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Prototyping for Designers by Kathryn McElroy

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Fidelity for Prototypes

Choosing a fidelity level is a critical part of creating a prototype. Fidelity means how closely the prototype looks and acts like the finished product. The proper fidelity level will focus the feedback you receive on the proper aspect of the design, so select your fidelity based on your goal for the prototype. Fidelity has varying levels (low, mid, and high, as well as mixed) and five dimensions (visual, breadth, depth, interactivity, and data model). It takes time and practice to learn which fidelity will enable you to get the feedback you need, but there are a few best practices for choosing.

The prototyping process usually benefits from starting with a low fidelity and slowly increasing the fidelity level until most of your assumptions are tested and either proved or fixed. You’ll find that you make more prototypes earlier in the process, and fewer as your idea becomes more refined. It’s necessary to be flexible and to decide which fidelity is right for each assumption you’re testing along the way. If a prototype’s fidelity level is too high, the user will subconsciously believe that the design is “finished” and will only give feedback on polishing areas instead of the broad concepts. If a prototype’s fidelity is too low, the user might not understand the context and get lost in the generalities. There’s also a balance between the time and effort it takes to make the prototype and the value you’ll get from testing at that specific fidelity (Figure ...

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