A prompt from a friend caused me to look into “design thinking,” which turned out to be a way of navigating from the mouth of a problem space through to the anus of a solution space. I’m still figuring out the intricacies, obviously, but I’ve also learned a new mental model: high fidelity vs. low fidelity. In the context of UX design:

“When considering the differences between high fidelity vs low fidelity in UX design, it can help to think of music recordings. If you’ve ever listened to music on a traditional stereo system – a CD or vinyl record player, for example – you might already be familiar with the term hi-fi. This is simply an abbreviation of the words high fidelity, meaning high quality – or, more precisely, a “highly faithful recording of the original musical performance.” Indeed, fidelity is just another way of saying “faithful”; i.e. how true a reproduction is to the original.

But when it comes to low fidelity vs high fidelity wireframes, prototypes, and mockups, the process gets reversed. It’s not how close the copy is to the original, but how closely the original sketch resembles the end product.”

I’ve begun to think about fidelity in another, broader context, however: meta-rationality. Meta-rationalists produce insights by:

“…investigating the relationship betweena system of technical rationality and its context. The context includes a specific situation in which rationality is applied, the purposes for which it is used, the social dynamics of its use, and other rational systems that might also be brought to bear. This work operates not within a system of technical rationality, but aroundabove, and then on the system.”

Looked at the above through the lens of fidelity, it seems that meta-rationality is a combination of:

  • Thinking in low fidelity
  • Thinking in high fidelity
  • Switching between low and high fidelity thinking rapidly

I suspect that more classification can be done here. There will be people who excel at low fidelity thinking in one domain or in many domains; there will be people who excel at high fidelity thinking in one domain or in many domains; there will also be people who excel at switching rapidly between hi-fi and lo-fi thinking in one domain or in many domains.

I’m not interested in fleshing out those categories, however. At least not yet. But I am interested in a few questions:

  • How much friction does misalignment on fidelity (e.g. submitting a lo-fi idea to hi-fi evaluation) cause in a team or organisation?
  • Is there a correlation between 1) hi/lo-fi competency and range and 2) seniority of role within an organisation?
  • Which sort of thinking—hi-fi or lo-fi—is easiest to upgrade?
  • Which sort of thinking—hi-fi or lo-fi—delivers the most durable gains in quality of life for an individual when it is upgraded?

I’m anticipating thinking about these questions more, especially as I navigate deeper into the realms of product management. In the meantime, sharing of any insights or answers—either high fidelity or low fidelity—is welcome.