Improving web-applications through the early use of prototyping tools has brought about advancements in the prototyping tools themselves. One common and often promoted prototyping tool called “paper prototyping” (i.e. creating prototypes with paper and pen) is now being flanked by more recent prototyping tools, including online prototyping tools. This new kind of prototyping tool is not just helping the environment but also offers a better solution for many prototyping needs.
Below I will address what paper prototyping as a prototyping tool entails, then explain what an online prototyping tool is. Then I will discuss the pros and cons of both prototyping tools and why an online prototyping tool is more advantageous in many scenarios.
The Paper Prototyping Tool
Paper Prototyping as a prototyping tool (or method) has been used since at least the 1980’s and functions as a physical representation of the layout of a website or other kind of software application and its functional capabilities. This particular prototyping tool draws the application interface on paper and, when the prototypes are used in usability testing, the tester interacts with it by “clicking” on the various paper “links”. A facilitator then transitions the paper to a new “screen”. This kind of prototyping tool is very different from online prototyping tools.
Online Prototyping Tool
Online prototyping tools allow the design and usability testing to be accomplished on the same platform. With this kind of prototyping tool, one can create interactive prototypes and simulate the web application without the need for a facilitator.
With online prototyping tools, the user interacts with the prototype on a terminal, as if the application were live. This includes linking functions and multimedia content like videos. Some prototyping tools go beyond the mere creation of interactive prototypes and add testing functions.
Pros and Cons of the Prototyping Tools
Thus far, we have discussed two prototyping tools – a paper prototyping as a traditional tool and a general online prototyping tool. Although no prototyping tool is perfect, both kinds of prototyping tool have their pros and cons. But often, an online prototyping tool will be more advantageous.
Online Prototyping tool vs. Paper prototyping
The one primary plus of paper prototyping is that it is very simple to use – most people find it very natural to sketch ideas on paper first. Some issues with paper prototyping, however, include questions of validity and resources.
One contra to using this prototyping tool for user testing is that data collection is performed in sufficiently different circumstances than those of an actual web application. The data that is collected with this prototyping tool may then be skewed. This prototyping tool, does positively bring the prototype to the users in a user-friendly way, but in contrast to online prototyping tools the test settings leave much to be desired — in addition to the resources and time that paper prototyping requires, especially when drafts need to be updated iteratively.
Online prototyping tools can contribute to cost reduction, while offering realistic testing possibilities and the convenience of making changes easily — without added resources. One downside to online prototyping tools is that they rely on Internet and electricity. Yet, with broadband connections available in most offices today, this is rarely perceived as a minus by users. In addition, some online prototyping tools offer offline versions for downloading.
In summary, online prototyping tools offer green alternatives to current paper prototyping methods and practices as well as opportunities for better usability testing that provide realistic test settings. The cost savings reaped from this relatively new kind of prototyping tool will have implications on future technological developments and influence how companies manage their development processes.
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