This blog post is about prototyping and more specifically about low fidelity prototypes, what does it mean ? How useful it can be and what are the limitations ? I would also point out brief discussion on the importance of feasibility study on designing prototypes. These are some concepts I learnt while studying about prototyping on some previous course and within this course and I think it’s worth sharing with you.
In simple words a prototype refers to a representation of a product. Depending on the details of this representation a prototype can be of high fidelity or medium fidelity or low fidelity. A low fidelity prototype can be just a sketch on a piece of paper or cut and pasted piece of papers to represent the prospective product. Sometimes they are also referred to as paper prototypes. At the beginning of the product design this kind of low fidelity prototypes are very useful to get quick feedback from intended users (customers) and refining the concept accordingly in an iterative manner. Main goal is to involve as many target users as possible to be integrated with the design process (also known as ‘participatory design’) for getting a better product. These low-fi paper prototypes not only helpful to get feedback it also make our job quite easy to explain our idea to intended customers.
Fig 1: Iterative design process
Now, how it works ? Or how it can be used effectively ? A group of three people along with potential user is perfect to get the best out of a paper prototype. One of the designers or developers should take the role of a facilitator who would be mainly communicating with the user, another person should play the role of a computer (i.e. move the pages when user selects a image of button or do some other action on paper). Another person should take notes i.e. What user got wrong, what was confusing to him/her etc. After collecting feedback in this manner with several users some changes should be made on the paper prototype and repeating the process several times. As it is a low fidelity prototype it can help to do the iteration within a short amount of time and get an overall design of the desired product in an user centered way. However it may not reveal the detailed issues related to product design and development. Still it is very effective at an early stage to begin with.
Fig 2: Paper prototype on test
Sometimes being over dependent on the prototypes without analyzing the technical feasibility can be problematic. An idea can sound really promising and may seem to be implementable as low fidelity provides only the proof of idea and basic functionalities through some sort of mimics. For example, if some one thinks about an idea involves context based services it may seem to be doable and a paper prototype will never reveal its actual technical difficulties which will arise while implementing the actual product. These type of prototypes are sometimes called cargo cult design, which seem to represent actual product but in reality they don’t. So, the designers also have to be careful about these issues. Technical feasibility should not be totally ignored even if it is quite early stage of the design.
For enthusiast reader, there is an article called “Prototyping: generating ideas or cargo cult designs?”, available in ACM digital libray: