Sunday, June 24, 2007

"Low-Fidelity" Prototyping With Electronic Tools

Do you like the idea of low-fidelity prototyping, but don't relish the idea of dealing with all that paper? It's certainly possible to get the great benefits of the low-fidelity prototype without all those annoying paper cuts by using some creative electronic tools.

One of the ways I sometimes "cheat" in this area is by taking advantage of my Tablet PC. I use Microsoft OneNote as my "blank pad" and create my low-fidelity prototype directly on the screen with my tablet pen. Although I really enjoy working with pencil and paper (and crayons, markers, etc.), I find the tablet solution to be a good one when I'm pressed for time. If I want to make changes, I can simply erase an area of the screen or create a copy of the current page and make the modifications on the new version. Taking advantage of OneNote allows me to group related prototype pages by project, perform searches on keywords, backup my work easily, etc.

Using OneNote on the tablet is also a great help to me when I'm further along in the design process. I can use the program to perform a quick screen capture, then use digital ink to annotate the changes needed directly on a picture of the screen in question. This aids me greatly in remembering what we were doing if I go back to find some details in the future.

Another promising tool for quick "low-fidelity" prototyping is the DENIM project. DENIM allows you to create actual working prototypes that maintain the spirit of quick, iterative low-fidelity methods. With this tool, you draw your prototype as you normally would. The cool part is that the system is very smart and can identify common design patters, such as text boxes, labels, radio buttons, etc.

Check out the videos on the project site to see it in action. I think you'll agree it has some merit. I have to admit that I haven't tried DENIM yet, but it's certainly on my to do list. If you check it out, let me know what you think.

I'm sure there are other creative developers out there that use electronic tools to perform quick and dirty prototyping. If you've got some ideas you'd like to share, please post them in the comments. No matter how you go about it, the important thing is that you prototype often and early. This will help you deliver better systems to your users!

Wow...just realised as I was saving that this is my 100th post. Didn't think I'd make it this long, especially since I sometime get a bit long-winded! :-D Thanks for sticking around everyone!!!


Janeg said...

That's a pretty cool tool Chris, thanks for the link

Maria Helm said...

You realize you're opening yourself up for some flack for showing OneNote here, right? That's won't be from me. Realistically, we all have to use software from varying sources for various reasons.

In the spirit of low-fi prototyping: I have used MS Paint to mock-up the interface for a Notes app several times. (Most any graphics program will work.) I can copy/paste items from other Notes databases, then change the labels/colors/position around. The benefit here is I quickly get something that LOOKS like a real application when I print it out or show it onscreen. But I didn't have to do any work in Designer or any coding to get there.

Joanne said...

Congratulations on your 100th post! :-)

Only 1,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999,999, etc. etc. to go!

(Maybe I shoulda just written a googleplex more to go...)

Keil Wilson said...

I played with the DENIM tool a little bit the other day. I think it's got some potential, but there's a bit of a learning curve to it, especially to become proficient enough with it to use in meetings with users.

Thanks for the tips, Chris, and keep them coming. I've been trying to work out how to do user testing and prototyping for a while now, because I don't really have the time or resources to do them well.