What are the different types of user interface prototyping, what are their advantages and when to use each of them?

When dealing with User Experience and user interfaces you often have to do with prototyping an idea or a concept, before going to the implementation of it. Doing this way you want to get a first impression of what you are about to implement. Prototyping can be divided in two categories:

  1. Low fidelity prototyping: You create sketches, also known as wireframes, of the user interface you want to program. For creating these sketches you use either a pen and a paper or one of the many available software to draw the sketches digitally. This software can either be a professional one (Photoshop) or a more pen & paper like, like Balsamiq.

  2. High fidelity prototyping: You implement a small part of the future application with a limited number of features. The application is testable and you can navigate from the one page to the other. Here the business logic plays a secondary role, the user interface the preliminary. A high fidelity prototype could also be considered a collection of Photoshop designs, each representing a page of your application, that are combined together to build a fake navigation from the page to the other.

In this article we focus on the first type of prototyping and we discuss about when to time and place to use a professional looking software, like Photoshop, or a more human-alike software like Balsamiq.

When using simple wireframes, you get the following advantages:

You can create wireframes using a professional software like Photoshop. Doing so you get the following advantages, or disadvantages:

When to use the one type of wireframing and when the other is up to you. Multiple factors play a role in this decision. When the cost is not a problem for you and you have UX designer in your team, then you can go for the second wireframing option. When you want to remain agile and do a lot of brainstorming sessions with colleagues and/ or customers go for the first option.

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