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Amy Roberts

Amy Roberts is a product designer currently based in Austin, TX.

Published January 12, 2016

Paper Prototype: Wearable UIs


I began by first researching current uses for smart watches. Out of the various uses, contextual learning was a topic that particularly interested me. I could see a use for language learning on a smart watch, because it would provide a casual way for a user to learn words without having to take out their phone. GPS tracking would allow the app to display specific words based on a user’s surroundings. I decided to prototype a language learning app incorporating these concepts.

I designed the app to have unique but related functionality for the watch and the phone. Because the watch has a much smaller screen, interactions had to be simplified, while the phone UI could provide a richer experience through more interactivity.

Smart Watch

When a user enters a location such as a cafe or airport, the watch recognizes the nature of that location and displays location-specific words in Spanish (or another user-selected language) for the user to learn. The app presents them like flashcards, allowing the user to simply swipe through them, and it tracks their progress. After the user has learned several new words, the information syncs with their phone.

Smart Phone

A message comes up on the phone’s lock screen notifying the user that they have learned new words. They can then swipe to open the app and review these new words. The phone app involves a much richer UI, offering simple games such as matching the Spanish words with their English translations.



I created paper prototypes of the app based on my sketches. Both of the prototypes I made to be a little larger than their actual size so that it would be easier to test them and evaluate interactions. Using a slider style made the prototypes easier to manage and allowed the focus to be on the user interface.

Smart Watch

The smart watch consisted of a simple cardboard band and a cardboard screen with slits cut in it for the paper to pass through. Instead of creating duplicate screens for each word in both languages, I made flaps that the user could simply flip up, which emphasized the flashcard metaphor. After encountering some resistance sliding the paper, I coated it in clear tape to make it easier to slide. Using pink as an accent color created focal points and made the interface more dynamic.

Smart Phone

The phone was created in the same way as the watch, except that the paper UI slid horizontally instead of vertically. For the matching game, I cut small squares from a post-it note for the user to place on the UI, simulating touch interactions. The progress bar advances as the user progresses through the game.

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I tested my prototypes with a user, documenting it with video. After observing both of the prototypes in use, I asked the user some further questions to learn more about their experience and to gauge the effectiveness of the prototypes.

What Worked Well

The user liked the tape-laminated surface of the UIs, which made the paper easy to slide. They also liked the idea of location-based language learning and agreed that it would be a good application for a smart watch. The simplicity of the UI on the watch was also something they appreciated.

What Needs Improvement

The user had some difficulty sliding the paper UI through the phone after placing the post-it notes. The oversized watch prototype was a little cumbersome and large for their wrist. They also questioned whether they would use the app on a smart watch at all if they could access a more in-depth experience on their phone.


The prototypes were effective overall because the user was able to successfully complete each task, flipping through new words and then correctly matching them in the game. The clarity and consistency in UI design contributed to this, helping the user to understand how the app works. In addition to this, most of their feedback was positive. Placing the post-it notes was effective only because the user was informed beforehand to press them down firmly, so other ways to simulate selection could be tested to find something that works better. In future iterations, it would be beneficial to focus on knowledge retention, testing several different flashcard and game formats to see which are most effective.

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