Fresh: ask Doctor Usability

XIII.1 January + February 2006
Page: 11
Digital Citation

Prototyping and plagiarism

Dr. Usability

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Dear Dr. Usability,

I am searching for the right tool to use to prototype mockups. I have been toughing it out with our homemade prototyping tool called Dino-builder and it is really not user-friendly at all. In fact how well you can prototype is based on how well you understand a data model and its own quirky scripting language called DinoCode. It is very clunky and time-consuming; it usually takes about a week to build and test a screen. Developers continually laugh at my code while not taking my designs seriously. I am becoming a laughing stock. Dr. Usability, what can I do? They are making fun of me. Can I use some other tool to make these prototypes besides this Dino-builder tool?

—Lost in Milpitas

Dear Lost,

Today's your lucky day! Help is here. Don't use any tool at all. Fake them all out, and show them who is really in the driver's seat. Just pull out a pen and a sheet of paper and sketch the interface. That'll show them! With pen and paper, you never need to worry that they will laugh at your DinoCode code. You will find that with pencil and paper (don't forget the erasers), screen design takes anywhere from ten minutes to an hour, depending on your fine motor-skill capacity. The screens can be interactive without a line of code or script: You can manually show your developers what screens result from what button or action by simply flipping the page to the next sketch. You also need not worry that developers will want to use your prototypes as an end-product—they can't! Moreover, no one can judge your coding skills (which, by all rights of our profession, I maintain should be non-existent anyway).

The real beauty of the paper prototype is the new level of control and ownership it gives you. If you get any professional grief, you can just light a match to the thing and get a new job. For you more squeamish folks, just spill a developer's cup of coffee over it and maybe you can keep your job and get that annoying developer canned. Or better yet watch them in the bathroom blow-drying your paper prototype in the company hot-air hand dryer. That'll teach `em-prototyping tool, my eye! (for you non-Americans that is an American idiom whose real meaning escapes me but seems appropriate).

As usual: No need to thank me, this is all in a day's work.

Your Doctor,

Dear Dr. Usability,

I was one of your students at Outhouse State University (OSU) and I noticed last issue that you quoted one of my term papers almost verbatim. Except you gave me a failing grade. What gives?

—Sitting in the Outhouse

Dear Outhouse-Sitter,

This is a perfect example of how you missed the most fundamental lesson of our profession: Context is everything! And as far as your innuendo of plagiarism that I detected in reading between the lines, I can tell you that I am immune from such a ridiculous charge because I am now a practitioner. I take the pragmatic approach of a practitioner: The ends justify the means.

Good luck (and there were other things wrong with your paper as well),

Dr. Usability

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