overviews without getting bogged down in details. In minutes, you can see whether an idea works on paper.


Paper is inexpensive; so are printed prototyping materials/kits.


Everyone can make rough sketches of ideas. Stakeholders from outside the design team can join in.

Pieces serve as documentation

Later on, you’ll have annotated hard-copy evidence of what works and what doesn’t.


When team members get creative, they can bond. Everyone can get involved in drawing, cutting and pasting and forget role/department barriers.

Honest feedback

People comment more freely than if they must criticize polished prototypes (i.e., someone’s “baby”).

Useful throughout the design process

You can use paper prototyping to help stay flexible about revisions throughout development.


Lack of realism

Whatever you draw, you can’t completely mimic an interactive design. Also, users’ gut reactions will differ compared with the finished product.

Inappropriateness in some contexts

You can’t always translate users’ constraints onto paper, especially regarding accessibility. You may need a sophisticated high-fidelity prototype to capture the user experience.

Requires in-person testing

You have a smaller pool of test users and greater risk of missing insights.

Lack of user control

Without an interactive design, users must give blow-by-blow accounts of their actions and thoughts. Also, you can’t moderate from a distance. You must give directions about next steps, without leading users.

More work

You’ll make digital prototypes, anyway. These may suit your concept without the need for primitive prototypes.

Interpret results carefully

Users can’t get a real feel of the product. Positive feedback is a good indicator of how to proceed, not a guarantee.

How to use Paper Prototyping Best

You should enter with the right tools and mindset. So,

  1. Gather stationery – pens, pencils, markers, paper, card, Post-its, scissors, tape, glue, rulers and suitable stencils. About $10/£10/€10 is typically enough to cover this. You can use graph paper to help guide ideas. Colored paper is great for representing buttons.
  2. Get building Just go ahead and see where you go. As you get your ideas down on paper, you can think about them more concretely. Later, you can get insights about improving them.
  3. Make one sketch per screen.
  4. Move quickly – If you spend too long making your prototype, you’ll get attached to it. Don’t waste time erasing: You want to get ideas down rather than revise them and potentially miss insights from the raw version.
  5. Remember what to test – Build with that purpose in mind, but stay aware of other factors.
  6. Prototype for small screens first When you go mobile-first, you can prioritize your content better.
  7. Remember the users – As you’ll test your prototype against users’ behaviors and needs, consider their expectations as you build.

Remember, the earlier you use paper prototyping, the better.

Learn More about Paper Prototyping

Dive into our Design Thinking course to see all about paper prototyping: https://www.interaction-design.org/courses/design-thinking-the-beginner-s-guide

This UX Planet blog has some helpful paper prototyping tips: https://uxplanet.org/the-magic-of-paper-prototyping-51693eac6bc3

Discover a wealth of insights into paper prototyping from UX content strategist Jerry Cao: https://www.uxpin.com/studio/blog/paper-prototyping-the-practical-beginners-guide/

Literature on Paper Prototyping

Here’s the entire UX literature on Paper Prototyping by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:

Learn more about Paper Prototyping

Take a deep dive into Paper Prototyping with our course User Experience: The Beginner’s Guide .

If you’ve heard the term user experience design and been overwhelmed by all the jargon, then you’re not alone. In fact, most practicing UX designers struggle to explain what they do!

“[User experience] is used by people to say, ‘I’m a user experience designer, I design websites,’ or ‘I design apps.’ […] and they think the experience is that simple device, the website, or the app, or who knows what. No! It’s everything — it’s the way you experience the world, it’s the way you experience your life, it’s the way you experience the service. Or, yeah, an app or a computer system. But it’s a system that’s everything.”

— Don Norman, pioneer and inventor of the term “user experience,” in an interview with NNGroup

As indicated by Don Norman, User Experience is an umbrella term that covers several areas. When you work with user experience, it’s crucial to understand what those areas are so that you know how best to apply the tools available to you.

In this course, you will gain an introduction to the breadth of UX design and understand why it matters. You’ll also learn the roles and responsibilities of a UX designer, how to confidently talk about UX and practical methods that you can apply to your work immediately.

You will learn to identify the overlaps and differences between different fields and adapt your existing skills to UX design. Once you understand the lay of the land, you’ll be able to chart your journey into a career in UX design. You’ll hear from practicing UX designers from within the IxDF community — people who come from diverse backgrounds, have taught themselves design, learned on the job, and are enjoying successful careers.

If you are new to the Interaction Design Foundation, this course is a great place to start because it brings together materials from many of our other courses. This provides you with both an excellent introduction to user experience and a preview of the courses we have to offer to help you develop your future career. After each lesson, we will introduce you to the courses you can take if a specific topic has caught your attention. That way, you’ll find it easy to continue your learning journey.

In the first lesson, you’ll learn what user experience design is and what a UX designer does. You’ll also learn about the importance of portfolios and what hiring managers look for in them.

In the second lesson, you’ll learn how to think like a UX designer. This lesson also introduces you to the very first exercise for you to dip your toes into the cool waters of user experience. 

In the third and the fourth lessons, you’ll learn about the most common UX design tools and methods. You’ll also practice each of the methods through tailor-made exercises that walk you through the different stages of the design process.

In the final lesson, you’ll step outside the classroom and into the real world. You’ll understand the role of a UX designer within an organization and what it takes to overcome common challenges at the workplace. You’ll also learn how to leverage your existing skills to successfully transition to and thrive in a new career in UX.   

You’ll be taught by some of the world’s leading experts. The experts we’ve handpicked for you are:

  • Alan Dix, Director of the Computational Foundry at Swansea University, author of Statistics for HCI: Making Sense of Quantitative Data

  • Ann Blandford, Professor of Human-Computer Interaction at University College London

  • Frank Spillers, Service Designer, Founder and CEO of Experience Dynamics

  • Laura Klein, Product Management Expert, Principal at Users Know, Author of Build Better Products and UX for Lean Startups

  • Michal Malewicz, Designer and Creative Director / CEO of Hype4 Mobile

  • Mike Rohde, Experience and Interface Designer, Author of The Sketchnote Handbook: The Illustrated Guide to Visual Note Taking

  • Szymon Adamiak, Software Engineer and Co-founder of Hype4 Mobile

  • William Hudson, User Experience Strategist and Founder of Syntagm

Throughout the course, we’ll supply you with lots of templates and step-by-step guides so you can start applying what you learn in your everyday practice.

You’ll find a series of exercises that will help you get hands-on experience with the methods you learn. Whether you’re a newcomer to design considering a career switch, an experienced practitioner looking to brush up on the basics, or work closely with designers and are curious to know what your colleagues are up to, you will benefit from the learning materials and practical exercises in this course.

You can also learn with your fellow course-takers and use the discussion forums to get feedback and inspire other people who are learning alongside you. You and your fellow course-takers have a huge knowledge and experience base between you, so we think you should take advantage of it whenever possible.

You earn a verifiable and industry-trusted Course Certificate once you’ve completed the course. You can highlight it on your resume, LinkedIn profile or website.

All Literature

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