Starting this fall, the Tsai Center for Innovative Thinking at Yale is offering a series of courses called “Paper to Prototype: App Design Basics” meant to help students create mobile applications.

In a series of five classes, students learn the process of app creation, from designing, prototyping to testing. The workshops walk students through the basics of app design, storyboarding, prototyping and user testing — ending with a working interactive mock-up of an app.

“At the beginning of a session, students have nothing and then in 20 minutes, they leave with something that you can tap on a phone — that’s amazing,” Tsai CITY’s resident mentor Ellen Su ’13 said.

Su told the News that her inspiration for the initiative came from her own Yale experience. Since the inception of the center, Tsai CITY staff members have been identifying skills that students want to learn but are not able to access at the University, Su said. She added that app design — specifically user interface and user experience design — was what students needed.

According to Su, the initiative is geared for students of any field of study, in any year with any level of background in tech. The only requirement for the program is an idea they’re willing to bring to reality, Su said.

So far, Su said the intensive has attracted a wide gamut of individuals, from art majors looking for technical career skills to people who just want to learn something new.

“I took a couple of computer science classes as an undergrad, but I have not used anything that I’ve learned,” said Sam Levine SOM ’22. “Personally, I’m considering starting a business. It’s one of the reasons I’m attending the business school and of which an app would be a major component.”

By his second workshop, Levine had a functioning app prototype that was virtually interactive and consisted of paper-drawn images.

He told the News that the program is “incredibly practical and functional” and the progress he’s made after just two classes is “astounding.”

“The ability to gain this skill set in a short amount of time with a great group of people is one of the major draws,” he said.

The programing starts with the storyboarding process, which helps app creators analyze the logistics and function of potential products. During the second session, students start thinking about how to turn these ideas into a visual prototype through a cycle of testing “several design principles,” according to Su.

Su said that in subsequent cycles, the class will discuss branding, navigation, accessibility and the physical look of the app.

According to Su, the last session allows students to exhibit their creations to Startup CEOs, industry leaders, people who work on products, developers and designers. They will also speak about their experiences in design and help students test prototypes, the resident mentor said.

“You get the confidence to say, ‘I have an idea, and I have the skills to think through it.’” Su said.

“You don’t have to let these dreams and ideas die and disappear — you can take them a lot further and not be shy about them. You can put them out into the world in a much more complete way. Our goal is to eliminate those barriers and have people communicate their ideas.”


Valeria Bula |