Why High Fidelity Prototypes?

High fidelity prototypes or low fidelity prototypes, that is the question. For quite a while, I’ve been an advocate for low-fidelity prototypes.

The best arguments in favor of low fi are:

  1. Fast to build
  2. No technical or design ability required
  3. Prevent tunnel vision — don’t distract the end user with visuals
  4. Get good feedback fast

I still think these are pretty good arguments. Especially very early in the brainstorming phase, or in the validation phase (I think you asked me to build something like this). Low fi works well for that broad-strokes, big picture functionality.

But the more I’ve used prototyping and ProtoShare, the more I’ve found that I move from low fidelity to high fidelity much more quickly, and that it pays off with huge benefits.

The reason high fidelity works so well can be summed up with one word: Engagement. No matter who your stakeholder – executive, end user, developer, UX pro – higher fidelity prototypes grab and hold you users attention much more effectively than low fidelity.

This engagement leads to discovery of more complex and subtle issues and conflicts during the design process, and allows you to iterate quickly on issues that might otherwise not come up until very late in the process, requiring significant rework.

The only drawback of high-fidelity prototypes is time. You want to iterate rapidly, and the prototype is not the product. Higher fidelity will take a bit longer. But it doesn’t have to be slow. We’ve spent a lot of time with ProtoShare trying to make high-fidelity prototypes fast.

We’ve said for a long time ‘prototype as much as you need to get your point across’ and I still believe this. More and more, I’m finding that high-fidelity gets my point across much more effectively, and without much more effort.

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  1. Phil Allen says:

    Hi Andrew

    We are increasingly completing Low Fidelity prototypes and moving certain pages to Hi Fidelity even as part of the pitch process for two reasons:

    Firstly, clients expect more in the pitch process now to help them differentiate between the offers, and secondly, it can help clients challenge proposals and find the holes.

    In a recent response to an RFP, we pitched a Drupal solution at £25k. Another agency pitched a WordPress solution at £5k and the client was seriously close to committing to the latter.

    Extending a Rapid Prototype in the pitch enabled the client to challenge the WordPress solution and surprise-surprise, the other vendor withdrew.

    I’ve worked with all the major Prototyping tools over the last few years but have settled wholeheartedly on Protoshare. It just offers so much more.

    There’s a really good article in my Blog on Rapid Prototyping and all the screen grabs I’ve used for illustration were built in Protoshare.

    Have a look: http://www.mwadigital.co.uk/blog/categories/what-guides/rapid-prototyping

    Keep up the good work – you’ve created a fantastic product.

  2. Eric Martin says:

    I agree that high fidelity prototypes gets the point across better than low fidelity prototypes. But, I think there are different interpretations of a wireframes and prototypes. I also think there is a common misunderstanding of the overall design process from start to finish. I think going to high fidelity too soon in the design process can be a costly mistake. In the early stages of a project, starting with low fidelity wireframes is still valid and worth exploring because you can iterate much faster, avoid distraction of the visuals and keeps the focus on the concept. By taking this approach, it so much easier and cheaper to make changes or throwaway and start over.

    Working in a low fidelity state allows for faster iterations and quicker results to get to the right concept that all the stakeholders can agree on. And sketching on paper or drawing on the whiteboard is the first stage of low-fidelity. Then transferring those ideas to low fidelity wireframes in your favorite vector drawing tool or prototyping tool like Protoshare. At this stage, it is easy to get caught up in adding visuals and color but I think this should be avoided. By the end of this stage, you have a basic skeleton wired up of the entire solution to present to the stakeholders for buy in and feedback.

    Once everyone is on board with the overall concept from a low fidelity state, ONLY THEN do you move forward and build a “high fidelity prototype.”

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