In a 2012 study of the psychological experience of prototyping, researchers at Stanford and Northwestern University found that “the practice of low-fidelity prototyping… led to reframing failure as an opportunity for learning, fostering a sense of forward progress, and strengthening beliefs about creative ability.” The study concluded that building low-fidelity prototyping affects not only the final product, but our level of engagement with the design process itself.
Have you ever spent an overwhelming amount of time and resources designing something that a client or user discards in a matter of seconds? I’ve seen it happen far too many times. It is never pleasant, always frustrating, yet often preventable. Designing a product without continual validation is like walking blindfolded over a plank into a sea of sharks.
Some of us are quick to jump into building (what to us seem like) brilliant products, to the point of pixel perfection, without even stopping to ask whether our user or client feels the same way. The fact is that designing without introducing potential users to raw versions of our ideas is unsafe, uncomfortable and wasteful.
On the other hand, perfection can also haunt some of us to the point of inaction. While some are too quick to act and end up wasting resources, others are completely paralyzed by the “excessive” amount of work behind building something new. There’s just “so much to get done” before delivering the product to the user that we end up feeling frustrated and overwhelmed.
Building a low-fidelity prototype that can be quickly exposed to user feedback enables us to visualize and solve core issues related to the product’s usability and proposed functionality. Because the prototype is not supposed to generate insight about the final look and feel of the product (they are rough approximations), users generally submit thoughtful ideas from what they see. By removing the bells and whistles associated with high-fidelity prototypes, we strip our concept down to the core. Addressing whatever problems we detect at this stage is vital to the product’s eventual success.
Consultant Nigel Heaton wrote a key paper titled “What’s Wrong With the User Interface? How Rapid Prototyping Can Help,” presenting it at the 1992 IEE Colloquium on Software Prototyping and Evolutionary Development. He explains that rapid prototyping should be able to solve around 80% of all major interface issues. In the process of designing products that truly match users’ needs, low-fidelity prototyping provides a much-needed wake-up call right from the start.
Aside from helping us to detect major problems, low-fidelity prototyping also gives us the motivation required to fix them.