So, you want to improve your website. You’re in the right place.
Let’s talk about how the right level of design detail in user tests can save you time, money, and deliver a better user experience.
What is prototyping?
Prototyping is an essential part of the UX design process and can unlock your team’s ability to validate ideas before you send them to development.
In literal terms, a prototype is a first or early model of a proposed design passed to the development team before being coded onto the website. For ecommerce and product marketing teams, prototypes are early samples of a product intentionally designed for testing.
They can range from simple pen and paper sketches to highly interactive mockups in tools such as Figma. With prototypes, you can get user feedback on pages or app elements, which can be used to iterate your way to a better digital experience for your users.
To illustrate the idea, you may use a prototype when redesigning your website’s landing page. You may sketch ideas out in a wireframe and get either internal or external feedback before layering on your brand design and sending it to development for implementation.
What is fidelity?
That brings me to the next point–prototypes can range in their level of detail, identified by their fidelity. You’ve probably heard of low fidelity (simple, typically sketched designs) and high fidelity (more complex, close to the actual design of your digital experience). But there is magic in the often skipped-over mid-fidelity prototypes.
Mid-fidelity mockups or prototypes can improve efficiency, increase testing velocity, and focus your users on what matters.
There is, of course, a time and a place for all three fidelity types, which we will cover. But, considering rapid validation as an undervalued way to improve your website I’ll focus on the benefits you might be missing if you’re overlooking mid-fidelity designs. And even more specifically their use case for rapid validation.
When should I use low versus mid versus high fidelity?
- Low Fidelity: This level involves basic, hand-drawn sketches or paper prototypes. Colors are grayscale and placeholder images and text are often used. It’s ideal for brainstorming, generating ideas, and exploring concepts internally.
- Mid Fidelity: Also known as medium fidelity, this level is the Goldilocks between low and high fidelity. It may or may not include clickable elements relevant to the test’s goals without distracting testers with superfluous content. Mid fidelity is the best choice for rapid validation. This is the best method for focusing on the problem–not border widths or hex codes.
- High Fidelity: The most detailed level, high-fidelity mockups closely resemble the final product, with intricate interactions, pixel-perfect designs, brand colors, fonts, and every element clickable. It is used when testing an entire website or app and passing designs to the development team for implementation.
Let’s take a look at the details and pros and cons of each prototype fidelity.
Pros and cons of low fidelity
Low fidelity is reserved for brainstorming, idea generation, and internal exploration. It is not suitable for rapid testing due to its lack of detail.
- Cost Effective: Low fidelity is a cost-effective option, making it suitable for early ideation and concept generation.
- Rapid Ideation: Hand-drawn sketches and basic prototypes allow for quick idea generation and exploration.
- Internal Collaboration: Ideal for internal use, low fidelity facilitates collaboration and idea sharing among team members.
- Lack of Detail: Low fidelity lacks the detail for accurate user testing. It may not provide a realistic representation of the final product.
- Limited External Use: Not suitable for external presentations or client interactions due to its basic and rough nature.
Pros and cons of mid fidelity
As I mentioned, mid fidelity is the often-overlooked prototyping model. Particularly suitable for rapid testing, it’s the happy medium between designing a mockup for external use without over-resourcing before validation.
- Time Efficiency: Mid-fidelity designs save time, making them ideal for rapid testing scenarios with tight timelines.
- Focused Testing: By prioritizing core functionalities, mid fidelity ensures that users focus on what’s important, leading to more meaningful insights and qualitative data.
- Balanced Detailing: Mid fidelity strikes a balance between low and high fidelity, providing enough detail for testing without unnecessary intricacies.
- Not Pixel Perfect: Unlike high-fidelity designs, mid fidelity lacks pixel-perfect detailing. This may be a drawback when detailed, final designs are necessary.
- Limited Use Cases: Mid fidelity is most effective in scenarios like rapid testing. There may be better choices for situations requiring highly detailed or finalized designs, such as A/B testing.
Pros and cons of high fidelity
High-fidelity prototypes are used when passing designs to the development team for implementation, especially for complex scenarios with multiple states. High fidelity prototypes can distract users from their tasks and requires extensive time and budget that you shouldn’t waste before validation.
- Realistic Representation: High fidelity provides a detailed and realistic representation of the final product, aiding in client presentations and developer handovers.
- Accurate User Testing: Ideal for complex scenarios with multiple states, high fidelity ensures proper user testing with intricate interactions.
- Developer-Friendly: The closer the design is to the final product, the easier it is for developers to implement the final product, reducing potential misinterpretations.
- Time Consuming: Creating high-fidelity prototypes is time-consuming, which may not align with the rapid pace of specific testing scenarios.
- Resource Intensive: Requires more design expertise, time, and resources, potentially delaying the testing process.
- Highly Detailed: The added detail and functionality of high-fidelity prototypes can create unnecessary distractions for user testers, causing possible derailment from the goal of the test.
Why less is more when prototyping for rapid validation
The fidelity level of your mockups can make or break your rapid test results–bleeding time and financial resources while also hindering valuable user insights. Imagine you want to test if changing the category page name improves user understanding and boosts conversions. Crafting a high-fidelity, fully interactive prototype might seem impressive, but it can backfire. The intricate details distract users, drawing them outside the test’s scope and obscuring relevant feedback. This can put users into cognitive overload.
That’s where the mid-fidelity mockup steps in.
It shows just enough detail and the relevant design elements (like the navigation bar and category name) with enough clarity to incite meaningful feedback.
Mid-fidelity also focuses feedback. With no functional interactions, users stay within the test boundary, providing insights directly related to your research question.
Here’s an analogy: You wouldn’t build a full kitchen to test a new icing recipe. You’d bake a simple cake base to focus on the icing’s impact on taste and texture. Similarly, a mid-fidelity mockup acts as your cake base, allowing you to hone in on the specific design element you’re testing.
In our 15+ years of experience in digital experience optimization, mid fidelity emerges as a strategic choice for rapid validation. Offering a happy medium between speed, detail, and focus, mid-fidelity mockups give users the right amount of information to provide insightful feedback without distracting or over-resourcing.
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About the Author
Lexi Traylor is the Digital Designer at The Good. She collaborates closely with cross-functional teams to tackle intricate design challenges that optimize user engagement and positively influence conversion metrics.