What is a Paper Prototype? In-Depth Guide

Peter Martinez updated on 2024-06-06 13:49:40
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Suppose you are making an app or a website. You'd be tempted to jump straight to your computer and start coding. That method is not for everyone, especially when doing big projects. Figuring things out along the way is not efficient. That's why experienced designers use paper prototypes.

Simply put, a paper prototype is a drawing of the user interface of the project you will make. It allows you to see how the app will look even before it was made and identify problems. Sounds great, right? Here, you will learn more about paper prototypes and how to make them.

man making a paper prototype

Part 1. What Is Paper Prototyping?

Paper prototypes are hand-sketched mobile or computer screens. They are used to plan how the interface of an app or website will look. Also, you can use them to check with your clients if they like your design.

Making a paper prototype could be easier for some than making digital prototypes. Paper prototyping does not require extra tools - you only need a pencil/pen and paper. In contrast, digital prototypes may require you to use different tools, and you have to learn how to use those tools too. That said, paper prototyping is fast and inexpensive.

Part 2. The Advantages and Disadvantages of The Paper Prototypes Method

Here are the pros and cons of using paper prototypes.


Paper prototyping enables rapid iteration. You can quickly make different versions of the design in minutes.

Since you only need a pen and paper, paper prototyping is inexpensive. That's much better than digital tools, which vary in price and have learning curves.

Paper prototyping is great for eliciting honest feedback. You don't spend a lot of time, effort, and resources making them. Therefore, people feel more comfortable being critical of them.

Polished digital prototypes will not have the same effect.


It is not suited for projects where your clients are close to you. Paper prototypes are better for testing in person.

Paper prototypes require the testers to have a great imagination. Otherwise, they would struggle to see the final product through the sketches.

You still need to make digital prototypes even if you made paper prototypes.

Part 3. When To Use Paper Prototyping?

We use paper prototypes for planning an app or website's user interface.

You can do paper prototyping for brainstorming sessions. It is great for exploring and validating a variety of layouts. Also, paper prototyping is useful when the team needs to conduct Guerilla testing.

A great reason for using paper prototypes for testing is to involve your clients or users. They can provide suggestions while you are making the sketches or tell you what to draw.

Here's a common misconception. Some people think paper prototyping is only for the early stages of product design. That's not true. Suppose you had an idea while in a later stage of the process. You can still use paper prototypes to test that option quickly.

Part 4. How To Make a Paper Prototype?

Making a paper prototype does not really have steps to follow. If we were to put a step-by-step guide, it would be like this:

  1. Have an idea of what the app or website is about. Know what features it needs.
  2. Think of design ideas for the interface and workflows. Draw the ideas using pens and paper.
  3. Validate your design with your team or client.
  4. Reiterate until you or your client is happy with the design.
  5. Proceed with the next step of the design process.

As you can see, paper prototyping is simple and easy. It's supposed to be like that. If it's not the case, you are doing it wrong, and you may need to reconsider your strategies.

The rule of thumb is to have fun. Paper prototyping does not take much commitment, time, and effort. And it is inexpensive. So go crazy with your ideas.

Part 5. Practical Tips for Paper Prototyping

Here are 3 tips you should keep in mind for paper prototyping.

  1. Start with "Crazy 8's" to warm up. It is a core Design Sprint method. How it is done is you sketch 8 distinct ideas in 8 minutes. Each iteration is often built upon the last one. It is good practice for waking up your imagination and generating a wide variety of ideas.
  2. Limit one sketch per "screen" (a piece of paper.) If two sketches are on the same piece of paper, it creates problems. Paper prototypes allow you to visualize user flows by placing screens in sequence. You may need to switch the screens around or add new screens in between the current ones.
  3. Prioritize quantity over quality. Create as many prototype ideas as you can. Iterate each idea that comes to your mind. Then, get bits from the many designs to complete the final design.


Paper prototyping is not required. But doing it is advantageous. At first, it seems like it is slowing you down since you are adding an extra step to product design. However, much like prototyping as a whole, paper prototyping will speed you up in the long run. It prevents you from making enormous mistakes and guides you on what to do when building the product.

When you're done and ready to start making a high-fidelity prototype, you can use Wondershare Mockitt. It's a powerful design and prototyping tool will enable you to turn your vision into reality.