“Paper in Screen” Prototyping

This is a new, rapid technique to anticipate the mobile user experience. It was also the topic of my thesis project for the Human-Computer Interaction Masters Programme at Indiana University in Indianapolis. The research that emerged from this project resulted in a published article I co-authored with Dr. Davide Bolchini and Dr. Anthony Faiola, which was featured in the July-August/2009 issue of ACM’s Interactions Magazine.

The idea behind “Paper in Screen” is to be able to use well-known paper prototypes of mobile applications in the intended context of use for an enhanced mobile user experience. For example, with a paper prototype of an iPhone application, the user would interact with the prototype by using an actual iPhone.

Another way to describe this prototyping technique would be to understand where it lies within the spectrum of different prototype fidelities. With paper prototypes as a low-fidelity prototype and a functional/interactive prototype as a high-fidelity prototype, “Paper in Screen” would be somewhere in the middle. In fact, “Paper in Screen” prototypes are in essence a low-fidelity prototype that can be easily experienced in a way only a functional high-fidelity prototype is able to today. Put differently, this new technique allows practitioners to enjoy the practicality of creating paper prototypes whilst providing a more realistic context to the end user because the low-fidelity prototype “lives” inside the mobile device.

The process is simple: you can see the steps required to create a “Paper in Screen” Prototype either by reading the article published in Interactions Magazine (subscription required) or by exploring the following slides (taken from my thesis defense presentation):




This project involved all the necessary steps usually present in a Masters’ thesis: a solid hypothesis, testing with user experience practitioners and data analysis (in this case, an affinity diagram).

The following video explains (in about 2 minutes) how paper prototypes were turned into “Paper in Screen” prototypes as introduced to the participants during the testing sessions:



The thesis project was eventually accepted as the final requirement for graduation by the evaluating committee from IUPUI´s School of Informatics. At the time this project was finished, another HCI student had decided to take this idea and develop it further as part of his own thesis project.

Update: (12 April, 2011) UX Magazine has published an article I have written on “Paper in Screen” prototyping. It contains a resumed version of the idea behind the technique, the steps and some of the results gathered during the study that was made as part of my graduate thesis project. Here’s a short blog post I wrote about it.