Testing low fidelity prototypes are for many designers and UX professionals something rarely done. However, there are countless of benefits related to testing early prototypes - even to testing something as fundamental as a hand-drawn sketch. This article aims to convince you to start testing your prototypes as early as possible and thus get more actionable feedback from your testers.
...or as we say “Test early. build right.”
Testing early, or testing “low fidelity” prototypes, can be extremely valuable during the design and development process. In our experience, it can, in fact, turn out to give more valuable, -reliable, and -actionable feedback than when testing “high fidelity” prototypes.
In our perspective, a testable prototype does not necessarily entail enchanting visuals, clickable elements, and fully developed content.
Instead, it can be something as simple as your drawings from the sketch phase. Yes, we said it. A good old static, visually awful, and hand-drawn sketch.
“All the greatest ideas started on a napkin, right?”
Off course there can be various interpretations of what constitutes an early prototype - many of which are less extreme than our sketch example. But when we refer to very early prototypes, you should get the picture by now.
Testing low fidelity prototypes might lead to getting more valuable, valid, and actionable user inputs for your product.
In no way should low-fidelity prototype testing be a complete substitute for high fidelity prototype testing. There are many weaknesses to testing early prototypes, however, conducting tests on both low- and high fidelity prototypes will give you an abundance of feedback that you can use to make your designs more user-driven.
And here is why.
Many UX professionals might argue that a sketch is not a prototype and that the intent of a sketch is different than a prototype. However, that does not mean that feedback in such early stages of design, can’t be extremely valuable.
First of all, the earlier you can test your design ideas, the earlier you can fix potential problems from occurring in the future. Not only will this be cheaper, but it will also be easier to convince team members to do the change, as less effort has been into the prototype at that stage.
Testing on sketches therefore represents a test in a low risk environment. It will cost you less money to set up, less money to change original designs, and energy will have been used to create them.
The more unfinished a prototype looks (and works), the more likely are the test subjects to actually comment on it.
When something looks finished, you will simply get less feedback, as there is less for the test participant to comment on.
One of the greater challenges of usability testing regards a seemingly natural urge for test subjects to perform well in tests, or to please the test initiator with positive feedback.
“If a design seems incomplete, users usually have no idea whether it took a minute or months to create it. They may better understand that you are indeed testing the design and not them, feel less obliged to be successful, and be more likely to express negative reactions.” - Kara Pernice, NormanNielsen Group (Read the full article here)
As testers are merely human beings who are being observed while performing a task, this makes perfect sense. However, it can be extremely counterproductive to the actual purpose of the test, as the feedback giving might lack validity.
When you expose a test participant to a seemingly unfinished design, the tester will feel less pressure to perform well, and thus be prone to provide more valid and more negative feedback.
So the next time your team is developing something - whether it’s a new landing page or a complex app - take some hours of your schedule to have testers evaluating your early prototypes or sketches.
More stuff on user testing: Test your assumptions and build better digital products
Faster. Better. Cheaper.