I’m a strong believer that ideas don’t live on paper alone. While low and medium fidelity prototypes such as sketches and mockups are great for brainstorming and presenting polished visuals, a high-fidelity prototype inherits the groundwork and transcends the design to the next level.
For those who are unfamiliar with the term high-fidelity prototype, it refers to an artifact that resembles a true representation of the user interface, and often high fidelity prototypes allow users to interact with it.
Benefits of high-fidelity prototyping
From a business perspective, prototypes create tremendous impact in building momentum and engaging the organization. Being able to interact with a working design provides a much better way to generate informed discussions between clients and the project team. Documentation is limited on its own. People are more compelled when they can touch and play with the ideas.
From a design and development standpoint, the process of creating a high-fidelity prototype enables the team to think critically about the interaction flows and technical considerations. Often times we hand off pixel-perfect mockups, hoping that it will all be realized perfectly in the implementation stage. What we sometimes fail to understand is that the design may get lost in translation and the medium we use to deliver specs may not work for every project.
From a usability perspective, high-fidelity prototypes give end-users a much more realistic idea of how the solution behaves and why they would use it. We are able to get richer data on where the design shines and where it still needs to be refined. The better we can help the audience bridge the gaps of how the product works, the closer we are able to creating something usable and delightful for users.
“Thinking through making is not a process, it’s a philosophy. If you see something, if you can touch it, if you can experience it, you’ll learn more about it.” – Warren Schramm
Is it for me?
It’s important to consider the objectives of the prototype as a guide to determine how refined it should be in terms of visual design, breadth and depth of functionality, richness of interactivity, and richness of data model (McCurdy et al. have a great article about these concepts).
For example, if the design deals with complex business logic that drives transaction flows or if it emphasized invoking emotions through novel interactions, animations, and/or videos, then you should definitely strive for a high-fidelity prototype. On the other hand, if you just have a static website with simple interactions, then you are probably better off with mockups and atomic components.
Keep in mind what level of fidelity and which dimensions are most appropriate for communicating the ideas and best minimizes the layers of abstractions. Depending on your needs, a low or medium fidelity prototype would work just as great.
Prototyping is a means to the end, but not an end in itself
For prototypes created in code, often times we can reuse more than 70 per cent of the source and significantly speed up solution development, which could bring significant savings over the course of a project. Prototypes can help to validate features and surface critical issues early on, thus minimizing unintended tasks and blocks during implementation.A successful high-fidelity prototype is one that will bring different players on your team and in your organization closer to the problem that you are trying to solve. Not only do they improve communications, enhance feedback, and learning opportunities, high fidelity prototypes serve as a potential cost-saving investment down the road.