IA Summit: Integrating Effective Prototyping into Your Design Process

Posted on: March 27, 2009

Fred Beecher gave a really good, practical talk on how to integrate prototyping into the design process. There has been some chatter lately in the UX community about traditional deliverables being replaced by prototypes. As with prototypes, I think deliverables have their place based on what you are trying to accomplish, the time constraints, client/company culture. Personally, I hate documentation just for the sake of documentation. After my first job, I was interviewed at a firm that was astonished at how little documentation I had. I explained that my job consisted of communicating with 2 developers that I sat next to, I did not need to create elaborate documents for them as much of our communication was instantaneous. I also created a lot of prototypes, which was the extent of my documentation. Something that really hit home this year for me is this: All the artifacts that we create as designers are there to facilitate communication and further discussion, use what is appropriate for the situation, and do not go about creating things just because you feel that is your job. It is not your job, your job is converse, collaborate, generate ideas, and synthesize.

I will now step off my soap box and recap Fred’s presentation..

Fred mentioned that there are 2 dimensions to prototypes: visual fidelity (VF) and functional fidelity (FF). He then plotted them on an X-Y axis.

Sketches – low visual and functional fidelity
Paper wireframes – medium visual, low functional fidelity
Paper JPGS – high visual, low functional fidelity

Image Mapped Sketches – low visual, medium functional fidelity
Clickable wireframes – medium visual, medium functional
Image Mapped JPGS – high visual, medium functional

Proof of Concept – medium visual, medium-high functional
LVF Interactive Prototype – medium visual, high functional
HVF Interactive Prototype – medium-high visual, high functional
“Product Ready” – high visual and functional

Two additional dimensions:
Technical Fidelity – either “production ready” or not
Fidelity of Content – a prototype is NOT just interaction, content plays a large role in testing. Testing a prototype with crappy content will give you crappy data. Your prototype should have plausible content.

Given the many different types of prototypes, the trick is to know which one is most appropriate to use given the problem/question you wish to solve. The entire purpose of the prototype is to test/research. As with any research, we need to use the most appropriate method to solve the problem.

Here are some guidelines..

Low Visual Fidelity (LVF)/ Low Functional Fidelity (LFF) is good for:

  • discovering missing functionality
  • finding problems with workflow
  • separating good UX design concepts from less good ones
  • getting preliminary consensus from stakeholders


  • Enabling the use of user testing as a design tool
  • Proof of concept testing of isolated interactions
  • Enabling remote prototype testing
  • Validating design direction/implementation with stakeholders
  • Supplementing paper documents


  • Discovering any usability problems introduced by the design
  • Finding out problems with workflow when testing with non-savvy users
  • Iterating through multiple form factor concepts when working with physical devices


  • Integrating new designs into an existing system
  • User Testing with non-savvy user
  • Supplementing printed documentation for offshore development
  • Wowing stakeholders into submission

The best part of Fred’s talk was when he described how to incorporate prototyping in different process environments.

For Every Type of Business Process, first develop the detailed scenarios you want to test

First develop the detailed scenarios you want to test
Sketch 2-3 design concepts and test to choose one
Build small interactive prototype for critical interactions and proof-of-concept test them
Work with the developer to get a production ready prototype and test it too

First develop the detailed scenarios you want to test
Build an interactive prototype and walk through it with stakeholders
Simultaneously walk through prototype and documentation when handing it off to developers
Generate annotated prototype for developers reference


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Alla Zollers

I design products and services that just. make. sense.

When products make sense, customers are happy.

If customer are happy, they sign-up, stay on site, engage, share, and buy your product or service.

Happy customers allow companies to profit in both senses of the word.

I provide the following services:

• Heuristic Evaluations
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• Strategy and Vision Development
• Information Architecture
• User Experience Design
• Usability Testing

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