NO PICTURES, PLEASE! HOW GRAPHICS AND PHOTOS CAN DISTORT PAPER-PROTOTYPING

S.B. Linek, K. Tochtermann

ZBW - Leibniz Information Centre for Economics (GERMANY)
Paper-prototyping is cheap and quick method for testing the usability of new HCI interfaces or Website-designs in their very early stages of development (Snyder, 2003). The usability is especially important for digital libraries and information centres, because nowadays students rely more and more to a quick and ease Google-search even though the search results are suboptimal. Other, more professional sources of information and search services of libraries are often neglected because of a bad handling.
Paper-prototyping can be used to evaluate the structure of a page, the main navigation and the elements of a page. As testing materials rough sketches or even hand-drawings are sufficient. However, web designers often make more detailed paper-prototypes including also preliminary pictures as placeholders. Even though the test-persons might welcome this, there is the danger that such details can distort the findings about the structure and main elements.
This paper illustrates this effect by an empirical usability-test with three different design-versions of a homepage of a library 2.0 (Maness, 2006) as paper-prototypes. The three design versions comprised different structures and partly different elements. Additionally, also some preliminary pictures were included as placeholders. Design version A comprised three graphics with abstract symbols. Version B had one slightly bigger realistic photo with embedded written text. Design C included three realistic photos.
Test persons were 10 students (five male and five female, age between 21 and 30 years). After choosing the preferred design versions, the participants had to work with the chosen version for a semi-structured interview and seven usability-tasks. Afterwards, all three versions had to be evaluated by coloured markers and open comments (method of advanced scribbling, see Linek, Schafrick, & Tochtermann, 2012). At the end of the study, the participants had to tinker their own wish-homepage for the library 2.0 (handicraft-task, see Linek, Schafrick, & Tochtermann, 2012).
The results of the semi-structured-interview and the advanced scribbling showed that version B and version C was spontaneously liked more compared to version A. Contrariwise, most people simulated the structure of version A in the handicraft-task. A detailed data-analysis revealed, that the objection of version A traces mainly back to the abstract graphics.
The study demonstrated, first, how pictures of a paper-prototype can distort the results on the structure of the paper-prototype, and second, how an accordingly misinterpretation can be avoided by a multi-method approach. Further implications for technology-enhanced learning and libraries 2.0 will be discussed.

References:
Maness, J. M. (2006). Library 2.0 theory: Web 2.0 and its implications for libraries, Webology, vol.3(2), online available: http://www.webology.org/2006/v3n2/a25.html, 2006.
Linek, S. B., Schafrick, A., & Tochtermann, K. (2012). Just for the image? The impact of Web 2.0 for public institutions. International Journal of Emerging Technologies in Learning (iJET), in press.
Snyder, C. (2003). Paper prototyping. The fast and easy way to design and refine user interfaces. San Francisco: Elsevier.