4 Reasons to Use High Fidelity Designs Early in a UX Process

Skyler Taylor by Skyler Taylor

4 Reasons to Use High Fidelity Designs Early in a UX Process

Skyler Taylor

If you are a UX or UI designer, a product owner, or anyone else who is involved with getting software delivered within a deadline, this article will give you insight on how hi-fi designs can be a valuable tool to get you better business results.

Reading Time: ~7 min

posted in Consulting ,Design on February 8, 2017 by Skyler Taylor

Most UX processes value low-fidelity design early in a project’s life: simple, hand-drawn sketches, basic wireframes, and even boxy prototypes. It isn’t until later in the process, as the details get filled in, that higher fidelity designs get introduced. It makes sense: lo-fi designs are quick and easy which makes for faster turn-around in an iterative process. But are low-fidelity designs always the best way to go?

In this post, I’ll lay out a case for when you could consider laying conventional wisdom aside by creating more polished, high fidelity designs early on in the design process.

If you are a UX or UI designer, a product owner, or anyone else who is involved with getting software delivered within a deadline, this article will give you insight on how hi-fi designs can be a valuable tool to get you better business results.

4 Reasons to Use High Fidelity Designs in Your Prototypes:

  1. Delight stakeholders
  2. Save time in communication
  3. Express long term vision for the product
  4. Conduct accurate user tests

Let’s look at each of these 4 reasons and examine how they could benefit your project.


1: Delight Stakeholders

Getting decision makers to buy in to your project can ensure your success.

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Like it or not, we are building products for other people, not for ourselves. We need their support and will suffer the consequences of a canceled initiative if our project gets cut or if stakeholders simply aren’t excited about our work.

Often, the people tasked with making business decisions for a product are not designers. It can be difficult for them to envision the final product, and simple wireframes don’t communicate much value to people who don’t understand the process. Taking some time early on to create specific interface examples gives management trust that the final product will be worth the effort while getting them excited about your project and getting you the approval you need to keep working.

When to go hi-fi:

If your stakeholders aren’t excited about your progress, a high-fidelity design might be just the thing to communicate the level of polish the final app will have. Showing your stakeholder an expression of what the end result could look like can keep them excited and ensure your project has the support it needs. This is especially helpful in situations such as startups where you need to make a pitch for continued funding and need that extra level of panache.


2: Save Time in Communication

Having to constantly explain UX process can bog things down.

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Precious time can be lost explaining what a low-fidelity wireframe or prototype is or isn’t communicating. Some stakeholders who don’t understand the process may be confused about why it doesn’t look complete.   Using high fidelity designs isn’t a replacement for clearly explaining a UX process, but the extra effort of providing higher-quality designs might help steer the conversation.

For instance, some clients are confused by the use of Lorem Ipsum filler text, and meetings will get derailed as they try to brainstorm the proper copy to go in the headline. Others are confused about why everything is black and white, wondering why the design looks very “boxy” or “sketchy.” These low-fidelity techniques designed to save time and clear away unnecessary distractions can ironically end up becoming distractions, slowing down the process.

When to go hi-fi:

If you find yourself regularly trying to reign back in meetings that have become distracted by a part of your low-fidelity designs, you need to help your team get back on track. High fidelity in this case could mean hunting down approved copy, using a branding guide to fill in colors, or taking away the “sketch effect” used in many popular wire-framing tools.


3: Express Vision for the Product

Building toward a shared vision can help your team stay on track.

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Most projects start with a pie-in-the-sky dream of how great a product is going to be when it’s finished. Then, before work can start, energy is invested to whittle down a collection of  great ideas into a minimum viable product. This smaller scope is further broken down into a series of manageable chunks so it can be delivered in a realistic timeline.

People enjoy knowing their work contributes to something greater than themselves. However, teams can get lost in the day to day shuffle of building the next small feature and forget how great the future product will be when it’s complete. Being able to refer to well-designed mockups that show all the bells and whistles, well beyond the MVP,  can help keep everyone motivated and proud of their work.

When to go hi-fi:

If team morale is beginning to fade or stakeholders have started yawning as the scope for the product has narrowed, reminding everyone of the overarching vision for the project can generate the motivation needed to tackle the incremental steps it will take to get there. Pointing at some high-quality images helps everyone stay excited during the minutia of an everyday grind.


4: Conduct Accurate User Tests

The closer your prototypes are to the final design, the more realistically users will behave

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Getting prototypes of our products in front of users is the best way to validate design decisions before the engineering resources have been committed to building them out. The closer our prototypes feel to “the real thing,” the more closely our tests will resemble actual user behavior.

Creating prototypes without implementing the specific interactions you will be using, for instance, could keep you from finding out that users are overwhelmed by the “mega-menu,” or that a well designed icon instead of a placeholder graphic could have cleared up user confusion. Making sure to test on an actual device in a realistic environment, such as a smartphone in daylight conditions, can also yield important observations.

Final choices in typography, visual spacing, and animations can affect how our users interact with our product. Just as often, we want to know that the flow through the application makes sense - and having more final visual cues will help with the accuracy of that test. Taking the time to finalize these details is worth it so we can minimize surprises once the design goes live.

When to go hi-fi:

If you want to know how users will interact with your final product, you need to watch them use it with a high-quality design. Prototypes that look and feel like the end result will give you the most accurate picture of what users will do.


Use with Caution!

Some considerations before using high fidelity in your designs

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I’ve referred above to times when designing in high-fidelity can get you great results, but there are certainly some considerations to make before committing to the work. Keep the following in mind so you can properly assess the risk:

Hi-fi takes longer

There is no doubt that producing something highly polished can take quite a bit of effort. (That’s the whole point of staying low-fidelity in the first place!) You’ll have to do the legwork of implementing brand standards, typography, and proper spacing, not to mention getting approved imagery and copy when necessary. Don’t take for granted how much time this work will cost you, and plan accordingly.

Stakeholders might reject a good UX strategy because of visual choices

Everyone has a slightly different aesthetic preference, and this could be to your detriment when designing something in high-fidelity. When you present your highly polished pixels you are taking a gamble that your visual design will impress the people who see it. A stakeholder might miss the UX work you toiled over because they didn’t like the particular shade of blue you used.

Nice paint won’t fix UX problems

Great visual styles and a pleasing aesthetic are no replacement for a good UX process. A proper foundation - user flows, wireframes, and written requirements - is absolutely essential. Designers might be tempted to fix how an application looks rather than how it acts. Take a moment to ensure that there aren’t other underlying problems you need to fix before jumping to high fidelity.

 

Putting it all together

Low-fidelity prototypes have a well-deserved place in the UX process, but no process is perfect. We should always strive to do things the right way, but we also need to give ourselves permission to deviate from the ideal if it means moving the project forward.

Despite the extra work, time, and risk, I’ve found that many times a high-fidelity design can delight stakeholders, save time in communication, express long term vision for the product, and help in conducting accurate user tests.

High-fidelity designs are another valuable part of a UX designer’s toolbox. At Bitovi, our team values moving quickly, so being flexible  is more important than prescribing one single approach. Delivering great work for both our clients and for users remains the goal no matter which method is used to get there. So don’t be afraid to take your designs to the next level, it might just make all the difference.

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