Project 5 – Paper Prototyping


We are designing a smartphone app meant to be used as a reference to find information, approximate arrival/departure times, distances between stops, and other related information about Boston’s MBTA, specifically the subway. The idea is to keep the app as simple as possible, allowing users to glance at information already familiar to them during their commute/trip to find what they need quickly and efficiently. The system can give some granular information if observed closely, but it can also only be used as a simple, quick reference.

We are conducting a study to discover how people interact with the system. Your personal information (i.e. your name) will not be recorded or published; this study is meant only to discover how our potential demographic will be able to use the system.

The system should be straight-forward to navigate through, especially if you have any working knowledge of the MBTA. The purpose of this study is for us to confirm or deny how user-friendly the interface is. Instead of using an actual smartphone, we have created paper versions of what we want our interface to look like. I will act as your “smartphone,” moving the pages around to simulate what the system would do when actually implemented. Other members of the team will act as observers, taking notes on how you interact with the system.

This is not meant to be a test of your abilities. This is a test of our system. Since you are imitating what a user would do in real life, our team will keep explanations as minimal as possible. If you find any problems or cannot proceed, that is a problem with the system that needs to be fixed. Upon completion, please tell us what makes sense, what’s confusing, any questions you may think of, and what did or did not work as you expected.

Scenario Tasks:

(1) Use the search to find Roxbury Crossing Station information.

(2) Find information for the Orange Line and then navigate to a map of the Blue Line.

(3) Find bus connections for Roxbury Crossing.


Seeing as Boston is known for being a “college-town” (that is, it is a city with lots and lots of colleges and universities that people come from anywhere and everywhere to attend), it is filled with lots of young adults and even teenagers.  We figure a major demographic and who we really have in mind when designing the system is college students and other young adults.

Keeping this in mind, we tested a handful of college students (with no prior knowledge of the system other than the briefing above) on how well they could complete the above tasks.  These students ranged from ages 19-22 of varying racial/ethnic backgrounds.  The users were tested on a college campus and in apartments.  The users were given all the time they needed to complete the tasks, which ended up being pretty quick.  Beyond the paper prototypes, no other equipment was necessary to complete the tasks.

Observations & Results from Interviews:

Task One:  We had included a search box in the top right corner of the interface, which was what we had intended the users to use the type in a station name to jump right to that station’s page.  However, we had a user who completely missed the search box and physically and literally “searched” for the station with our more obvious drop-down menus.  While it technically worked to get to the result we wanted, it completely missed how we wanted to get there.  After talking to the user, he mentioned not seeing the search box at all.  Between noticing that we made the drop-down menus much larger and the user’s comments, it would probably be best for us to modify the search box somehow.  Perhaps we should move it to top left corner, following the “Z” a person’s eyes follow when looking at something.  Maybe it needs to simply be bigger.  Or a different color to stand out.  Or some combination of the three.

Task Two: Again, the users completed the task we wanted, but not how we wanted them to get there.  Next to each station on the map is a colored-square showing other connections available to it (e.g. State Street has a touchable blue square next to it that, when touched, will take the user from an Orange Line map to a Blue Line map).  However, without fail, the users would go to an Orange Line map, navigate away from the map to the home page, and then navigate to a Blue Line map.  According to the users, it is not apparent that those colored squares were touchable buttons.  Those obviously need to be made apparent that they are actually buttons and not just for giving information.

Task Three: Yet again, the users missed what we wanted them to do.  We wanted the users to touch the little circle next to a station to display a speech bubble displaying bus connections.  But our station pages also display bus connections.  The users simply navigated to the station pages completely unaware that the button on the Line map even had that capability.  Just as the problem with the second task, the apparentness of the buttons has to actually be made instead of just assumed by us as designers to be buttons.


Team Roles:

Since the overarching design of the application had already been worked out and agreed upon, creating paper prototypes needed little more than designers and testers, of which both roles were filled simultaneously by both team members.  Matt and Mark each designed different parts of the system (certain pages or functions of the pages) and tested different users or observed the users instead of “playing computer.”


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