Everyone should (and can) be a paper prototyper – 10 reasons why

When we sketched down a list of our 10 favorite tools for digital prototyping, based on the experience of 2 years of prototyping sessions with our clients, we’ve put Paper Prototyping on top of the list – and it’s not a random position. Paper prototyping IS the king of prototyping: it is not only the first way you should follow to express your early-stage ideas – it is really a way of working every employee in the world should master. Aka every time you have an idea, don’t describe it in words – sketch it out instead.

For those who aren’t convinced about the power of sketching and paper prototyping quite yet, we’ve summed up 10 reasons.

1. Convenience

Paper prototyping doesn’t cost you a penny.

It might be the most commonly used tool in the world. A sheet of paper and a pen. Just look at the desk you’re sitting at now, big chance you see a pen and a sheet of paper lying there in the glance of an eye. No problems with accessibility or an expired license of a program. No need to call a designer that knows her/his way around the whole Adobe Suite.

2. Speed

Paper prototyping is the quickest way you have to communicate your ideas.

Paper prototyping lets you sketch an idea in just a few seconds, and a full interface prototype in just a few hours. Make it quick and easy: don’t overcomplicate the sketches, and resist to the temptation of diving into details. If you struggle with sketching out your idea it is probably because you haven’t thought it out very well yet.

3. Ease

Everyone in the world (seriously: everyone) can make a drawing.

If you read that last sentence in the previous paragraph and totally disagree with me because you think you are untalented and cannot sketch at all, you’re probably aiming to a beautiful artwork instead of a prototype.  All shapes are made up of lines, squares, triangles, and circles..

4. Action-bias

In comparison to an email where you describe your idea in words, a quick sketch is 50x more tangible.

If an image is worth 1000 words, then a prototype is worth 1000 images.  Creating a sketch of your idea forces you to think about it, to really define the important elements and how you want to share the story. This is the single hardest element of prototyping. Good thing is:  it’s fast and cheap, so you can create many different variations in minutes.

5. Focus on the concept

No waste of time on colors and design.

When talking about paper prototyping it is inevitable to not compare it with it’s bigger brother: high fidelity digital prototyping. A great reason why paper prototyper should win the battle of the strongest in the very first stage of your visualization is not only because it is fast, cheap and convenient, but also because it doesn’t distract you with the importance or unimportance of color, typography, or the resolution of the pictures in your interface.

6. Flexibility

Paper prototyping allows for flexible and adaptable prototypes.

Realign, reposition, remove. Your sketches are not set in stone. Your interface flow can easily be changed or rearranged. For example, if you have sketched a storyboard on 5 different sheets of paper, you can ask your customers the favorite flow they want to experience.

7. Breadth of possibilities

You’re not constrained by the drawing features of a prototyping software.

While digital tools tend to restrict the imagination of most of us, a sketch or drawing triggers it. Where a digital tool limits you to the shapes you are able to build with that tool, a sketch has infinite possibilities. There are probably 1000000 ways to draw a line, a square or a circle.

8. Collaboration

Paper prototyping enables collaborative co-creation of concepts.

Paper prototyping doesn’t only trigger creativity on an individual level. Instead, it also activates a collaborative creative environment, where people can easily add an element to each other’s sketches. Or you can use the paper sketches as a way to internally align on how you actually visualize your idea for that new feature or a new customer journey.

9. Honesty

By showing a “quick and dirty” prototype, you have more chance to gather honest feedback.

When doing interviews with a paper prototype, or when showing a sketch of a new product or service to a colleague, you are more likely to get more honest feedback than when you are interviewing the same person with a great designed high fidelity prototype. The reason for this is that the interviewee probably doesn’t want to hurt your feelings. When you show them something that looks like the real thing, they know you’ve put a lot of work in it. They will be kinder in their feedback leaving out the real frustrations. A rough and dirty sketch creates a great environment to give honest feedback unbiased by kindness. It looks quick and cheap, so breaking it down won’t sound like a big of a problem.

10. Eagle eye

Paper prototyping shows the big picture of the new service or product.

Last but not least, paper prototyping gives you an eagle eye vision over your whole concept. It focuses its importance on the overall concept rather than details. A common mistake in the execution of new ideas is adding pointless details in the very beginning.


I’m Montana Mertens, Head of Design @ Board of Innovation. Spreading innovation culture is in our DNA – if you liked the read, contribute to our mission by sharing this article.

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