Where low-res prototypes fail

Prototyping in UX seems to be all the rage these days. The cure for all of our ills. But it’s not with out its flaws. I’ve read many articles touting the benefits of prototyping and iterating and I don’t disagree. That said, one type of prototype that consistently falls down IMO is the low-res prototype.

Low res prototypes are lauded for their ease of creation and execution. While both of these are true, they tend to ignore the U in UX. Low res prototypes leave can leave numerous user considerations on the table, not the least of which is the user’s emotional response to the interface.

While I can imagine the arguments against worrying about this in the early stages of prototyping, they all fall flat. If we are designing User Experiences, isn’t the emotion a part of that experience? If so, what type of emotion do we hope to elicit with paper and pencil sketches. I doubt a pencil sketch would have sold the iPhone to millions of users.

Another core issue with low-res prototypes is they can be hastily and lazily executed, often absent the thought a more refined solution requires. While sketches are nice for communicating a concept internally, my experience with actual users has been the amount of investment involved in explaining a low res prototype is equal to or greater than the amount it take to simply polish the idea more.

With all of this said, I’m not advocating that every concept be completely refined. To the contrary, I’m simply saying any concept you actually intend on garnering meaningful feedback from real users should have an appropriate level of refinement to test your hypotheses. If you’re able to do that with low-res prototypes, bravo. It’s an experience I have yet to have.

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