User Interface Design – The Use of Paper Prototypes

Paper Prototypes

There are many important steps within the web design process, none more so than the paper prototype stage. These prototypes are used to visualize the look and feel of the interface; essentially they are a communication tool whether it is between client and designer, or even designer and development team. Paper prototypes ensure that everyone is ‘singing from the same hymn sheet’ and is aware of exactly what the website needs to do, and how it will do it. Using this method is the most efficient way to reach the end goal of producing a final design.

All members of the team should see these prototypes before they are converted in to wireframe diagrams and sent to the client. Potential mistakes rectified at this stage with a pen/pencil and eraser cost much less than rectifying them later using complex code and un-compliant work a rounds and ‘cheats’. It is common and even advised to re-circulate these diagrams numerous times around your team before the clients sees them. Doing this will ensure that you have confidence that you have created the best and most user friendly solution for their web design project.

It is important in user interface design to ensure that you work with any standard methods of practice. For example if there’s a way that a user would commonly/universally expect a function to work, then there needs to be a massively good reason to change this. It is an old cliché but in most instances it is true, can you really re-design the wheel completely? New sorts of tyres like run-flats and thin spares have been developed but ultimately these are variations of an unchangeable classic. This is a good way to approach user interface design, keep things familiar for your user so they feel instantly comfortable within your interface; however make some unique modifications that will enhance their user experience.

Now, on the flip side of the coin, here are some ‘must avoid at all costs’ scenarios:

  1. Do not select the wrong control for a task.  Changing the way controls operate can often result in an inefficient and massively frustrating experience for users
  2. Avoid interrupting  the user to ask stupid questions, provide meaningless information, or  to ask them to make what should be an obvious selection
  3. The wrong use of colour within any application can prove very confusing, so don’t make errors highlighted in green and successful notices in nice bright red – stick to commonly known colour codes where possible.
  4. Don’t use over technical or complicated ‘programmerisms’ when alerting users to errors or other messages, clear and concise English is the way forward
  5. Improper design of the visual graphics in an application will result in applications that are difficult to read and almost impossible to use. Avoid crazy patterns where they aren’t needed and make sure there’s enough contrast between your text and the background – so the text is always nice and crisp and easily read.

In conclusion, as with many design processes the key is feedback and communication. Getting the opinions of as many people as is reasonably possible is vital to the successful completion of a web design project.