UX Magazine

Defining and Informing the Complex Field of User Experience (UX)
Article No. 580 November 16, 2010

How To Prototype And Influence People

One of the points I make in So You Want To Be A Designer is that the hardest part of software isn’t the process of creating software, it’s changing culture and influencing organizations. One of the strongest tools we have our repertoire in convincing others is prototyping and video: turning ideas into high-bandwidth communication artifacts. The goal of a prototype is to sketch an idea and to inspire participation: you are creating a narrative.

To put it another way, the value of an idea is zero unless it can be communicated. Below is the video of my talk on How To Prototype And Influence People. Not only that, but the video also includes a demonstration of live rapid prototyping! Now is your chance to see me code and debug in front of seventy-five people. It’s like pair programming with an entire room.

[ View this presentation on Vimeo ]

For those who do not want to sit through the 30-minutes romp and my rapid prototyping, here are the principals of prototyping that I explain fully in talk:

  1. Your first try will be wrong. Budget and design for it.
  2. Aim to finish a usable artifact in a day. This helps you focus and scope.
  3. You are making a touchable sketch. Do not fill in all the lines.
  4. You are iterating your solution as well as your understanding of the problem.
  5. Treat your code as throw-away, but be ready to refactor.
  6. Borrow liberally
  7. Tell a story with your prototype. It isn’t just a set of features.

The Rapid Prototype: A Zooming Twitter Streamer

The Slides

[ View this presentation on Slideshare ]


User Profile

Called an interface guru by publications like Wired and Fast Company, Aza is the co-founder of Massive Health, and was until recently Creative Lead for Firefox. Previously, he was a founding member of Mozilla Labs. Aza gave his first talk on user interface at age 10 and got hooked. At 17, he was talking and consulting internationally. Aza has founded and sold two companies, including Songza.com, a minimalist music search engine that had over a million song plays in its first week. He also creates modular cardboard furniture called Bloxes. In another life, Aza has done Dark Matter research at both Tokyo University and the University of Chicago, from where he graduated with honors in math and physics.

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I'm working rather in corporate and start-up environment where co-working is crucial. Basing on knowledge from UXPin.com orders and messages from our clients - plenty of agencies want to paper prototype with clients.

Though even if you can't use paper prototypes to work with your clients is still best tool to work on early concept. Working with paper let you (certainly it works for me) stay focus on User Interface idea and clear needs of people.

And of course, great advantage of paper prototyping (pointed also by Carolyn Snyder) is fact that you can conducte quickly and effective usability tests or create participatory design session with your website users. Providing changes on paper prototype takes only few seconds.

Paper prototyping is great, creative and low-cost. But nowadays I am not often meeting with clients or co-workers IRL. Instead we meet and share work online. I have tried scanning paper prototypes to share and work with online, but it juts does not work well. The advantages are somewhat lost. Instead we use different online prototyping tools where we can work and share in real time. Or when using Wordpress f e we use childtemplates directly for wireframes and prototypes, very fast and easy to do rapid iterations or use theme switch to show different options.

Great presentation. But why not to emphasize more the idea of paper prototype? Because it looks unprofessional? Because you need to put to much effort into sketching? Well...let me tell you inluential story;-):

Imagine that you have a meeting with your clients presenting first prototype of the new corporate website. You obviously had your design idea which came to you after making some researches and usability study, but you weren't sure how clients would react. You would loose great deal of time if you would prepare PSD graphics, html prototype, or even sketch in Axure. The situation that we all know. They want to decide, they want to feel engaged in the design process and they...resist the ideas they can't actually "touch".

Hard situation, but you know great solution. You're preparing a paper prototype of your ideas basing on the research. You're not only sketching (what if they would want to change something?) but actually using technology that consists of GUI elements with post-it-like glue strips and professional looking paper browser.

You're showing your clients paper prototype and what than? Of course they're suprised, but you're emphasising low cost of making prototype and explaining them whad did you find out during research and usability study.

If they want to change something you're letting them just re-organize elements and you're running quick usability test to find out how it works. They're engaged in designing, they're starting to understand what designing great UX actually means. They're happy.

You won. They're not showing any resist. Congratulations you're on your way to creation of great website...and great User Experience.

It's simple as that and believe me or not. I've checked that. Of course there's marketing in my comment, as I've created tool mentioned above - UXPin, but... believe me or not just the idea of paper prototyping with your client or teammates (check that in corporate environment or in a start-up) may change your work.

Difference in our approaches doesn't change the fact that your presentation is awesome. Take care!