Whether you’re the decision-maker, manager, or mediator of a digital marketing project, at some point in the process the prototyper will create a prototype for the client. As a game player, it’ll pay to know the basics about high fidelity and low fidelity prototyping. As someone who doesn’t wear any of these hats, I knew little about the different value of each, but atLarge interactive designer (and prototype genius) Nathan Pyatte filled me in. What this means for atLarge is that the communication gap between “painter” and “architect” is non-existent: He’s both. This allows for seamless production and a holistic perspective on prototyping.

The best way to understand the difference is to see it, so Pyatte pulled these out for me:


Low fidelity prototype.

Low Fidelity prototype

High fidelity prototype.

High fidelity prototype

As for choosing between the two, he says there’s generally no truly right or wrong answer but let’s do a break down the pros and cons: 

High Fidelity Pros.

  • It looks slick, it looks like you put a lot of time into it, it practically looks done and if it happens to by chance fulfill what the client wanted, without having done a low fidelity prototype first, they’ll be  impressed. 
  • There are lots of programs, like Invision, that enable high fidelity renderings that make it less time-consuming than it used to be. 

High Fidelity Cons.

  • Regardless of programs that promise quick high fidelity prototypes, it still requires more time than low fidelity.
  • If the client doesn’t like it, you have to go back and start over, which is wasted time and budget, time that could have been better used toward a low fidelity prototype from the start. 

Low Fidelity Pros. 

  • Receive better client feedback that is relevant to the starting point of the project.
  • It gives the opportunity to get everyone on the same page for significant functionality pieces of the project. 
  • It may look overly basic but you can count on it not intimidating the client. At this stage they may feel more comfortable expressing themselves since this step feels less permanent. 

Low Fidelity Cons. 

  • It may look shoddy, but that’s what shitty first drafts are for, right? 

So as our analysis demonstrates, it looks like low fidelity is the way to go, plus, it’s Pyatte’s preference. Here’s why: 

“It’s about how you communicate your ideas best. I like to use low fidelity cause I can get better feedback that is more relevant at this initial stage of the process.” He adds, “This way I can get everyone on the same page for significant functionality pieces that allow to not have to go back and re-evaluate them since you wanna get key base objectives for the project on the first round.”

He says that, for example, when you’re looking at a web mobile app you have to jot down what the essential components are gonna be that will define the home page. Those essentials are navigation, imagery, whether or not it will slide to reveal content or will it be one, even scroll-down list. 

“When I first started out I was doing way too much work for a first draft. I was doing wireframes at a high fidelity rate but that was getting me in trouble because they weren’t appropriate for a shitty first draft.” 

“You need to fail early and often since that brings you to the solution and low fidelity is the way to get there.”

Other than prototyping a site or an app, there was the selling aspect to consider: the stakeholders and their communication style, budget and time limitations.

Oftentimes, the Marketing Director is our audience and we need to ensure he looks like a rockstar to his superiors, since he's acting as our mouthpiece, selling our ideas to the higher-ups. So now it’s about psychology; are his superiors abstract-minded or visual? For instance, if they need images, we’ll create easy to understand Keynote slides to aid a Marketing Director in presenting to their boss.

Other elements to consider are time and scope. “Sometimes we have to jump to high fidelity because the time limits are so aggressive” Pyatte added. 

At atLarge, low fidelity wins the prototyping battle because, as I learned first hand from Nathan, it considers the client’s needs first, while informing the team on scaling next, as seen in the double diamond model:


Double Diamond Model

From what I can tell, the UK Design Council came up with the model in 2005. It's a handy image that corresponds to the product definition and design process. It may look stiff but it's more of a suggestion rather than a linear process. “Low to high is a method...that gets used throughout the whole process...so it's not a do this before and then this after...it's a very iterative process.” 

What tricks or programs do you use for prototyping? Share them with us here.



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