What is high-fidelity design? UX Question #79

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Harmony from Boston asks: What do UX people mean when they say, high fidelity?

I love that question. Thanks for asking, Harmony. This is UX Question number 79 and I am Ben Judy.

What is high-fidelity design? Well, this is a direct sequel to episode 58 in which I answered, what is low-fidelity design? So go listen to that before this and you’ll have a more complete picture.

Hi-fi design is using advanced tools and methods to create digital mockups or prototypes that almost perfectly resemble the look and feel of the final product, in great detail. You’ll hear the term, “pixel-perfect” visual design.

The most popular tool by far these days for hi-fi user interface design is Figma. See episode 20 for more on that. But you have others out there, Sketch, Axure. Adobe XD was somewhat popular but seems to have been abandoned by Adobe while they try to buy Figma.

Low-fi design, as I said before, is cheaper and faster and great for early ideation. So why then do hi-fi design?

Well, you can get more granular in testing not just content and major functionality, but also the detailed aspects of UI components. Hi-fi design lets you test and analyze the use of color, typography, icons, illustrations, photography, even really detailed aspects like line width and white space. These are important concerns in the design of a digital product, but in a good design process they should come after prior concerns like core functionality and content strategy.

Hi-fi designs can be interactive or non-interactive. I tend to use the word prototype to imply user interactivity and motion design, whereas I’ll say mockup if it’s a static, hi-fi screen design with no interactivity. But often these terms are used interchangeably, and I think there’s some nuance lost when we do that.

One thing to watch out for is stakeholders or clients who demand hi-fi design at all stages of the design process, because they lack the ability to envision the product from a low-fi wireframe or sketch. Teaching separation of concerns—the difference between information architecture versus visual style, or navigation versus branding—is sometimes necessary.

Not all UX designers do hi-fi design, or do it well. You can specialize in UX as a researcher, or information architect, or interaction designer, or usability specialist, and not get into hi-fi design very much. Go back to episode 40, what are the most essential UX skills?

But, hi-fi design skills are very much in demand, and if you want to be a UX design generalist, you definitely need to master the visual aspects of hi-fi design, especially as a visual UI designer.

Keep asking your questions about UX. Next time, I’ll answer the question: What’s the difference between UI and UX?

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