Paper Prototyping Turns Ideas Into Actions, and Does It Quickly

10/03/2013 03:36 pm ET | Updated Dec 02, 2013

Given two options - "do it" or "talk about it" - which do you choose? I usually go for the first, so when I had the chance to lead a breakout session during a conference with a group of motivated and curious college students and young professionals, I didn't question my approach for a second.

The goal of my 40 minute session was very simple. Let's build a working paper prototype of a new or existing mobile app using paper, pencils, smartphones, and an app called POP - Prototyping on Paper.

After my coffee kicked in, the group and I looked over the app's features and boiled down the goals for the workshop:

1. Download POP app - Prototyping on Paper from the App Store or Android Market

2. Think of a cool mobile app you'd one day like to build or select an existing one

3. Take pen to paper and draw at least the first four screens a user would or could go to
through (this served up the opportunity to think about design and functionality at the same time)

4. Use POP to snap a picture of each screen

5. Create hotzones with POP's "link to" feature to take users from one screen to the other (The sample in the app takes users through the basic features of Twitter)

6. Present your paper prototype to the group by showing the basic experience a user would go through

7. Celebrate taking tangible steps in turning idea into product

Reactions from the group were all over the place. Most were very excited and took only a few minutes of brainstorming before pen hit paper. Some were really challenged by having to come up with something on the spot, even though I guarantee they have all had that "man, that would be a great app" moment.

There was one particular moment that stands out. Somewhere around the 25 minute mark the only noise you could hear was whatever Spotify was serving up at the moment and pencils sketching away on paper. For a few minutes this group of people were united by technology and the notion of creation. They became their own lab, each a mad scientist coming up with solutions using nothing but a phone, pencil, paper, and his or her brain.

The end result was pretty remarkable. We had a chance to hear about ideas that would empower people to have a better work-life balance, communicate through language barriers, choose the best outfits to wear, and even help you paint the sky. As expected, most apps featured social components where you could crowdsource information about activities, interests, opinions, and actions.

I'm thankful to PorColombia and the University of Florida, my alma mater, for the opportunity to lead the workshop and to also participate in the "Social Enterprise as an Agent of Change," where I discussed the work we do at URBAN TxT to build positive communities through technology.