A prototype is a collection of screens/pages showing a representation of the final product. They serve as a visual and interactive blueprint, allowing designers to test and validate design ideas before development. Often these screens/pages are connected using a prototyping tool to create an interactive prototype. In this article, we delve into the world of interactive prototypes, dissecting the pros and cons of the most common ones. From the simplicity of single user-flow low-fidelity (Lo-Fi) prototypes to the realism of high-fidelity (Hi-Fi) counterparts, we navigate through the advantages and challenges of each approach.
First up… Single User-Flow Lo-Fi Prototype.
A Lo-Fi prototype (typically a grey-scale wireframe) that focuses on one user-flow offers several advantages. Usually, these types of prototypes are relatively quite quick to create as the designer only needs to focus on certain features, functionality and usability. This enables tech reviews to assess the feasibility of such features and allows for quick iterations, making it efficient for early-stage testing and design refinements.
However, this approach has its drawbacks. Since it focuses solely on one user flow, interactions with other flows might be missed, potentially leading to oversights in the overall user experience. Users may find it difficult to immerse themselves in the product due to the lack of visual appeal and interactive elements.
Following not far behind, we have the Full Working Lo-Fi Prototype.
Quite similar to the single user-flow Lo-Fi Prototypes, this one focuses on the core structure and functionality of the product. As this contains all screens/pages of the product, it allows us designers to efficiently communicate concepts, functionality and features. It serves as a simple and user-friendly representation of the final product, making it easy to identify usability issues and iterate. The comprehensive nature of the prototype enables better user testing and in-depth tech reviews to assess the technical feasibility of the product.
On the downside, the absence of aesthetics in a low-fidelity prototype can lead to an underwhelming user experience as visual stimulation is limited. Certain interaction aspects, such as hover states on buttons or other interactive elements, cannot be adequately tested in a low-fidelity wireframe.
So this is where we bring in the visual design. We start here with the Single User-Flow Hi-Fi Prototype.
A high-fidelity prototype provides a realistic user experience, allowing stakeholders and users to immerse themselves in the user flow of this product. This type of prototype also serves as a solid starting point for developing a design system promoting consistency and efficiency in the future.
There are drawbacks to consider though. As this is the time for the designers to get creative and explore various visual ideas, creating a Hi-Fi prototype can be time-consuming. Similar to the Lo-Fi single-user flow prototype, focusing on only one user flow opens the possibility of overlooking usability issues that might arise when integrating this flow with other parts of the product, which is why creating a full working hi-fi prototype is so important.
Bringing us to the most polished prototype… The Full Working Hi-Fi Prototype
This prototype offers users a full product experience, immersing themselves in the design and providing valuable insights during testing. The inclusion of interaction-design with micro animations, hover states and page/screen transitions, demonstrates the product's interactivity. This heightens user empathy resulting in better research results and data. The prototype also effectively communicates the product's visual identity, ensuring stakeholders understand the overall design vision accurately.
There are however challenges associated with a comprehensive Hi-Fi prototype. The process of connecting all screens can be time-consuming, requiring substantial exploration time to ensure a cohesive and seamless user experience. Iteration at this stage can be difficult as we now have a design system in place, screens/pages connected, structure, functionality and features defined.
Overall, Lo-Fi prototypes play a crucial role in early-stage ideation, functionality, structure, and feature development. They lay out the groundwork for our design process. High-fidelity prototypes offer users a realistic and immersive experience, enabling us to conduct thorough user testing, communicate our design vision effectively, and seamlessly hand over to the development team. Together, these two prototyping approaches form a dynamic duo, ensuring we craft exceptional and user-centric products.