Prototyping for tiny fingers

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Citation: Marc Rettig (1994 April) Prototyping for tiny fingers. Communications of the ACM (RSS)

doi: 10.1145/175276.175288

Tagged: Computer Science (RSS) usability (RSS), design (RSS), HCI (RSS), CHI (RSS), lo-fi prototyping (RSS), prototyping (RSS)


This paper advocates for lo-fi prototyping and describes the process of creating, testing, and improving upon a prototype.

"Lo-fi prototyping works because it effectively educates developers to have a concern for usability and formative evaluation, and because it maximizes the number of times you get to refine your design before you must commit to code."

Advice for building a lo-fi prototype

  1. Have arts&crafts supplies
  2. Set a deadline
  3. Make models with 'moving parts' to simulate interactivity

Advice for preparing for a test

  1. Find test users--make them realistic
  2. Prepare test scenarios
  3. Practice: try testing on your own group first

Advice for conducting a test

The author suggests having 4 people with the following roles conduct the test:

  1. Greeter
  2. Faciliator
  3. Computer (this person simulates the computer, by performing the actions of the interface)
  4. Observers (who take notes, one problem per index card)

They suggest having a little more than an hour for these 3 phases:

  1. getting ready (assure the user that this is confidential and that you're testing the prototype, not them)
  2. conducting the test (NEVER tell the user how to do it)
  3. debriefing (gather impressions from the tester, and thank them)


Sorting and prioritizing notes is very important. Agree, with the team, on suggested changes. The author suggests using post-it notes directly on the paper prototype itself.


While people may start with skepticism, they are always surprised by how much they learn, and how useful the technique is.

Theoretical and practical relevance:

Make better interfaces, faster using lo-fi or paper prototyping.