How to Choose the Right Prototype Fidelity for Your Digital Content

In my second post on digital content prototypes, I’ll offer a brief overview of the three prototype fidelities, and when product designers typically use them. 

As mentioned in my first post, the road to a quality product is paved with lots of prototypes. Building a lot is better than building carefully, and it’s important to get your content prototype–whether a basic chapter or a widget wireframe–in front of an audience as soon as possible. As you gather insight and incorporate feedback into your design, your prototype will increasingly take on a new, more permanent shape until it’s a fully-functioning product. Of course, there is an art to this progression. Knowing when to invest more work into your prototype starts with knowing the different levels of prototypes, and what purpose each level serves.

To learn more about building a superior reading experience, watch our webinar, “People, Process, Software: The Three Elements of Modern Publishing.”

To product designers, prototype levels are “fidelities,” and there are three general fidelities that we use. In this post, I’ll explain how we bucket prototypes into these three categories, and what they generally look like during each stage. For content creators, this is important information to apply to your own prototype process.

1. Low-fidelity

Most low-fidelity prototypes are quick sketches, simply to get an idea down on paper. Instead of fleshing out the details, these hand-drawn wireframes spark discussion and allow designers to explore options. While these sketches take little time to create and cost next to nothing, they are, of course, limiting in what they can communicate. Because of that, product designers often reserve these prototypes for fellow designers and managers, since they can better understand the concepts through the lack of fidelity. Content creators, similarly, should consider showing their initial ideas to those immersed in the same project to prevent miscommunication or lengthy explanations. After brainstorming and clarifying the possible options to solve each problem, designers move onto the second phase: mid-fidelity.

2. Mid-fidelity

After brainstorming and deliberating, three options typically make it to this stage. Then, to flesh out the details of each option, product designers create UI mocks, or full-size models of the design, with Illustrator, Photoshop or Sketch. With a more refined prototype, it’s easier for designers to communicate the idea cross-functionally and include engineers or sales team members to participate in the product discovery process. This stage offers a great opportunity for designers to really iron out the kinks of their design and envision how it will look as a complete product. However, much more so than initial sketches, mid-fidelity prototypes take time to create. During your prototyping, make sure that your team is ready to commit to a limited batch of ideas to prevent wasted effort on mid-fidelity prototypes.

3. High-fidelity

High-fidelity prototypes demonstrate the functionalities and interactions of the final product, and should accurately demonstrate how your initial problem has been solved. At this stage, you’re close to a finished product and, through a combination of HTML, CSS, JavaScript, InVision and PNG mocks, your high-fidelity prototype can often perform sandboxed functionalities as the final product. This means that while the functionality appears to be working, it only works for that instance and has not been linked with a greater product. This is a key differentiator between high-fidelity prototypes and the final product: a final product’s internal workings take much longer to engineer.

Here at Inkling, we host the prototype live so that internal and external stakeholders can experiment with what we’ve created. For product researchers, this is essential for gathering customer feedback to iterate and tweak the product until it’s perfect. Internal sales and marketing teams also benefit from live prototypes to further understand the product direction and how it will impact customers. Overall, this is a stage for validation before moving on to the heavy lifting. For content creators, this is an ideal time to test interactive features with users or communicate across the organization how content has been impacted by new features and styling.

The bottom line:

Products aren’t born out of thin air, and the best usually go through a thorough prototyping process. As mentioned, your digital content can function the same way. However, it’s important to know how to communicate your content idea in the most efficient and effective way, and when to progress onto a higher-fidelity prototype. Then, you’ll arrive at content product that you’ve validated and feel confident about releasing to the public.

Stay tuned for my next post, where we’ll look at how to conduct a user research session for your prototypes. 

To learn more about all of the products and features that we prototyped for Inkling Habitat, our cloud-publishing platform, request a demo from our sales team.