October 12th, 2006
Let me quickly explain the terms here. Fidelity refers to the level of detail, accuracy or coverage of a prototype. It can relate to functionality but most people use the term in relation to visual appearance and that’s what I’ll be referring to here.
So the lowest of the low-fidelity prototypes are very quick hand sketches while the highest are fully detailed, pixel perfect renditions.
The obvious advantages of low-fidelity prototypes are the speed at which they can be put together and therefore the low cost involved. After all, anyone can quickly scribble designs on a piece of paper.
But one of the things we hear discussed a lot is that prototypes, especially early ones, really have to be low-fidelity. They need to impress upon people that they are obviously mock-ups and not the real thing. Otherwise, if you use high-fidelity prototypes, you may encounter these negative consequences:
Of course there are many truths to this argument but, for the most part, it depends upon the target audience and their level of understanding of what the prototypes represent.
Project managers, analysts and developers will have no trouble at all in understanding the scope of a user interface prototype and, in may cases, a high-fidelity prototype will help to pinpoint areas of ‘over ambitious’ design that might take many months to implement when a simpler alternative will work just as well.
For everyone else, a straight-forward explanation of the scope of the prototype is usually enough. If the stakeholders really don’t get it then you may be in trouble further down the line!
The irony of point 3 is that although a low-fidelity prototype might be better in lowering expectations that the product will be “finished in no time at all”, higher managers and stakeholders don’t always respond well to them. They’re not impressed by the rough appearance and prefer to see nicely polished, fancy displays – something they can envisage as being a final product they or their customers can use.
With specialised tools like GUI Design Studio now available, high-fidelity prototypes are becoming much easier, faster and cheaper to produce and the once held advantages of low-fidelity prototypes are becoming insignificant.
As far as we know, our customers are all enjoying the ability to create high-fidelity prototypes and designs but we understand the need to use low-fidelity presentations on occassion.
That is why GUI Design Studio provides “Outline” display modes and the ability to easily change the overall font of a design to give it a more hand-drawn, rough and ready feel. And to be able to switch back to normal again.
Here’s our trusty dialog design example in all its XP glory:
And here it is again looking like a quickly drawn mockup after a couple of setting changes:
Of course, if you really want to, you can also work with paper sketches by scanning them in and incorporating them as images. Place navigation boxes over the buttons and other areas then link them together just like any other design element.
The most important thing with prototypes is to define exactly what their purpose is, then to create them with just the right amount of effort and functionality to convey enough information to obtain agreement on what needs to be implemented and what doesn’t.
So what are your experiences with low or high-fidelity prototypes? Do you agree or disagree with what’s been said here? Maybe you can’t see the point of creating prototypes at all?
Leave a comment and let us know your opinions!