High Fidelity Prototypes – Worth the Effort?

18 November 2016
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Reading time: 4 minutes

Prototypes are pretty senseless. They cost you a lot of time and money and in the end you just throw away the result. So why in the world would you want to create an almost finished user interface if you then have to start all over again building the actual application? Couldn’t you just start developing and save your costs? Well, there might be reasons why people keep doing this, so it should somehow make sense, right? Okay, that’s a pretty weak argument. But by the way, what exactly is a prototype? Well, it looks like an actual implementation of the design, but without providing real functionality. You can simulate the user flow and make a good showcase of how your app or webpage will look like and behave later.

Low-fi vs. Hi-fi

But there’s prototypes and there’s prototypes. It can basically be some sketches on paper that you show a user. If users “click” on a button, you show them the next paper. This already shows your potential users a good idea of how the app might behave later, but honestly it can look a bit unfinished. Advantages are that they are quick to produce, cheap and you can throw them away without having a bad conscience because of all the work you might have put in. But it’s not for everyone. You need a good imagination of the future product and it might daunt people, making them doubt you are in charge of building a beautiful product. They will ask if that’s all you have to offer. So especially for pitch situations, relying only on conceptual drawings or lo-fi prototypes can be very harmful for your business.

Lots of effort

So you might think about constructing a good looking prototype with cool animations and beautiful icons. Can’t be that hard, right? Then you realize that you need a lot of thoughts to be made already and you have to plan a good amount of time to create all the visuals. It’s almost like creating the complete app! Good thing is, if you later start the development, everything is already settled. Your concept has hopefully been tested by some users already, you have created the visual design and the interactions make sense at least in the bigger part. You could say, one round of testing has already been passed. But you might not want to spend that time and money in advance if there is the risk that it will all be useless if you don’t make the deal.

Pros and cons

While this might be a reasonable thought, chances will be a lot higher that you get an actual contract if you present a well-thought and rounded solution instead of just some sketches. It will create a lot of trust with your customer, because they see you are able to create something that fits their needs. On the other hand, if it’s quite clear that the customer will work with you anyway, there are also no reasons not to show them a well-built version of what he is going to receive. It will pay off in the end.

Still, there are of course reasons not to spend too much effort into building a design or a prototype. For example, if it’s not really clear where the product will be going, it might be good to first try a bunch of basic paper prototypes until you have found the more or less ideal solution. Or, if time is really an issue, then presenting a full coverage of the solution in a low-fi version might be better than to just show a small part of it.

So as always, it depends on the specific situation whether the time for a full prototype should be invested, but at least it’s not a thought that should be skipped too easily, just because the effort doesn’t seem so reasonable at the first look. Also, with today’s tools, you are able to create good looking prototypes with lots of interaction within a day, and this should be worth it most of the time.

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