Why paper prototyping is crucial in designing good digital products

Paper prototyping is crucial in designing good digital products. Having a visual understanding of your structure before starting high fidelity prototypes is a great way to establish your landmarks. It will boost your confidence and make you comfortable dealing with all aspects of your product design.

Digital Products:

Digital products are a way of creating passive income for your business. They are basically any type of information product you deliver electronically rather than physically ship. Some popular examples in the creative entrepreneur world would be online courses, video workshops, e-books, PDF guides, worksheets or printables, or design resources like icons, illustrations, stock photos, templates, and more.

Some people start prototyping using Sketch, Photoshop and HTML/CSS. I personally recommend starting with a sharpie and paper. Do some sketches and visualize what you are designing first.

New perspectives

“Fail Fast. Learn Fast. Improve Fast.” — Spotify Engineering Culture

Paper prototyping is great for exploring design possibilities. You can try as many as you want, and if they don’t work for you it’s fine, just throw them in the bin and start over. It opens your eyes on things you haven’t thought of and gives you new design perspectives.


With paper prototyping you can communicate your ideas in a clear, simple and effective way; your information architecture is clear, your team has clear understanding of the main features and interactions your product offers.

Early feedback

“User-centered design means working with your users all throughout the project” –Donald Norman

With paper prototype testing, you involve the user in early design process, this will help you find your product issues before spending any time in high fidelity prototypes or coding. Who knows, you might discover that you have done it all wrong and start over.

This a very important step toward a well designed product, even if you don’t have time, just pick a colleague in your office, ask him/her to try it out while thinking out loud. You’d be surprised by the things you’ll discover that have to be changed.

Get straight to the goal

“Usability is about people and how they understand and use things, not about technology.” ―Steve Krug, Don’t Make Me Think, Revisited: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability (3rd Edition)

The absence of colors and nice designs help people concentrate on the tasks they are assigned instead of getting distracted by the UI. You won’t hear comments like :

“Oh I don’t like the green color here, I think it should be blue!”

At this stage, the usability is the most important factor, when you eliminate external factors, you get more valuable feedback.

And also the fact that it’s just paper, makes people confident in communicating their thoughts without worrying about hurting your feelings. It is obvious that this is a draft version that you haven’t put too much effort in, so users won’t feel they’re criticizing something that took a long time to do.


“Vision starts with a firm foundation and carries through with design principles” — Lexi Thorn & Scott Maywood-Bryant (ANZ)

If you follow agile methodologies, paper prototyping is even more beneficial as you can kick start your project at this early stage (once your prototype has been tested). It helps you specify user stories for the next sprint.


Paper and sharpies don’t cost much. Paper prototyping don’t take much time and save you some days/man that you can use for extra user testing.

Facilitate communication between designers and developers

“My belief is that communication is the best way to create strong relationships” –Jada Pinkett Smith

I’m sure you all know about the ultimate fights between designers and developers, use paper prototyping and keep your team happy.

Balsamiq vs paper

Personally, I recommend to design on paper first then save your design on Balsamiq once it is stable. Paper is quicker and more fun to iterate on. I like the flexibility I can get with paper prototyping, especially when it comes to filling forms and text. In term of hierarchy, you can play with your sketches and try different options which you can’t really do with balsamiq, you’ll have to print all the layout.

In Balsamiq whether you want it or not, you still get distracted with all the shapes and forms available. Too much choice is distracting, you end up adjusting sizes and writing things.

Some designers start prototyping directly using Balsamiq. Many end up spending a lot of time in making it look good, use the output in Marvel or Invision and get an animated clickable low fidelity prototype. It looks better right? By skipping stages, you also miss a lot of possibilities. Once you put time and effort in something, you get attached to it and you forget that you are still exploring options.

I hope this was helpful, If you have any other interesting tips or methods, please do share them with me; I’m interested to know how you do things. Don’t hesitate getting in touch for more information, my Twitter handle is @ChaymaeLougmani.

Mobile UX London is a one day conference that will bring together 200+ professionals from around the world covering UX, Product, Design & Research digital products. A must attend conference for any individual or organisation. Learn more.

Leave a Reply