When planning the structure of a website or an app, I often begin by capturing my ideas on paper in the form of wireframes. I quickly sketch several possible layouts to see which form fits best: Should I use a two or three-column layout? What kind of navigation structure will the site have? How can I integrate a search bar? For exploring basic questions like these, nothing beats throwing together some quick-and-dirty paper prototypes. It’s a great way to get the creativity flowing, and when a sketch doesn’t work it’s always fun to crumple it up and play office basketball with the garbage can.
Does that mean that prototyping on paper is superior to using a wireframing software tool? Each has its own strengths that are useful at different stages of a project. In the initial brainstorming stage, I prefer the paper-based approach for the following reasons:
- It’s fast, low-tech and low-cost. All you need to get started is paper and a pencil.
- You can do it anywhere: on the couch, in your garden, or even while lying in bed.
- Paper frees you from adhering to a particular style or following a set of predefined rules.
- It’s fun, playful, and helps unleash your creative juices.
Later on, after having dealt with the basic layout questions, I refine my ideas on screen and enjoy the benefits of digital wireframing:
- A wireframing tool lets me choose from ready-to-use template elements.
- Existing wireframes are painless to modify.
- Files can be versioned and easily be exchanged among team members.
If you are in the market for a good wireframe software, I can recommend PowerMockup, a wireframing tool developed by our company. PowerMockup is an add-on for Microsoft PowerPoint that provides a handy library of stencils for quickly sketching a layout.
5 Paper Prototyping Kits Up For Grabs
To promote the idea of paper prototyping and get you started, we are giving away five paper prototyping kits, each containing:
- 3 Sketch Pads
- 4 Sharpie Markers
The sketch pads contain a simple browser frame and come with 50 sheets of nice thick (100gms) A4 paper.
Instead of pencils or thin ballpoint pens, we include a package of Sharpie markers. The reason is simple: Due to its thickness, a Sharpie forces you to focus on the basic building blocks of your layout and minimizes the risk of getting lost in design details that will probably change later anyway. Sharpies encourage you to concentrate on the concept, which is why they are the perfect choice for early brainstorming sessions.
How to Enter the Giveaway [ended]
For a chance to win one of five paper prototyping kits, simply tweet about this post using the hashtag #protokit. The competition will run for the next seven days, ending May 8th, 2012. The winners will be picked randomly from all tweets received and contacted for shipping information (shipping will be done via DHL International to almost any location in the world).
There will be a small consolation prize for those not among the five lucky winners: a free paper browser PDF template for download so you can print your own sketching paper. Have fun with it!