Prototyping is a vital part of the design thinking process and in this article, I’d like to illustrate what prototype fidelities we use and why — to better understand and manage user expectations.
“How it works” Vs. “How it looks”
For a better understanding of fidelity it makes sense to separate functionality (or UX) and visual appeal (UI).
“How it works”, or the UX portion, covers functionality, content, layout and information architecture. It defines how the future product will solve the user’s needs.
“How it looks”, or the UI part, includes the UI patterns (buttons, typography), style and micro-interactions in addition to the overall aesthetics of the future product that visually appeals to the user’s emotions.
As the design team starts prototyping, each project goes through the phases of ideation, refinement and finally, implementation.
During the Ideation phase, we visualize key parts of user experience and core screens. It is important to experiment and validate them early with the project team and stakeholders, to focus on “how it works.” The right tools for this phase are paper sketching and digital sketching.
Paper sketching allows us to invite all team members (especially non-designers) to visualize their ideas so that everyone can add to the solution. This works best for offline workshops.
Digital Sketching (rapid wireframing, mock-ups) is best for remote workshops when the design team prepares a variety of solutions to demo them remotely. This exercise facilitates live stakeholder feedback making design updates and experimentation in real-time.
Prototypes based on paper and digital sketching are low-fidelity and allow us to radically speed up prototype feedback.
In the Refinement phase, we design the UX and create all pages related to the user flow in higher fidelity wireframes.
Wireframing concentrates on “how it works” without spending too much effort on visual styling. For design teams, this means any changes are easy and painless to implement while also allowing for faster delivery and easier ideation. Therefore, the research team gets higher-quality feedback because stakeholders and users are not distracted by prototype styling. We pay special attention to visual consistency and typography to make wireframes look more authentic and appealing during user tests.
Prototyping based on wireframes has high functional fidelity and medium visual fidelity. Accordingly, it will serve as the final blueprint for development implementation.
Throughout the Implementation phase, the refined prototype becomes a blueprint for user interface (UI) design. Depending on project goals and available resources we can create a custom UI design or use an existing UI front-end framework.
Custom UI design focuses on “how it looks”. We create a UI kit based on existing or new branding and make a polished clean design. Prototypes based on custom UI design have high visual fidelity and medium to high functional fidelity.
Finally, UI based on the front-end framework allows us to skip the design phase. This is best suited for faster projects or Proof of Concepts. Prototypes made this way usually have the highest fidelity and essentially mirror the end-product.