CRII: CHS: Remote Paper Prototype Testing for Mobile Applications

Project: Research project

Project Details


Lo-fi prototyping, or paper prototyping, is a powerful tool for designers to test designs with users early in the design process. Paper prototypes are fast and cheap to make, focus on core interactions instead of look and feel, and enable designers to test multiple designs and iterate quickly. But despite these benefits, researchers and practitioners have argued that paper prototyping is poorly suited for evaluating mobile applications. In particular, they express the need and difficulty in evaluating mobile application designs in representative environments that surface realistic experiences. Testing in the lab lacks situational context; for evaluating the mobile use of an application, scenarios may feel contrived and the user’s experience may fail to reveal major issues in the design. Testing out of the lab faces practical challenges. In order to observe the user in context, a facilitator and wizard may need to follow a user around, which may be difficult and undesirable. But even if they do, it may be hard to see a user’s interactions with a paper prototype and be able to wizard effectively in a mobile setting.

The objective of this research is to enable the testing of lo-fi prototypes in realistic environments with tools that support user testing a paper prototype out of the lab while a designer wizards from afar. To reach this objective, we will design, implement, and evaluate remote prototype testing tools that support the design goals of (1) testing mobile apps in realistic environments, (2) facilitating a testing session and wizarding a paper prototype remotely, (3) providing location-based and situational context, and (4) preserving and extending the affordances of paper prototyping to the mobile setting. The effectiveness of the developed methods and tools for supporting remote paper prototype testing will be evaluated through controlled experiments and field deployments.

This research will produce three types of results that further our knowledge of lo-fi prototyping and remote testing: (1) interaction and interface techniques for enabling the remote testing of lo-fi prototypes; (2) methods for recruiting and coordinating a crowd to act as persistent wizards and facilitators over time; (3) evaluations that quantify the benefits of the proposed techniques for remote testing in realistic locations, times, and situations. This work draws on methodology from social computing and human-computer interaction. The PI has a history of successful, award-winning work in these disciplines.

Our work will make it possible for designers of mobile applications to test ideas in realistic environments early in the design process to gain valuable insights that are difficult to discover with in-lab testing. This allows designers to effectively explore and iterate multiple designs before committing to code, promoting effective solutions to problems and efficient uses of human effort. We have plans to deploy development tools in design programs at Northwestern University. We are also dedicated to making our software available to wider audiences by releasing our tools for public use and providing implementations that rely only on existing, off-the-shell technologies. Software artifacts and educational materials created under this proposal will be released under open source and creative commons licenses.
Effective start/end date3/1/152/28/19


  • National Science Foundation (IIS-1464315)


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