Low, Mid and High-Fidelity Prototypes

Nigel Tsopo
20 October 2022
8 min read

Having worked with a multitude of founders and startups, helping them bring their product visions to life, we at Startup House have seen prototypes of every shape and size.

Some founders start from scratch and need only simple prototypes. However, those having MVPs already are typically founders who wish to discover what the addition of extra features to these MVPs will result in. In such cases, theirs will be prototypes that are far more complex.

Therefore, to determine which kind your idea may need, we've written this article to define low, mid and high-fidelity prototypes, along with other important considerations to bear in mind.

Here's everything you need to know.

What a prototype is and fidelity in prototypes

What is Prototyping?

Prototyping is an iterative process used to explore a solution's design space and determine the best possible approach to solving a problem. 

What is Fidelity in Prototyping?

Fidelity in prototyping refers to how closely the prototype resembles the final product.

The higher the fidelity, the more accurate the prototype will be in representing the final product's look, feel and function.

This is important because it allows for more accurate testing and feedback during the product development process.

There are different levels of fidelity, from low-fidelity mockups - quick and easy to produce - to high-fidelity mockups, which take more time and effort to create but provide a more accurate representation of the final product. 

But more on this later. For the time being, let's determine what stage of product development you should be prototyping at.

At which stage of product development should you prototype?

A prototype’s required level of fidelity will depend on its purpose and on which stage product development is at.

For example, focusing on function over form may be more important in the early stages of the product development process, in which case a low-fidelity prototype will be more appropriate.

As the product begins taking shape, higher fidelity prototypes may be used for getting closer to the final product look and feel. In some cases, it may be employed for user testing.

Ultimately, the goal is to create a prototype as close to the real thing as possible so that it may be used effectively for user testing and feedback.

The outcomes of prototyping vary on a case-by-case basis.

Why your idea needs a prototype

Common goals when prototyping

  1. To create a realistic representation of the user experience.

  2. To test and iterate on design ideas quickly and inexpensively.

  3. To get feedback from users early in the design process.

  4. To reduce the risk of problems later on in the development process.

  5. To improve communication between designers, developers and other stakeholders.

  6. To make the design process more efficient and effective overall.

Software Prototypes

A software prototype is an early sample, model or release of a software product built to test a software concept or process or to act as a product to be duplicated or learned from.

Software prototypes can also be used to create a seamless User experience (UX) and user interface (UI).

Prototypes are generally not expected to be complete or fully functional. However, they can allow developers to test ideas and different UX/UI interfaces.

Now that we've run through a few key definitions, let's define the three main types of prototypes: low-fidelity, mid-fidelity and high-fidelity.

Low-Fidelity Prototyping

Low-fidelity prototypes (also called 'lo-fi' prototypes or ‘paper’ prototypes) are quick and easy to make. They are often created using paper and pencil or by using simple software like PowerPoint.

Mid-Fidelity Prototyping

Mid-fidelity prototypes ('mid-fi') are more detailed than low-fidelity prototypes.

You can create these using special prototyping software like Adobe Photoshop, Figma and Sketch.

High-Fidelity Prototype

High-fidelity prototypes are very detailed. Some might call a 'hi-fi' prototype a functional prototype since it looks and feels just like the final product. Hi-fi prototypes are usually created using the same tools or programming languages to be used in the final product development.

Static Prototypes vs Interactive Prototypes

Prototypes can be static or interactive. Static prototypes show what the product will look like, but do not allow user interaction.

Interactive prototypes let users interact with the product so that user engagement patterns may be observed and feedback on the product gathered.

If you're in the market for effective all-around prototyping that's tailored to your specific products, get in touch with us at Startup House and we'll advise you on the best route to take for your prototyping journey.

Prototyping Using Agile Methodology

Prototypes are often created using agile methodology, which means their quick creation and gradual, incremental refinement over time.

Popular prototyping techniques

There are many popular software prototyping techniques in use today, some of which produce digital prototypes while others output physical prototypes. 

Here are just a few:

Storyboards 

Storyboards are used to create a graphical representation of the user interface, miming the look and feel of a product's interface and functionality.

Flowcharts 

Flowcharts are a type of diagram showing the steps in an application's workflow.

Paper Prototyping

A low-tech way of creating prototypes. This involves creating mockups of the user interface using paper and ink or basic software and a printer.

Wireframes

Wireframes are a skeletal representation of the page's layout and user interface and exclude all superficial details.

Mockups

Mockups are more detailed than wireframes. They can be used to prototype both the look and feel of the interface and the functionality.

Software simulations 

Software simulations are used for prototyping an application's behaviour and showing how the software responds to different inputs.

Hardware prototypes 

Hardware prototypes are used for prototyping the hardware that will be used in conjunction with software. These may include such things as sensors, input devices and output devices.

Virtual reality prototypes

Virtual reality prototypes are used for prototyping a user interface in a 3D environment.

Augmented reality prototypes

Augmented reality prototypes are used to add virtual elements to the real world.

3D printing

3D printing is a rapid prototyping technology that can be used to create hard and software models.

Who should I show prototypes to?

Ideally, you should show prototypes to people who represent your target audience and to any valuable stakeholders. To potential investors, for example, or to backers already on board. This way, you can get relevant feedback from the people who will be using your product and/or investing in it.

If you don't have access to your target audience, you can try showing your prototype to friends or family members. However, the advice here is that they understand the prototype is not a finished product and that their feedback will help you to improve it.

Which tools can I use?

Many tools can be used to create low, medium and high-fidelity prototypes; some of the most popular ones include Adobe XD, Figma and Sketch.

Each tool has unique features and benefits for visualising a product or testing prototypes, so choose the one that’s right for your specific needs.

Whichever tool you decide upon, you’ll be able to create high-quality prototypes that will help you communicate your ideas and gain crucial user feedback.

Here's a list of other tools that may be used for prototyping:

  1. Invision

  2. Marvel

  3. Proto.io

  4. UXPin

  5. Flinto

  6. Balsamiq Mockups

  7. Axure RP

Conclusion

A prototype is an early sample, model, or release of a product built to test a concept or process or to act as a thing to be replicated or learned from.

Prototyping is a great way to test ideas and bring them to life quickly and efficiently.

By creating prototypes with different levels of fidelity, you can iterate on your designs and find the perfect solution for your product.

Lower fidelity prototypes are quicker and easier to create, but they may not be as accurate in terms of replicating the final product.

Higher fidelity prototypes take more time and effort to create but will be closer to the actual product.

The key is in finding a balance in the level of fidelity for your prototype that is based on your needs and objectives. By doing so, you can create an effective and efficient prototype.

Summary

  • A prototype is often referred to as a ‘mockup’.

  • A low-fidelity prototype (or ‘paper’ prototype) is typically used early in the design process when concepts are still being explored and refined. Its purpose is to allow designers to test out ideas quickly and inexpensively without investing time and resources into creating a fully functional product.

  • A mid-fidelity prototype refers to a more detailed and realistic prototype. It is often used to test specific design elements or interactions.

  • A high-fidelity prototype is usually close to the final product and is used to test user experience and gather feedback on the overall design.

  • Each prototype has its advantages and disadvantages, and the best approach for a particular project will depend on the specific goals and needs of the team.

  • By using the appropriate prototype for the task at hand, teams save time and resources while gathering the data necessary for informing their designs.

At Startup House, we specialise in well-rounded and effective product prototypes and have a tailor-made user testing service that can give you actionable insights and user testing results.

Contact us to find out more about our cutting-edge prototyping solutions.

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