Lo-fi versus Hi-fi

During my loop interview at Microsoft Studios, almost every creative employee drilled me on low fidelity (lo-fi) versus high fidelity (hi-fi). This relates to the quality of creating prototypes to quickly solve design problems.

I came from the world of post-production for agencies, where we would produce final polished designs. Lo-fi versus hi-fi was a pressing question that day. Looking back, I completely realized the importance of lo-fi work. But, I assured them that I was fully capable of solving problems creatively. Prior to getting hired on full-time at Microsoft, I worked for 4+ years as a sole proprietorship providing creative solutions for interactive design and motion graphics. During this time, I learned extremely valuable skills from working with several teams of producers, designers & developers, managing timelines and production pipelines, business management, and how to solve problems. Clients would all have different needs and it was my job to find a solution, fast and within budget. Quickly, I learned to thrive off problem solving. Little did I know that this was the beginning of my design thinking process that would prepare me for my next steps into Microsoft.

During most motion graphics projects, we’d always create a short script followed by a sloppy storyboard and then a rough animatic. This what would be categorized as lo-fi work. It’s cheap and dirty for the purpose of preventing or solving problems early on when you are not invested in heavy and costly production. Imagine, that I just spent a good 20+ hours rendering an animation and realized that it was wrong. It would clearly go over our project budget and I would have no work to show the client the next day. I would have lost money, time, and possibly a client.

Working on websites was the same process. I would create wireframes (lo-fi) to show the flow of how the website functioned. Once, I was happy with the way the interaction models worked and all the content was in the right place, I’d show this to the client for sign off. Then we’d go into full on production and make it shine.

At Microsoft we fail fast. But, that’s a good thing.

We fail fast here. I probably worked 70% of the time in lo-fi. A lot of times it’s too expensive to open up the computer to work on a design comp in Photoshop or Illustrator. If I can illustrate an idea I have with a piece of paper and pen with a doodle that took 30 seconds. I can show it to the creative team and get instant feedback. Hell, I could about 10-15 sketches in the amount of time I could mock up a design on the computer. So, looking at the numbers I can test 15 ideas and let the 12 bad ideas fall to the wayside. And, I’m left with 3 solid ideas that we can take to a higher fidelity and prototype further.

We live and die by our design principles on my team. We use them as blades to quickly fail ideas that do not meet the standards. I am currently enjoying learning to fail as fast as possible.


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