How the Core Informatics Team Uses Lo-Fi Mock-Ups to Speed Decision Making & Improve User Experience

The Challenges & Opportunities of LIMS Product Design

Navigating the rapids of product design is a delicate balance between incremental changes and game-changing improvements. The opportunity to change your product can be an enticing problem. One that requires thoughtful decision making while evaluating both known and unknown risks.

Wouldn’t it be great if you had a way to help you steer away from the hazards and roadblocks that reveal themselves along the way? The benefit of catching these potential problems and gaining promising insights faster and earlier in the process is vital to your products success. How can you enable early visualization of your product without slowing down the development timeline and adding to the cost?

Change Your Lens

One approach becoming more popular with the spread of agile design methodologies is the use of lo-fidelity (lo-fi) artifacts in contrast to high-fidelity. Let’s take a closer look at the definition of fidelity in UX design. Fidelity refers to the level of detail, accuracy, and/or coverage in a mockup, wireframe, or prototype. It can relate to functionality, but is most commonly used as a term in relation to the visual appearance.

Lo-fidelity is great for developing your information architecture and process flow without going into too much detail. The benefits are real and tangible, your development efforts will bear fruits by helping your employees plan for changes to the product. Often a simple sketch can invoke a conversation with a sense for exploration, and inquiry.

Building low-fidelity into your design process can quickly enable you to visualize and solve core issues related to the product’s usability and functionality. The advantages of lo-fi are numerous. Lo-fi provides an efficient and effective way to refine and optimize interfaces through discussion, exploration, testing and iterative revision.

Lo-fi mockups can be quickly constructed to offer design alternatives to screen layouts, these basic techniques can yield a maximum of feedback on design ideas at a minimal cost.

Learning Leads to Discovering

The goal of lo-fi is to learn from others, not to examine the aesthetic of the design. Lo-fi is an excellent choice for collaboration, as the images are extremely flexible, easy to grasp, and improve communication between team members. By engaging and involving others in testing your ideas in the early stage of development, you reduce the reluctance to change and enhance the ability to create more empathetic solutions that will succeed in the marketplace.

At Core Informatics, the user experience is embedded in the engineeering. It’s a mindset that lets us approach our projects with new and different perspectives. We have found repeated success when we sketch various interface ideas, then refine our options into one concept. Then we are ready to test and improve our user experience through iteration.

In the graph below you will notice arrows getting smaller as refinement happens and fidelity increases. This progress can be described as a design funnel, as ideas converge in a viable solution.

Figure 1: Design funnel as a continuous process.
Reference: The Sketch to Design Continuum, Traci Lepore 2010

Lo-Fi vs Hi-Fi Design for LIMS UX Improvement

One of the more distinctive differences between low-fidelity and high-fidelity design is more mental than visceral. Lo-fi tends to get people to focus on the higher level aspects of the artifacts, like the overall layout and concept.

By reducing the graphical design in the user interface (UI), you are actually applying a telephoto lens on the only thing that truly matters: user experience. This can offer better insight into what users will actually do rather than what they say they will do at any point in a process. In comparison, high fidelity artifacts tend to focus on the lower level details like “this drop shadow should be two pixels to the left,” or, “this needs to be a color with more contrast on mouse over.” In essence, lo-fidelity brings clarity to the important interactions, it’s about the user and the things that make your product awesome.

Figure 2: Examples of lo-fidelity mockups. Here’s a great resource of interface libraries and templates for re-use.

Figure 2: Examples of lo-fidelity mockups. Here’s a great resource of interface libraries and templates for re-use.

One of the immediate benefits of wire framing in lo-fidelity is a sense of forward progress, this strengthens your abilities in idea generation rather than idea perfection. By turning down the fidelity in your product design you can actually improve
the real thing, the way your customers feel about using your product.

Doug Rochelle is Lead User Experience Designer at Core Informatics. He has been designing and developing web-based applications for over 20 years. From conceptual thinking through product launch, his focus is on combining design strategies with thoughtful interactions to produce engaging experiences.