This is a guest post by Annabelle Davis of sixteen25. In it Annabelle shares her recent experiences of paper prototyping Mind Of My Own, a Nominet Trust funded self-advocacy app. To find out more about use of paper prototyping with young people check out the links at the bottom of the post.
The concept of paper prototyping has always been slightly lost on me. Since I first heard about it the question ‘how can a sheet of paper replicate an app?’ has rattled around my head, as has ‘how do young people engage with a piece of paper in a way that gives us meaningful information?’
Well, to be honest it’s not just paper; it’s blu-tac, acetate and marker pens too, all worked magically by a very skilled operator pretending to be a phone. And the concern over young people engaging? That was unwarranted too.
The thing with paper prototyping, and the magic of it, is that it’s not about the look, colour or aesthetics of the app. It’s about the interaction process, the thinking behind the user’s actions as they press the paper buttons. It’s about the conversations the young people create with the app, not the conversations that young people create with us. It’s about seeing first hand what works for them and what doesn’t.
Paper is that very tactile resource. It’s non-threatening, it’s easily manipulated, it can easily be ripped up and thrown away. That’s why it’s so effective. The young people using it could journey through a process, create an outcome and see for themselves how the different interfaces behaved. In turn we watched, we listened and we responded.
The app wasn’t perfect, but then it’s paper, we can change it. The young people didn’t always like things, but, it’s paper, we can change it. The wording, the order, the positioning didn’t always work but again, it’s paper, we can change it. This attitude was reflected in the relaxed atmosphere of the room, the fun vibe generated by the process, and also in the suggestions, criticisms, openness and ambitions given to us by the young people.
Watching the paper prototyping was a fascinating and very informative process, which ultimately gave us more information than we could have obtained through months of research and focus groups.
Yes, we did identify quite a few changes, but that’s probably a good thing. It means we can make a better app now, not discover the errors later. It meant we could make changes there and then, we could progress and test our learning, and through the seven different pairs we worked with over the two days the app became stronger, our objectives became clearer and MOMO’s fundamental principles excelled.
At the moment MOMO may only be paper, pens and a bit of blu-tac, but for twelve young people, and a handful of workers (and myself) it has come to life. The concept of paper prototyping is now one I completely endorse and appreciate, and also one that fully embodies the co-production principle and drive for change that is central to the innovation process.