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Stephen Anderson on wireframes vs high fidelity prototypes

UX thought leader and speaker Stephen Anderson weighs in on whether you should focus on wireframes or push forward with high fidelity, interactive prototypes early on. I like his use of internalising over skipping:

I think there’s a difference between skipping a phase versus internalizing a phase. As young students, we go through a very formal writing process in order to learn the skills needed to be a good writer; I doubt very seriously that any of us go through that same, explicit process as mature writers. We’ve internalized those things we were taught.

At Q42 and on the Handcraft team we frequently do sketches and then immediately move on  to interactive prototypes. Not because we want to skip wireframes, but because that part of the process is kind of redundant. It doesn’t add anything of value when you can just get on with the things you really want to communicate to your client, namely the refined details of the interactivity you’re mocking up.

Stephen comments on communication as an important stage in the process, too:

Asking someone to comment just on the interaction or just on the structure–independent of the other pieces — is a bit like asking someone to judge a chocolate chip cookie based on only a handful of ingredients. “Here, these are the wet ingredients (eggs, sugars, vanilla)–what do you think of this cookie?” How can we possibly expect to get good feedback on such an incomplete experience?

Fully interactive prototypes allow the client or stakeholder to comment on the actual experience rather than a picture of it. That way you get a constructive discussion going early on about the final product instead of wandering around in idea land for too long. Getting to this stage as fast as possible means you can spend more time testing with real people, which is another point Stephen makes:

I’d argue for an integrated, holistic approach to UX that serves up as complete an experience as possible, as early on in the process as possible. I’m talking days, maybe even hours in some cases. This is not so we can be done more quickly, but so that we can use this new found time to iterate more frequently with actual users, leading to better, more user focused experiences.

We talked about this in our presentation at UX Brighton last summer: focus on the details rather than skipping over them just because you want to be done sooner.

Stephen’s a great thinker and writer and it’s awesome to see a gradual move towards this kind of thinking in the design industry overall. Read all of Stephen’s thoughts on the subject at The Pastry Box Project: Wednesdasy, 4 April. Here’s hoping he works this angle into a future talk!

1 Comment

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  • Such an interesting topic. I do agree that there’s no point doing sketches, wireframes then a prototype. I just published a blog post on designing in the browser is for losers. Bit of a mean title but same sort of concept that skipping these stages and jumping into it is like trying to build a house while drawing the blue-prints.

    Great post mate.

    by Jonathan Bird • Sep 6th 2012 • 13:09

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