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Getting involvement with prototype interfaces

There is a funny piece of rhetoric from the user-centred design world – it says that when showing prototype interfaces for the first time they should be hand-drawn and rough, not computer-drawn and tidy. The theory says that people are more likely to tell you what they think when things are still rough.

This has always caused me a problem as my handwriting is awful! Although I love hand-drawn sketches for their speed and flexibility, I am always surprised when people actually understand what I have done, as even I find them hard to read.

So lately I have been using a combination of hand-drawn and computer drawn interface sketches. My hand-drawn sketches are very high level and communicate the shape of the application (as the detail is unreadable anyway). As long as I’m on the right track with that, I go to computer pretty quickly so people can read and consider the detail.

But to get around the issue of getting feedback on tidy drawings (and I’m still not convinced it is a problem), I do a couple of things:

  • Print parts of the interface out on different coloured paper and cut them out like a jigsaw
  • Highlight parts of the interface with coloured markers
  • When demonstrating, have spare markers on the table, and draw first
  • Take along spare copies of the interface and scissors, and cut out

The second-last point is the most important one. Grab a marker and scribble on your own work. It’s fine to be messy. This helps to break the social taboo of drawing on something that is tidy. If people still look hesitant, hand them a marker and ask them to draw. This more strongly communicates that it is OK to get involved. Cut out spare parts from the copies, and re-assemble interfaces, and hand the scissors around for others to play as well.

I believe that we have an ingrained taboo about touching someone else’s work, and particularly about writing on something tidy (maybe we’re afraid of our mothers jumping out and yelling at us for writing on a book).

It only takes a little effort in a design exercise to communicate that this is OK, and even encouraged. Go for it!

2 Responses to “Getting involvement with prototype interfaces”

  1. Dan Saffer Says:

    Here’s another trick: do the paper prototype on computer, then use tracing paper to “hand draw” it. Then you can either use the tracing paper or else scan that in or copy it on a copying machine. Gives that rough feel without hand drawing!

  2. donna Says:

    That’s a neat idea. Doesn’t solve the problem of my handwriting though ;)

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