The difference between low fidelity and high fidelity prototyping are useful to give notice to in all design and development processes. There are cons and pros to both types of prototyping, which we will go trhough in this article. But before we jump directly into the differences, we should take a second to discuss the notion of the prototype within UX work and our definition of one.
In its purest form, prototypes are simulations of products designed to resemble the finished product to various extents. The purpose of a prototype is mostly to demonstrate and test ideas and hypotheses in regards to design and functionality.
Prototypes are not only limited to digital solutions but are used in almost all professional contexts such as; software development, design, electronics, services, transportation etc. Thus, the concept is by no means limited to the fields of UX and UI.
Essentially, we believe that a prototype is something we are supposed to learn something from - be it issues of design, getting user feedback, or validating your designs pre-launch. The question is what you want to learn, and how much money you want to spend, learning it.
The degree of complexity, details, and functionality of the prototype is often described as the level of fidelity - high or low - and there are different pros, cons, and things to learn from both types.
High fidelity prototypes are often multipage, realistic and interactive versions. They have a very high resemblance to an actual product - however, the main idea is often that there is no code behind a prototype.
On the contrary, a low fidelity prototype is simple. It only shares few characteristics with the final product. It can be limited to a single page with no interactivity. In short, it can be a simple as possible.
And then, of course, there are a million versions in between the two extremes: high- and low fidelity.
Check this infographic for an easy distinction between the two types of prototypes:
At Preely we always encourage users on our platform to start testing their designs as early as possible. Therefore we obviously tend to be more positive about recommending low-fidelity prototypes whenever asked. However, by doing so we might not always be right.
In fact, we strongly believe that the level of fidelity you should choose for your prototype is highly contextual. Consider what you want to learn, consider your budget, and think about the pros and cons listed in this article. You might even decide that you need a prototype on each end of the fidelity continuum.
Some of you (including some of us), probably love to jump right into building your ideas and putting our best efforts into the design and coding of a seemingly awesome product, without even thinking about asking our users if they feel the same.
That's great, but the fact is that this is insanely stupid, potentially costly, and a waste of good working hours. Even worse, it might end up leaving us drained of energy and gumption after our “brilliant” website failed to resonate with our users.
Therefore, if you don't have the resources, time or whatever to create a high fidelity prototype then don’t! Instead, create a low-cost and easy to make a testable product for your users to test. It will definitely benefit you in the long run.
Let's close this article with a suitable quote from UX professional and author Steve Krug:
Faster. Better. Cheaper.