Initial Design - Low Fidelity

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The initial design explorations in Low-Fidelity explore flows, layouts and visual hierarchies. They are intended as early visualizations of concepts to be validated with stakeholders and users and to serve as a reference point for the design and implementation team.

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Related Mindset:

Experience

Segment:

Program

Inputs:

The input for the initial design phase are the strategic themes and its related user stories as well as journey maps, and initial ideation exercises.

Outputs:

The output of the initial Low-Fidelity Design are basic visuals to determine layouts, visual hierarchies, and screen flows for features.

Designing initial ideas and concepts in Low-Fidelity allows the team to quickly explore a large variety of solutions without investing a large amount of time.

Reducing the fidelity not only allows the designers to explore many different variations in a quick manner, it also serves to focus reviews and critiques on the visual solution of the design problem. Discussions around visual details are postponed until the functional problems are solved.

Initial design should explore different variations for a feature. It needs to clearly communicate visually the intended layouts, components, and design patterns. It shows the hierarchies of elements and helps discussions around the prioritization of content and functionality. A successful Low-Fidelity Design helps envision how a user will navigate through and interact with an interface.

Low-Fidelity Design can include:

  • Wireframes - Wireframes are the lowest fidelity possible, consisting either of sketches or digitally assembled lines and boxes. They show layouts and the order of elements across screens. They are kept in grayscale in order to focus discussion on hierarchy of elements and the flow across multiple screens, where applicable. Wireframes are a quick exploratory tool that works well for rapid ideation and review cycles.
  • Patterns - Patterns are smaller components of designs dedicated to a specific functionality. They serve as an exploration for which type of control is best suited to allow users to trigger certain functions or access pieces of information within interfaces. Patterns are typically used frequently in an application’s solution.

The fidelity of initial design explorations can vary. Early ideation is best done with very Low-Fidelity Designs such as wireframes, in order to explore which components work best to solve functional problems and establish clear paths for the users. If brand guidelines already exist that will shape and inform the look and feel of a design, these guidelines can be taken into account to varying degrees at this stage.

Benefits

Exploring early designs in Low-Fidelity benefits the process in various ways:

  • Speed - Designing in Low-Fidelity allows designers to quickly iterate on different versions of a design. The low amount of details makes it easy to put together a larger variety of options without needing to pay attention to stylistic details.
  • Focus on functionality - Designs that exclude stylistic details like color encourage reviews to focus on functionality. Instead of discussing details, the critique revolves around how successful a proposed solution addresses the problem and how easy a chosen design pattern is for a user.
  • Low investment - The Low-Fidelity of initial designs means that an individual solution does not take large amounts of time to be visualized. During reviews, the team is less likely to get overly attached to a particular solution based on the amount of work that has gone into it, especially if the design does not successfully solve the problem.

Common Pitfalls

There are a few pain points and risks that are inherent to the initial design phase:

  • Difficult to picture results - Wireframes can seem rather abstract to some people. They may find it difficult to see how a proposed design will integrate into an existing solution. If the review starts to revolve around this aspect, it is necessary to remind everyone to focus the critique on the usability and the functional aspects of the design exploration.
  • Increase fidelity too early - It is tempting to start designing in High-Fidelity after a few initial explorations. At this point, the design can easily derail into detailed design and focus too heavily on visuals over functionality and successful problem solving. Fidelity should remain as low as possible and only as high as necessary in order to help everybody involved visualize how a problem is going to be solved.
  • Focusing on one solution too early - During the initial design phase, it is important to explore a large variety of different options. It is easy to accept a proposed solution too early and move forward with it. This bears the risk of not discovering other solutions that might be more versatile or successful in addressing a problem.

Tools

Tools used during the initial design phase vary based on the degree of fidelity intended.

Depending on the fidelity of the design, the following tools are applicable: