Paper Prototyping and Denim

By Deane Barker on May 29, 2003

A few weeks ago, I read a good article on paper prototyping over at Jakob Nielsen’s site. And then the other day, I wrote a bit about how overall application design and interface was more of an influence on an app’s success than the actual code behind it.

So, in an effort to practice what I preach, I’ve started paper-prototyping a new app I’m considering building. I’ve decided to do it in Microsoft Publisher, of all things. Sounds weird, but the program is awfully handy at it — you can draw boxes, lines, HTML controls, blocks of text, tables, etc. Common elements can be drawn on the Master Page so inserting a new page gives you a ready-made templates with menus and headers and such. And pages in publisher don’t flow like in word-processing apps — a page is a discrete unit and overflow gets clipped so changes to one page don’t affect subsequent pages.

So, I’m drawing all these pages out, and I’ll post a PDF of one here when I have something worth showing. This exercise, in turn, got me thinking about something else I saw a while back…

Denim is a project of the Group for User Interface Research at UC Berkley. It’s a Java-based app with which you can “draw” a Web site. I mean, literally — you just draw a page and the boxes in it, then highlight something and draw an arrow to some other page for a link, etc. When you’re done, you can export roughed-in HTML files.

Denim is free, and I installed and played with it for a while, but the limitation is that it was designed for a lightpen tablet. You can use a mouse, but drawing boxes and writing text with a mouse isn’t the easiest thing to do. If I had a lightpen, however, this thing would be amazing.

Visit the site and watch the demo movie to really get an idea of what I’m talking about. Very cool.