Paper prototypes and mock-ups

It's possible to do user-testing in a very low-tech way using nothing but paper and pens.

For instance, you may want to test the way you've named the sections in your site, and see if your categories are meaningful to users. You can do this by simply writing them in a list and asking the user which they would choose to complete a certain task; or ask them what they would expect to find in that section.

You may want to experiment with layout and positioning. You can write categories on pieces of card and paper and ask users to move them around to the positions where they'd expect to find them.

Card sorting exercises are another option. Simply write your top-level categories in big letters on pieces of card, and present them to your test user like a deck of playing cards. Ask them which they would choose in answer to your task/ question. When they've chosen one, discard the rest and present the user with another set of choices. In this way you can test the structure and organisation of your categories, and whether they will lead your user to the right information.

You can take paper prototyping as far as you want. You could, if you wanted, simulate a whole user journey by drawing 'screens' and showing them to the user when they point at ('click') a link.

However, beyond the higher levels and categories of your site, this approach has limitations. You could end up spending as much time on it as you would building a prototype online - you need to know when to stop.

The other drawback is that people don't interact with paper in the same way as they do with the screen. If you want to test whether people will find things or understand the way you've laid them out on an on-screen web page, you could try creating static mock-ups (with no links) and showing them to users. An advantage of mock-up images is that you can email them to colleagues and test users, to increase efficiency.

These quick, easy methods of user testing can be very powerful. They allow you to collect evidence about how users think and behave, and organise your site accordingly. Managers and colleagues should react favourably to this evidence-driven approach.

Next section: Implications and considerations

^ Back to top