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Everyday tools to get creative and communicate ideas

Having a toolkit of resources for visualizing ideas is invaluable during the design process, especially the concepting phase. Rather than writing lengthy treatises about what a thing could do, this is a great opportunity to show exactly what it will do. It’s a chance to experiment, make mistakes, break things cheaply, have fun, and generate ideas. All that said, it’s important to remember that these tools won’t make the ideas for you, they’re just conduits and facilitators for communication. Here are a few basic methods we take advantage of when concepting. Use them wisely.

Post-It Notes


These mildly adhesive pieces of paper are great for arranging, rearranging, and re-rearranging ideas. It’s a design cliché that actually works.

Plus: Easy to involve others in collaboration.

Minus: Bogus color schemes.

Tracing Paper & Prismacolor


This lightweight, transparent paper is an ideal medium for drafting ideas and then drafting ideas over those ideas. The transparency makes layering a snap and allows for rapid duplication of forms and shapes. Couple the paper with a good set of prismacolor and you have yourself a wonderful toolkit for sketching.

Plus: Good to have during brainstorms when the form factor is still in flux.

Minus: Organization. It’s impossible to put these puppies in a filing cabinet.

Paper Prototyping


Wireframes and comps are great, but to communicate interactivity, you need to make things move. Paper prototyping is a fast, cheap alternative to fully-developed digital prototypes. When you’re ready to visualize animation and UX, paper prototyping makes for an optimal method. Combine with video for an even more exciting effect.

Plus: This method forces the designer to meticulously anticipate every step of the experience.

Minus: Cutting things out is a pain, especially if you’re making a lot of revisions.



When you’re building an interactive in a physical environment, you’ll want to test the actual physical relationships in context and to scale. Materials like foamcore afford a method for building kiosks and installations to scale without any of the hardware. Building these prototypes in advance can help you troubleshoot ADA accessibility, light bleed issues, and crowding.

Plus: Super lightweight and cheap. Only takes a few minutes to build something to scale.

Minus: Materials aren’t environmentally-friendly or durable.

—Michael Neault, Content & Media Producer  

—Kirsten Southwell, Junior User Experience Designer


Second Story creates enchanting, informative, and entertaining media experiences with innovative technologies that empower connections to ideas.

Posted in Design