UI UX Development

Low-fidelity vs High-fidelity Design Prototypes

  • Published on : February 10, 2022

  • Read Time : 18 min

  • Views : 6k

Low-fidelity vs. High-fidelity Design Prototypes

Low-Fidelity vs. High-Fidelity Prototypes: What’s the Difference?

Imagine you’re an architect. Would you construct a building without a blueprint? Or a chef, would you whip up a new recipe without first doing a taste test? Similarly, in design, prototyping is the blueprint, the taste test. It’s the preliminary version of a product that allows exploration of ideas and shows the intention behind a feature or the overall design concept to users before investing time and money into development.

Prototyping is a crucial phase in the design process because it allows understanding of how the user interacts with the design, what works well, and what needs improvement.

But in designing, there are two main types of prototypes: low-fidelity and high-fidelity. Each serves a different purpose and plays a unique role in the design process.

Low-fidelity prototypes are quick, basic models (think paper sketches) to test core user flows. High-fidelity prototypes are more polished and digital, offering a realistic feel of the final product.

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.

The purpose of this article is to explore the differences between low fidelity vs high fidelity prototypes – when to use each?

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?

What is Fidelity In UX DesignPrototype 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:

  • Lo fi prototypes
  • 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?

What Are Low-fidelity PrototypeLow-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 a dummy text.
  • 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.

Types of Low-Fidelity Prototypes

Low-fidelity prototypes come in different styles, each with its own benefits for trying out design concepts. Here are some common types:

  • Sketches: Simple drawings made with pen and paper or digitally. They’re great for brainstorming ideas and starting discussions about layout and features.
  • Paper Prototypes: More detailed than sketches, these involve creating mock-ups of your design using paper and sticky notes. Users can interact with them by moving elements around, making it easy to test different layouts quickly.
  • Wireframes: These are basic layouts, either drawn by hand or created digitally, focusing on the structure and organization of your design without worrying about colours or fonts yet.
  • Card Sorting: Users sort physical cards with features or functions written on them to see how they naturally group information. It helps understand how users think about organizing content.
  • Lego Prototypes: Not just for digital products, these use Lego blocks to create rough models of physical products. They’re handy for exploring how things might look and work in three dimensions.
  • Wizard of Oz (WoZ) Prototypes: This involves pretending a prototype works by manually controlling it behind the scenes. It lets you test interactions and gather feedback even if the actual functionality isn’t built yet.

Choosing the right low-fidelity prototype depends on what you’re trying to achieve with your design and where you are in the design process. Each method helps get your ideas in front of users and gather feedback early on.

What Are High-fidelity Prototypes?

What Are High-fidelity PrototypesHigh-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.

Related PostThe Impact of Branding, Colours, and Design on User Behaviour

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 user flow, 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.

Types of High-Fidelity Prototypes

High-fidelity prototypes are very detailed versions of what your final product might look like. They help you see how everything will work and look before you actually make it. You can try out different types depending on what part of the design process you’re in and what you’re trying to figure out.

  1. Mock-ups:
    Mock-ups are static visuals that closely resemble the final product’s appearance. They include colours, fonts, images, and content to give stakeholders a clear idea of the visual direction and user interface layout.
  2. Clickable or Interactive Prototypes:
    Clickable prototypes allow users to interact with the design by clicking buttons and navigating through menus. They provide a basic level of interactivity for testing usability and identifying potential issues with information flow or user experience.
  3. Prototypes with Animations and Transitions:
    These prototypes incorporate animations and transitions to simulate realistic interactions. They’re useful for testing complex user flows or interactions that rely heavily on animation.
  4. Responsive Web Design Prototypes:
    These prototypes test how the design adapts to different screen sizes and devices, such as desktops, tablets, and smartphones. They help identify layout issues and ensure a consistent user experience across various platforms.

Understanding these types of high-fidelity prototypes helps in selecting the right approach for your project’s needs and development stage.

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 readingUser Experience Design Process

What prototype should you use and when should you use it?

Choosing the best type of prototype, whether it’s low fidelity vs high fidelity, depends on where you are in your design work and what you’re aiming for. Here’s a breakdown of when to employ low-fidelity and high-fidelity prototypes:

When to Use Low-Fidelity Prototypes:

  • Early Design Stages: Low-fidelity prototypes are great for trying out new ideas, checking how basic features work, and getting fast feedback from users. Since they’re quick to make, you can change them often and try out different ideas without spending too much time on design.
  • Limited Resources: When you’re short on time or money, low-fidelity prototypes are a smart choice. They’re a cost-effective way to learn valuable things without using fancy design tools.
  • Focusing on User Flow & Information Architecture: Low-fidelity prototypes are really good for seeing how users move around your product and understand the information. Because they’re simple, users can focus on what the product does without getting distracted by visual details.

When NOT to Use Low-Fidelity Prototypes:

  • Testing Visual Design & User Interface (UI): Since low-fidelity prototypes aren’t very polished in terms of visuals, they’re not the best for seeing how users react to the final appearance and feel of the product.
  • Presenting to Stakeholders: When you’re presenting your ideas to stakeholders or potential investors, it’s important to make a good first impression. That’s why you might need a prototype that looks polished and visually appealing to impress them.
  • Complex User Interactions: When you’re testing complex user flows or interactions that rely a lot on how things look, low-fidelity prototypes might not show enough detail. This means you might not get the best feedback from users.

When to Use High-Fidelity Prototypes

  • Later Design Stages: Once you’ve got a clear idea of what your product is about and how users will use it, high-fidelity prototypes are great for making the design look good, checking how easy it is to use, and getting feedback on the overall user experience.
  • Stakeholder Buy-In & User Testing: High-fidelity prototypes give a real sense of what the final product will be like, which makes them perfect for getting approval from stakeholders and conducting user testing with a focus on UI and UX elements.
  • Detailed User Interactions: If your product has a lot of complicated interactions or relies heavily on visual cues, using a high-fidelity prototype helps you better understand how users will interact with it. Using this method, you can better visualize how your product will be used.

When NOT to Use High-Fidelity Prototypes:

  • Early Ideation & Exploration: In the early stages when your core concept is still evolving, spending a lot of time and effort on a high-fidelity prototype might not make sense. It’s better to focus on testing and refining your design’s basic concept.
  • Limited Resources: If resources are constrained, investing heavily in a high-fidelity prototype at an early stage might not be the best use of your time or budget.
  • Gathering Feedback on Core Functionality: For initial feedback on core functionalities and user flow, a low-fidelity prototype can be just as effective, saving time and allowing for quicker adjustments.

The Final Word

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

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

A user-centered product, with a low learning curve, should also aim for memorability and ease of use, ensuring users will consistently find it desirable and have a satisfying final design experience.

At Codiant, we lay the right foundation by designing a mobile app or web product. This not only ensures user satisfaction but also provides users with a compelling reason to return.

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