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Low‑Fidelity Prototypes vs. High‑Fidelity

If you're in the business of developing prototypes for new products that you've designed, then you've likely had dealings with both lower fidelity prototypes as well and higher fidelity ones. Dealing with prototypes is absolutely essential when developing new products, as it helps developers to make the improvements necessary to get the product as close to perfect as possible. Without prototypes, many products would never become a success.There can be many errors with prototypes, and the lower fidelity it is, the more aspects of them that will need fixing.

A high-fidelity prototype is easier to work with, as prototypes in this category are often close to being ready to move on to the next step. Here is a complete overview of low-fidelity prototypes vs. high-fidelity so you can gain a complete understanding of prototypes in general, which will help you to choose the right type for your next project.

What is prototyping?

Prototyping is the investigative point of a project in which a team of developers are testing out the product. It is during this stage that all the teams' written ideas are implemented and created into an actual, tangible product. Developers often create varying levels of prototypes, which can better help them with making the appropriate progress towards making the best final product possible. In many cases, prototyping is a crucial step in the product development process.

The importance of prototypes

Without prototypes, the world would be in a state of chaos every time a new and potentially dangerous product was introduced. Prototypes are absolutely essential because they allow engineers and other workers in design teams to make the necessary changes to potentially new products that require additional testing and more.

Without prototypes, people could become injured and possibly even be killed after purchasing an untested item from a manufacturer. A prototype, especially a low-fidelity one, may be very far from what the final product will be. This is why prototypes are important, because they allow those involved in its design to collaborate as they scrutinize the prototype and compare it to actual working products. Thus, brands can make the necessary changes before the prototype can move on to the next phase.

Another reason why prototypes are important is because they can help designers with determining their precise costs of production, as well as any issues. Of course, adequate funding is necessary for the development of every new product, and a prototype is a tangible form of a possible new product that the individuals in charge of financing the project can see. This can help them to decide if funding is worth it for a specific project.

Yet another reason why prototypes are important is because of patenting. If you and your team have created a unique new product that will be useful to many people, then you don't want others to possibly steal your idea. Having an actual prototype available for patent attorneys to see can make getting your prototype and future project patented easier.

Here are some additional reasons why prototypes are so essential:

Graphic with the headline: Why build a prototype?
  • Evaluate a product’s design - A prototype's final design may be completely different from its initial one, which is why prototypes are so important. By inspecting a prototype, regardless of its level of fidelity, a developer can evaluate the design and tweak it or completely change it, if necessary.
  • Observe how users interact with the product - Prototypes are a wonderful way for engineers to observe how users interact with the product. This can help developers to determine what's good about the product, as well as what needs to be improved or even added to make the product more enticing, user-friendly, and interactive.
  • Identify flaws or areas of improvement - Even without involving the public to test out a product, developers can identify potential flaws or areas of improvement just by interacting with the prototype themselves.
  • Attract potential investors - By attracting investors, developers are able to adequately fund their project in order to take it from a low-fidelity prototype to a completed product that is ready for approval before going on the market.

What is low-fidelity prototyping?

So what is low-fidelity prototyping, anyway? The definition of low-fidelity prototyping is the earliest version of a product that is very low-tech and direct. Many low-fidelity prototypes don't look or function at all like the product in its final stage. The closer a prototype is to finalization, the higher fidelity it will be.

When to use low-fidelity prototypes

Since low-fidelity prototypes are used in the preliminary stages of developing a new product, these prototypes are typically used to test the capability of a product. This can be done by providing the prototype to users willing to test out up and coming products before they're approved for release.

Developers also use low-fidelity prototypes when their budget is small and they can't afford to create a higher fidelity model. If the low-fidelity model performs well with users, then developers may be able to justify requesting more funding in order to create a higher fidelity model prototype in an attempt to move on to the finalization stage.

Developers may also use low-fidelity prototypes when they're simply trying to test out an idea. The idea and lower fidelity prototype may never move beyond that step, which is fine with most developers who simply want to test a new concept.

Types of low-fidelity prototypes

There isn't just one type of low-fidelity prototype, but several. Two of the main types of low-fidelity prototypes include clickable wireframe prototypes and paper prototyping.

Clickable wireframe prototypes are prototypes that provide visual representations of user interactions. Users can interact with clickable wireframe prototypes through the use of simulations that can be helpful in further developing the product. There are many benefits to using clickable wireframe prototypes, such as allowing the user the ability to interact directly with the prototype and get a hands-on and visual experience.

Paper prototyping is nowhere near as advanced as clickable wireframe prototypes, but it's still very useful. Paper prototyping is a very basic type of prototyping that involves the use of paper designs for digital products. These designs are often sketched or printed to present to others who might be interested in funding or working on the project. Screenshots, or "papershots", of paper prototyping are often created in order to give interested parties a clearer understanding of the purpose of the product.

There are many advantages of using paper prototyping, and the number one advantage is the fact that it's a very inexpensive way to introduce an idea for a new product. Paper prototyping also saves on designs, and it can minimize unnecessary spending on projects that may never progress to the next stage.

Benefits of low-fidelity prototypes

Graphic with the headline: Benefits of low-fidelity prototypes

There are many benefits of opting for low-fidelity prototypes. First of all, low-fidelity prototypes take less time to create, which gives the developer more time to work on the design before it's time for testing. Furthermore, low-fidelity prototypes are typically a lot less complicated than higher-fidelity ones. This enables prospective investors and even other team members to more easily understand the visuals that are provided. The more investors and team members are able to understand all aspects of a particular project, the clearer their overall expectations will be.

Of course, another benefit is obviously money. Even if a developer has a very low budget, the right low-fidelity design can keep costs to a bare minimum.

Drawbacks of low-fidelity prototypes

Unfortunately, low-fidelity prototypes also come with their fair share of drawbacks. Creating new products with varying levels of technological advancement is very competitive in this day and age. This is why it's important to present your prototype in a clear and concise manner. It's not always easy to create low-fidelity prototypes in a way that everyone can easily understand. In addition, low-fidelity prototypes could fail to meet the needs of the market.

Another drawback of low-fidelity prototypes is that the ability to interact with them is minimal, which can prevent testers from experiencing what the designers intend for testers to experience with the product. Furthermore, low-fidelity prototypes may not provide enough information as well as functionality, as all the visuals and content are typically not available. This can prevent prospective investors and testers from fully understanding the products' proposed capabilities.

What is high-fidelity prototyping?

High-fidelity prototyping, which is alternately referred to as "hi-fi", is a type of prototype that is the closest to the final product just before release to the market, if approved. High-fidelity prototypes are highly-advanced computer-based designs that are presented to groups of testers, possible investors, and more. This type of prototype has the ability to more easily portray exactly what developers want others to see, which often increases its chances of being approved to go to the next step.

When to use high-fidelity prototyping

There are many situations in which one may use a high-fidelity prototype—but when you do, you need to ensure that it's your team's absolute best work possible. Again, due to the massive amount of competition in many industries, you must really impress your testers, investors, and everyone else.

Once the basic functionality of a prototype has been established, then it's a good time to use high-fidelity prototyping. This is because surpassing this stage means that your project is ready to move to the next stage. The next stage entails the testing of the more intricate features of the product. This stage includes data visualization as well as the cultivation of functions as you go.

It is also appropriate to use high-fidelity prototyping when your product is close to being finalized and you wish to show it to a vast group of individuals, including clients, product managers, stakeholders, UX designers, and more. Your hi-fi prototype should be an exciting, interactive experience that will emphasize all the best qualities of your product and ensure that the product is well-received.

Types of high-fidelity prototypes

Mobile applications are the number one type of high-fidelity prototypes, for many reasons. There are numerous apps that can help developers more easily create their prototypes so that they're user-friendly, creative, and interactive. There are various benefits of using mobile applications for your hi-fi prototypes.

Designers can more easily create professional presentations of the product they've developed, which allows them to help others see the product as they see it. With the abundance of mobile tools available, experienced designers can create prototype presentations that will thoroughly impress everyone involved. Some mobile apps provide tips on how to prototype for creators, which can be helpful.

UI mockups are when a team presents a simulation of the completed product that has the actual design and appearance. UI mockups are a type of hi-fi prototyping that contain more sophisticated visual details in order to present a lifelike depiction of the product. This enables everyone in attendance at the presentation to explicitly understand the product from many different angles.

3D printing is another popular hi-fi prototype, as it enables developers to create tangible products for their investors, managers, target audience, and more. With the ability to see, touch, and interact with a high-tech kitchen appliance, medical device, or other type of prototype, it makes the product seem more real. It is also easier for everyone involved to envision the product being used in the manner that the designers expect it to be used.

The Wizard of Oz is yet another type of hi-fi prototype that many designers use. This type of hi-fi prototype requires that a person interact with a computer-based program while a person is behind the scenes, controlling the session. One definite benefit of this type of prototype is the fact that it doesn't have to be perfected before it's presented. It enables you to more or less "fake" functionality until it's perfected. The person behind the scenes can manage the process so that everything "functions" as it should, even if there are problems. This allows a company to test a product’s functionality and evaluate the user experience, but also leaves time for final improvements and modifications to be made.

Benefits of high-fidelity prototypes

Graphic with headline: Benefits of high-fidelity prototypes

There are many benefits of high-fidelity prototypes. The number one benefit of this type of prototype is the fact that it promotes the joint effort of managers, designers, engineers, and other team members. By collaborating, the team can complete the prototype more quickly in order to hopefully get it to the finalization stage sooner. Teamwork also improves the chances that the hi-fi prototype will be a success, since each team member will have the ability to make their specific contribution.

Another benefit of choosing a high-fidelity prototype over a low-fidelity one is the fact that it can increase your chances of discovering potentially costly mistakes that could be detrimental to the entire project. You will have time to correct any errors and gauge the performance of a product before it’s finalized and heads to market.

Drawbacks of high-fidelity prototypes

There are some drawbacks to be aware of when it comes to high-fidelity prototypes. First of all, it can take a significant amount of funding to develop high-fidelity prototypes, especially when compared to their lower-fidelity counterparts. Another drawback of high-fidelity prototypes is the fact that they take a greater amount of skill to develop. All the developers on the team must have a certain amount of training in order to be successful. Teams with beginners or students completing internships may be unable to participate.

Another drawback of opting to build a high-fidelity prototype as opposed to a lower fidelity one is the fact that they are very time-consuming to develop. In situations where it becomes necessary to make a change to the prototype, this can be a long and complex process. This can sometimes make hi-fi prototypes a lot more resistant to change than lower fidelity ones.

Bugs are bound to happen in computer systems at any given moment, and unfortunately a bug has the potential to quickly bring a hi-fi prototype and could cause a test to be immediately terminated. Hi-fi prototypes also come with high expectations, and if these expectations aren't met or even exceeded, then it could mean that a great deal of money, time, and hard work has gone down the drain.

Final notes

As you can see, there are many benefits and drawbacks to both low-fidelity prototypes and high-fidelity ones. If you're working as part of a team to develop the best prototype, hopefully you will choose the best fidelity levels at which to create the prototype so it can increase your chances of taking the product to the final stages. It can be a long, tedious process, but if done properly, it can be very successful in the end.

As you prototype, you may also begin thinking about how you’ll market your new product. In this case, turn to Mailchimp. With Mailchimp, you can design a beautiful website where you can showcase your new products and build an audience. Rather than building a site from scratch and worrying about website wireframe fidelity levels, you can use our website builder to quickly and easily construct a website for your company.

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