Low-fidelity vs. High-fidelity Design Prototypes

Low-fidelity vs. High-fidelity Design Prototypes
UI Ux Development

”The main difference between low-fidelity and high-fidelity prototypes comes in terms of user interaction. Low-fidelity prototypes are often paper-based and do-not allow user interactions. Whereas, High-fidelity prototypes are digital and allow clickable user interaction.”

To innovate anything, we build a firm foundation and create pillars that ensure safety and take good care of the entire product. Innovation in Software development works the same way.

To innovate software, first, you must build a Prototype that meets your business goals and solves the user pain points.

Prototype is the basic element that software companies research, work & create before jumping on the complex and time-consuming code development process.

Also known as Software Prototypes, there are two major categories viz. Low-fidelity prototypes and high-fidelity prototypes. Each of these prototypes takes abstract ideas and turns them into a tangible product. By investing all our time in ideating these prototypes too early in project development, we save ourselves from making costly mistakes.

In this post, we will cover what these prototypes are, when, and how they are used.

What Are Prototypes?

A prototype is an early model or release of a software product created to test the basic concept or process. Designers create prototypes to test their designs and validate their concepts among the real users and key stakeholders.

The feedback they receive from the real users helps them to improve the design and enhance the user experience, just before they pass this design to the development team. This eventually, helps them fail quickly and inexpensively and save all the development costs before investing too much time and money on it.

There are two major types of prototypes: low-fidelity prototypes and high-fidelity prototypes. Let’s understand them in detail. But before that it’s important to know what fidelity is!

What is Fidelity In UX Design?

Prototype is an expression of design intent. Through it, the designers can show their design and see how it works like. The fidelity of the prototype refers to:

  • The look-and-feel of the final product
  • It’s level of details and functionality
  • The real-time iteration and accessibility to users

The type of fidelity is defined through its interactivity, visuals, content, navigation, etc. Some prototypes can simply be created on papers/stickies that involve limited interactivity. But some prototypes are presented digitally with high-level intricate details of interaction and navigation. They are just close to the look and feel of the final product.

This scale of designing prototypes from paper to digital and every medium that falls in-between defines the category of the prototype. This category can be broadly classified into two types:

  • Low-Fidelity Prototype
  • High-Fidelity Prototype

While starting to design prototypes, you must know how much time and energy you can invest in. Depending on that you can choose between designing low-fidelity or high fidelity prototypes.

What Are Low-fidelity Prototypes?

Low-fidelity prototypes (low-fi) are simple and low-tech. You only need paper and a pencil to start with. They are just used to turn your ideas into tangible artifacts that can down the line help you to test, analyze, and collect the feedback in the early stages of the final app build. Or say they are used to point out UX problems when brainstorming.

The Basic Features of Low-Fi Prototypes

  • Visual Design

    Low-fi doesn’t have polished designs. It covers only a few visual attributes such as the shape of elements, visual hierarchy, etc.

  • Content

    These paper prototypes cover only the main elements of content. Rest can be Lorem Ipsum.

  • Interactivity

    Low-fi prototypes are not clickable and interactive. Still, you can introduce little interactivity through connected wireframes which are usually linked to each other in the PPT/keynote using a prototyping tool.

At Codiant, our UX teams often ideate through low-fi prototypes. The reason is quite obvious- let’s realize it through the many benefits offered by low-fi prototypes.

Benefits of Low-fidelity Prototypes

  • Inexpensive : Low-fi helps companies save the costs that go in designing as they can fail quickly and inexpensively early on the project, before investing too much time and energy on it.
  • Speed : Clearly, the main benefit of low-fi is speed. You can create them in just a few minutes.
  • Easy : It doesn’t require any special skill to create a low-fidelity prototype, any non-designer can create it easily.
  • Collaborative : All the designers and developers involved, including the client, can remain on the same page by validating proposed functionalities and flow.

Limitations of Low-fidelity Prototypes

  • Highly Ambiguous : The assuming and imaginative state of a low-fi prototype makes it unpredictable for users to test, what will actually work and whatnot. This uncertain nature limits the exact result of the user testing.
  • Limited Interactivity : With low-fi prototypes. Only limited interactions can be presented. This limits the visualization of navigations, thus, making it less intuitive.

Most Used Techniques To Create Low-fidelity Prototypes

Generally, designers use paper prototyping and clickable wireframes to create low-fidelity prototypes. Here’s a quick definition of the same.

1. Paper Prototyping

Paper prototyping is the most simple low-fidelity prototype that you can ever experiment with. What you imagine can quickly be pictured on paper. Without grappling with graphics, tuning perfections on the monitor, just without using any digital software, this technique allows UX designers to sketch a digital product experience on paper.

Allows them to sketch different app/web screens that connect each other to present various stages of the product interface. Thus, helping in exploring ideas, making the imaginations tangible with the quick refinement of what works and whatnot.

The major benefits of having paper prototypes are: even a non-designer can sketch paper prototypes, it allows users to quickly experiment placements of simple to complex features and test their interactions. They’re also handy to carry, make notes, do revisions, and work off-system.

2. Clickable Wireframes

Clickable wireframes are interactive prototypes of user interfaces that give users a more realistic experience of the final product.

They are just a notch above paper prototypes, wherein, they give an interactive visual representation of the user interface of a web or mobile application.

With clickable wireframes, usability testing can be identified easily. The seamlessness of user experience navigation can be tested in the initial stage itself, which helps you save time and money.

What Are High-fidelity Prototypes?

High-fidelity (high-fi) prototypes are highly functional, interactive, and detailed prototype models. They look nearly the same as the final software product. The user interface and user experience in hi-fi are well integrated and give the same immersive experience as the real product gives. Like, if you will tap an image/button, it will emulate the look-n-feel and the actual navigation a real product will do.

Hi-fi prototypes are often used in the final stage when the product is ready to be pushed for coding but before that has to undergo a final validation from real users and stakeholders to test its usability and identify issues in the product’s general workflow.

The Basic Features of High-Fi Prototypes

  • Visual Design

    High-fi has realistic, detailed, and intricate designs. It’s a complete pack of visual artifacts that covers all interface elements, graphics, color schemes, animations, etc. They look just like real app/web products.

  • Content

    Hi-fi prototypes contain almost all the content that appears in the real product. The content used in it looks the same as a real app or website.

  • Interactivity

    Hi-fi prototypes are highly functional and interactive.

Benefits of High-fidelity Prototypes

  • Real Feedback : Unlike, low-fi prototypes, there is no uncertainty attached to high-fi. Since it looks like a real product, usability testing goes easy. Real users testing it can experience a more natural workflow as if they are using a real software product.
  • Testability of Specific UI Elements or Interactions : With high-fi prototypes, UI components like animated transitions, micro-interactions can be tested with high interactivity.
  • Good for Demos to Stakeholders : Hi-fi’s like-real product nature gives clients and stakeholders a real simulative environment where they can test, touch and feel how their real product would work like.

Limitations of High-fidelity Prototypes

  • Costly : Unlike low-fi prototypes, high-fi prototypes cost more as the designers have to devote their time to graphics, color schemes, and micro-interactions. UX writers have to work on content workflow, microcopies, and copywriting. These aspects increase the total cost of prototype building.
  • Time-Consuming : Creating high-fi prototypes consumes more time as compared to low-fi, as digital software used to build high-fi demands more time and precision.

Most Used Techniques To Create High-fidelity Prototypes

1. Digital Prototypes

Digital prototypes are the most popular and commonly used technique to build a high-fi prototype. This technique employs the use of online prototyping software that allows designers to create visually appealing and highly interactive prototypes. The software allows designers to present simple to complex animations with real-time behavior. These prototypes can be previewed in the web browser, desktop, or any mobile device.

2. Coded Prototypes

Coded prototypes are just close to the final version of the real product. Not very widely used, these prototypes require designers to be proficient in coding skills. This prototyping technique is mostly used when the fully-functional app has to be presented.

List of the Best Prototyping Tools:

  1. Figma
  2. InVision Studio
  3. Adobe XD
  4. Webflow
  5. Axure RP 9
  6. Origami Studio
  7. Justinmind
  8. Sketch
  9. Fluid UI
  10. Framer
  11. Marvel
  12. Proto.io

Related reading: User Experience Design Process

The Final Word

Early prototyping of any software product prevents costly errors in advance. Gives a sense of ownership to all stakeholders. Improves time-to-market by reducing the possibilities of errors. Gains early feedback to test what will work and whatnot.

All this comes down to usability, accessibility, and pleasure.

A product that is user-centered, has a low learning curve, is memorable, and ‘easy-to-use’ will always be desirable and have a satisfying experience.

At Codiant, we lay the right foundation by designing a mobile app or web product that not only delivers satisfaction but gives users a compelling reason to come back.

Looking To Test Your App Idea With Low-fi and High-fi Prototype?

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