Why hi-fi prototyping is worth it

By RocketAir Crew
August 26, 2019

A high fidelity prototype will help you effectively communicate the design and functionality of your product to your team members, clients, investors, or other stakeholders in the project.

Retro cool or just poor quality?

Depending on where you place yourself on the music nerd/snobbery spectrum, you may or may not be aware of the fact that cassette tapes have been making a comeback over the past few years. Depending on how old you are – and we’re guessing the overwhelming majority of you reading this fall somewhere between young and youngish – you may have never listened to a cassette tape in your life.

However, for those of us who are, uh, a little more seasoned in life, the return of cassette tapes is only slightly more surprising than the comeback of acid-wash jeans that some of us unfortunately wore during middle school: Which is to say, very surprising.

The thing about cassette tapes is they were cumbersome: You had to fast forward and rewind to get to a specific song you wanted to hear. Also, they would warp if they were exposed to too much sun, so that your music sounded like it was playing underwater. And the tape would eventually become unspooled in your stereo, which meant you either had to try and roll it back into the tape with a pencil – and it would never sound right again – or you had to just throw it away.

The best thing about cassettes was making a mixtape for your crush and hoping your crush would hear all those lyrics in all those songs that you put on that tape and fall madly in love with you right then and there because your crush just knew that it was actually you saying all those sentimental words in all those songs and not whatever singer was delivering your message for you. But now you can just text someone a playlist and it conceivably accomplishes the same thing.

And yet, despite how inconvenient they were, here we are in 2019 where you can buy cassette tapes of some of the biggest pop stars in the world at Urban Outfitters. So, how do you explain this sudden desire to buy music on a format that is inarguably lower quality than most? Well, the appeal of retro everything – like acid-wash jeans, for example – never goes out of style. In this age of Spotify and Apple Music and listening to songs on our phones through our AirPods or on our beautiful-sounding Sonos speaker at home, there is something about the lo-fi quality of cassette tapes that just seems cool to a certain subculture of stylish people, in the same way that taking vintage-looking photos seems cool.  

But, alas, the appeal of low-fidelity has its limits. It may be fine for fashion and art, but when it comes to designing a prototype of your digital product, we’re here to tell you why you should go with high-fidelity.

On paper…

Before we talk about the benefits of going hi-fidelity with your prototypes, let us be clear that lo-fidelity prototyping isn’t the wrong approach to take, and you and your team may have very valid reasons for preferring this method. A lo-fidelity prototype definitely takes less work, which means you can build a prototype much quicker. Without having to concern yourself with all the technical aspects of your design process – making sure things click correctly or all the coding is correct, or the pages link up right – you can spend all your time just thinking about design. Also, the quicker you churn out a prototype, the quicker you can get user feedback.  

So, why wouldn’t we just pull out a pad of paper and a pen and sketch out a prototype of our product every time if it’s so easy? Well, the very nature of the lo-fi model – a mock-up of your product hand drawn on paper – is going to tell you much less about your product than if you go hi-fi. Think about that on paper part: It literally means that it’s all theoretical, “as opposed to something that has been tried.” Which means you don’t really know much about how it’s going to work once it’s built. As Homer Simpson once said about communism, it works in theory; in theory.

But when you want to get a much closer read on whether your product works in real life and not just on paper, hi-fi prototyping is going to be worth your time and money, even if your product design process first starts with a lo-fi protype. (In other words: Yes, you could use both methods in your prototyping.) After all, it should come as no surprise that an interactive prototype giving you the truest representation of both the UX and UI aspects of your product is the one that will also provide your team with the clearest test of usability.

As the Amsterdam-based designer Eleonora Ibragimova explains:


It is important to test your product before launching it in the market to foresee any issues or failures. Getting the most out of the feedback can be done with a prototype that is closest to the final product in its detail and functionality.


Show, don’t tell

It’s clear then that user testing will greatly benefit from a hi-fi prototype. But there’s ample reason to believe that putting the time and money into interactive prototyping will benefit more than just the user.

“In addition to validating designs, interactive prototypes can be used for presentations and pitches,” Ibragimova notes. “When you want to communicate the designs and functionalities of your product to your team members, clients or other stakeholders in the project, and when the functional build of the software is not developed, a high-fidelity prototype does the job very well.”

It’s almost impossible to overestimate how crucial a hi-fi prototype can be in your presentations and pitches. Consider those “other stakeholders” mentioned by Ibragimova. If you are pitching your product to potential investors or to investors who have already put funding into your project, you want them to get onboard or stay onboard with your vision.

Sudeep Srivastav, co-founder and CEO of Appinventiv, notes:


A prototype is what gives the investors the validation of the product's profitability and its potential to reach the market.


“By demonstrating the exact flow of the app along with the functionalities that will be present in the mobile app, prototypes become a looking glass for the investors to get ensured that the app would work and is prepared to attract a huge user base.”

Ibragimova also points out how a hi-fi prototype can benefit your team members: Not only does it work to more clearly communicate the design and functionalities of your product to your design team, but it can also clarify the workflow among your designers – which goes a long way toward boosting team morale.

Not only will the hi-fi prototype “provide a good base in terms of project management for making estimates on how much time is needed for implementation and quality assurance testing,” Ibragimova explains, but the “availability of interactive prototypes can improve the collaboration with developers as they will have a clearer idea on how the application should behave.”

So yes, hi-fi prototypes will take you more time and money; but it can also save you money in the long run by giving you a clearer idea of how the final product will function, helping to minimize costly fixes you have to make once your product goes to market. At the end of the day, going the extra step with your prototype will get you much closer to delivering the real thing. That’s going to be worth both your time and money.