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Lo-Fi vs. Hi-Fi When Visualizing a Solution

By November 12, 2013No Comments


The saying goes, “Seeing is believing.” We here at OneSpring fully believe that. It is one of the primary tenants that our company is founded upon. We use visualization techniques to help our clients define requirements more effectively than text alone. This allows them to experience their products interactively prior to development, saving both time and money by minimizing rework.

However, we also believe in the saying that “Timing is everything.” When visualizing, moving too quickly to high fidelity can end up creating severe impediments to a project’s success that can be very difficult to recover from.

When engaging with clients and stakeholders on projects, it is tempting to fall into the trap of moving to high fidelity too quickly (Hi-fi: prototyping that is ultra-realistic and includes assets, graphics, and interactions that are made to simulate the finished product) – especially when codeless prototyping tools such as justinmind, Axure, iRise, and others make it super easy to do so. Hi-fi is the sizzle…the bells and whistles…the wow factor. I mean, honestly, no one really loves looking at low fidelity prototypes (Lo-fi: simple, rough sketches or frames that are built to capture and test ideas for iteration). Who wants to look at boxes and arrows, super-basic wireframes, or storyboards, when you could look at interactive, clean, mega-slick prototypes, with pristine iconography, that can simulate mobile responsiveness? Hi-fi can put smiles on faces, but, if you are not strategic about when you make the move to it, those smiles can be very temporary.

One reason to be cautious about going Hi-fi too soon is that high fidelity prototypes and assets can be very hard to change once they are in place. At the beginning of a project when you are visualizing to define solutions and iterating to establish the foundation and groundwork for a system or application, working in low fidelity (keeping screen elements and interactions simple) allows you to be quick and nimble when designing. You can try out different ideas fast, test concepts easily, or make changes and/or complete course re-directions rapidly without the burden of having to alter complex linkages and transitions and their accompanying dependencies or having to make modifications to robust graphical assets that will be cumbersome and time-consuming to execute. Low fidelity gives you agility when in definition mode. The choice of when to move to Hi-fi should be made once the course is set and there is validation that the foundation and architecture for the solution design is in place.

Another reason jumping too quickly to Hi-fi can cause you headaches is that once clients or stakeholders are exposed to high fidelity visualizations, the bar becomes set for the remainder of the project or initiative and it is very difficult to go backward. Once they have seen the sexy look and feel that high fidelity deliverables provide, boxes and arrows and basic interactions become difficult to palate, making on the fly or quick alterations difficult, if clients or the business decides that significant changes need to be made. Folks generally want to see consistency in the deliverables they are presented with, so if you are at a Hi-fi level in your project and modifications need to be made, those modifications are expected to be in Hi-fi, as well. As we discussed earlier, Hi-fi changes can be time and effort consuming while switching back and forth between high fidelity, if not handled expertly, can confuse and frustrate clients and stakeholders, resulting in expectations getting severely out of whack. Starting in and remaining in low fidelity until there is buy in on the solution from the parties involved, allows for the establishment of manageable expectations up front, that can be adhered to during the course of the project.

Also, when in Hi-fi mode, people tend to become laser focused on granular details like color hues, font types, or the speed of animated transitions – getting hung up on aesthetic details, making it difficult for them to revert their thinking back to higher level elements such as content, placement, navigation, interactions, or the user journey. Thus, if you are still nailing down a solution or brainstorming an idea, it is wise to stay Lo-fi as long as possible, to keep your stakeholders’ focus where it should be, limiting distractions.

Low fidelity may not be as alluring or appealing as its Hi-fi counterpart, but it does have tremendous value. A solid designer should know the appropriate level of fidelity for the design phase that they are in. A good way to gauge what level is appropriate is by asking yourself what type of feedback you are looking to elicit from your client/stakeholders. If you require feedback on detail and visuals, then high fidelity is your best bet. If you seek feedback at a framework or architectural level, then low fidelity is the way to go.

Key Takeaways
Remaining in low fidelity while defining a solution will allow you to:
– Test drive different ideas or evaluate concepts easily
– Make alterations or shift design directions quickly
– Establish manageable client/stakeholder expectations and minimize distractions

“I fight for the users.”