Industry Guide9 min read

The Differences Between Low Fidelity vs. High Fidelity Prototyping

Explore the concept of fidelity, the main differences between lo-fi and hi-fi prototypes before examining when to use each type.

Fredo Tan
Fredo Tan, Head of GrowthJuly 28, 2021
low fidelity vs. high fidelity prototypes comparison

Not all prototypes are created equal. Take lo-fi versus hi-f prototypes, for example. While they’re both useful in their own ways, that doesn’t mean to say that they look or feel the same—or that they’re both equally valuable throughout all stages of the product development process.

This post will explore the concept of fidelity, outlining the main differences between lo-fi and hi-fi prototypes before examining when to use each type.

What is fidelity?

In prototyping, the term “fidelity” refers to how close a representation is to the intended end-product. It also refers to the level of detail and functionality you include in your prototype. The main categories of fidelity are low-fidelity (lo-fi) and high-fidelity (hi-fi).

low fidelity vs. high fidelity prototypes comparison

Low-fidelity (lo-fi) Prototypes

Low-fidelity prototyping is a quick, simple way of evolving an initial idea or concept into a somewhat more tangible representation of what your final product might look like. The goal of a low-fidelity prototype is simply to outline the flow and to check the usefulness and usability of your proposed functionality. Lo-fi prototypes can either be made digitally or on paper. Examples include:

  • Paper prototypes
  • Click-through prototypes

The key benefits of low-fidelity prototypes are that they are fast, easy, and affordable to create. It’s easy to make changes and test new iterations, anyone can produce them, and they encourage design thinking since the prototypes are clearly not finalized.

The downsides of low-fidelity prototypes are that they have limited interactivity, lack realism, are hard to use for user feedback, are sometimes too basic to reflect the user experience of the finished product, and can oversimplify complex issues. Most crucially, they require users to simply make their own assumptions when imagining how they would use the product (and what this experience will feel like.)

Use low fidelity prototypes when:

  • You want to quickly learn the scale of your project;
  • You want to test the idea first before you start development;
  • You keep the idea within the product team.

Let’s briefly examine the two main types of lo-fi prototypes: paper and click-through.

Paper Prototypes

Paper prototypes might be the easiest, simplest way to create a lo-fi prototype—but that doesn’t mean to say that they aren’t valuable. Paper prototypes are great for fleshing out concepts while they’re still in their infancy. You can quickly scribble down a few sketches, see how they look, and get feedback. If something needs to be changed, you can literally go back to the drawing board.

Paper prototypes are quick to create, inexpensive, and some designers might even feel more creative when using a pencil and paper. They’re also pretty rough and ready—meaning you can generally elicit more honest feedback from people who might otherwise feel hesitant about criticizing a fully-formed digital prototype.

That said, paper prototypes aren’t suitable for the later stages of development. You can’t accurately recreate the digital experience on paper—so it certainly has its limitations. Plus, for many design teams, paper prototypes might just feel slightly unnecessary. If you’re going to be creating a digital prototype anyway, why even bother creating a paper version?

Click-Through Prototypes

Click-through prototypes take paper prototypes to the next level, allowing users to test out the user flow in greater detail. In short, click-through prototyping tools let you upload photographs of paper prototypes—or to digitally recreate them using interactive software widgets—into a UX design application.

click through bank app prototype

For each screen that the user sees, you can then create multiple hotspots that will redirect them to other screens. Imagine your first screen is a log-in page but you want to demonstrate what happens once a user logs in. By clicking on the ‘log in now’ button, the click-through prototype will take you to the next logical step/screen that the user would see.

Of course, click-through prototypes are still a long way off the final product. However, they do make up for one of the major drawbacks of paper prototyping: not being able to experience the user flow. They are therefore another useful lo-fi prototyping model that can be used in the early stages of product design.

If you want to try making your own click-through prototypes, check out tools like Figma or the POP (Prototyping on Paper) app.

High-Fidelity (hi-fi) Prototypes

High-fidelity prototypes are more advanced, with their aesthetics and functions far closer to that of the final product. You’ll typically create high-fidelity prototypes further along in the process once a team has a firm grasp of what they want the finished product to embody, using a tool like ProtoPie to help you bring your vision to life. High-fidelity prototypes are generally used for usability testing with real users or to get final design approval from stakeholders. Examples of high-fidelity prototypes include

  • Digital, code-free prototypes
  • Coded prototypes

The key benefits of high-fidelity prototypes are that they provide greater insight into what the end-product will look like, are instrumental in testing and validating individual design decisions, and are great to get buy-in from clients and stakeholders.

The downsides of high-fidelity prototypes are that these take longer to create, are costlier, and users may mistake the prototype for the finished product and form biases.

Use high-fidelity prototypes when:

  • You want to start development before you decide on the “final” design;
  • You have a lo-fi that is tested and acceptable;
  • You want to take your lo-fi prototype to the next level;
  • You want to pitch the idea to a non-technical audience.

Let’s now dive explore digital and coded prototypes in further detail.

Digital, Code-Free Prototypes

If you’re creating a digital product/experience then you’re eventually going to have to create a digital prototype—there are no two ways about it. That’s where digital prototyping software (such as ProtoPie) comes in. It allows designers to recreate the end product in detail, producing aesthetically pleasing, interactive prototypes that are close representations of the final user interface.

high fidelity bank app prototype

Designers can demonstrate what their experience will look like and how it will feel, which provides product teams with invaluable feedback before they go ahead and launch their final product. However, they also take a fair amount of time and energy to create—so for that reason, many product teams prefer quicker and easier alternatives (such as paper prototyping) earlier on throughout the design process

Coded Prototypes

Coded prototypes are the closest version to the final product that designers will produce, both in terms of how they look and how they behave. This means that they’re great if you want to gather any last user feedback before you bring a product to market.

But not everybody can produce coded prototypes. To do so, you first need to code—which means that many designers are simply unable to create these hi-fi, complex prototypes without asking for help.

How do you make a hi-fi prototype?

Making a hi-fi prototype isn’t as hard as you might think. In fact, these days, you don’t even need to know how to code.

ProtoPie is a no-code digital prototyping tool that makes digital prototyping as intuitive as possible. It integrates with a variety of other design tools, including Adobe XD, Figma, and Sketch, allowing you to easily import all existing designs in just a few clicks. Our seamless design workflow and unique conceptual model, leveraging a vast array of variables and formulas to provide endless possibilities, mean that anybody can create beautiful prototypes—no matter their level of skill or experience.

Hi-fi prototypes with a low barrier to entry. Ready to get started?

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