When it comes time to develop your next app, campaign, or website, it’s important to understand how different stages of design impact projects—and why each stage is important. You should know why low fidelity and high fidelity both serve their purpose in the design stage.

Low fidelity vs. high fidelity

At the end of the day, prototypes are a functional map of your product. They tell you what you want to build, how to build it, and what kind of experience it will create for your user. What’s the difference between low and high fidelity design?

Low fidelity design

Low fidelity design has less detail, but a low fidelity prototype draws its strength from being the quickest and easiest way to explore function, interactivity, and overall structure of a product before dedicating the time and money into a hi-fi prototype or design. Another name for a low fidelity prototype is a wireframe.

Why low fidelity matters

Despite the lack of branding and a full-scale design in the low fidelity stage, it can be key to a successful final product, because it allows everyone involved from clients to key stakeholders to iterate on lots of ideas; try out features; and imagine different layers of customization and interactivity. Change is the name of the game with lo-fi prototypes; they’re relatively low-cost to produce, and their purpose is to maximize learning and understanding of a product.

High fidelity design

High fidelity design, on the other hand, is all about detail, branding, and a full-scale design. What started as a simple website wireframe becomes a fully designed page with color, typography, imagery, and interactivity. High fidelity design is often easier to interpret because there’s not much left to the imagination, and once a design is approved, you’re only a few steps away from a final product.

Why high fidelity matters

High fidelity design matters because it gives clients the chance to see their product in a branded context and allows us to test user experience, features, interactivity, and more. While low fidelity is the blueprint, high fidelity is the final draft.

This is where you come in

We view clients as project partners, so every step of the design process involves our clients in some way. However, the way that clients are involved is different between the low fidelity and high fidelity stages.

Client involvement in low fidelity design

It’s important to have clients involved from the get-go of a project. Client input is essential as low fidelity designs are being presented and developed. This stage is all about functional planning and exploring lots of various ideas in lower detail. Typically, low fidelity has a lot of back-and-forth—prioritizing communication is crucial in this step, a general rule of thumb is to have around three or four iterations before moving towards a high fidelity design.

Client involvement in high fidelity design

Once we’ve reached a successful decision around a lo-fi prototype, a hi-fi prototype is next. At this point, we’ve spent time working through expectations, settling on features, and understanding the user experience to avoid major structural changes in the product. At the high fidelity stage, involvement is usually less focused on features and structure and more focused on finalizing design, typography, color, and other branded elements.

Low fidelity and high fidelity for the win

When it comes to low fidelity vs. high fidelity, there are times when it’s most appropriate to move straight towards a high fidelity design. But buyer beware—rushing into the high fidelity phase can be costly (read: more opportunities for miscommunication and misalignment on deliverables) before you’ve fully understood your project. 

The danger of skipping to high fidelity too early in a project is that good design can make even a mediocre idea look attractive enough for you to think it’s the solution you wanted. With low fidelity, there’s no bells and whistles to distract you. You and your team will have to think about the product’s functionality before design, and avoid costly technical debt later on.

Wireframes are cheap and quick to adjust. Hi-fi prototypes, though? Not so much. Make sure you spend the necessary time to fully understand your project and explore possibilities before committing to a full-scale design. You want a product that’s built on your best idea—not just a good one.

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