July 10, 2018

High Fidelity Consulting

Ideas without details and details without ideas are both risky

This little book Legible Practices from Helsinki Design Lab continues to deliver gems of wisdom:

Ideas without details and details without ideas are both risky, so IDEO relied on high-resolution provocations that combined both.


There’s a rich vein of wisdom tightly bound around that phrase. And something I’ve been appreciating more and more in my own work.

Recommendations are worthless.

“You should….”

“We could…”

“Make it better…”

“Improve the UX…”

These are empty, weak, non-useful concepts that wither on the vine of dusty powerpoint slides. Crucially, these half formed hypothetical suggestions are often too vague or generic to properly critique.

Instead, I’ve been trying to force myself to prototype every recommendation I make to clients. Some real examples from the past few months of my own consulting work:

Recommending that the client builds a dashboard? Here’s a proof of concept in Google datastudio.

Recommending that they redesign their product pages? Here’s a simple mock-up of a new product page.

Recommending they improve their content brief for writers? Here’s 3 new example briefs.

Recommending infinite scroll on a category page? Here’s a javascript bookmarklet that you can use to see it in action on your site

“Ideas without details and details without ideas are equally risky” - I’ve been calling this high fidelity consulting. Give the final thing, or a prototype of it, rather than just a recommendation.

Why does high fidelity consulting work?

I’ve been intuitively doing this for quite a long time - partly because I love to dabble across disciplines and skills. But more recently I’ve been thinking more critically about why this works. There’s some simple reasons:

The Centaur Consultant

My buddy Brian pointed out to me once that this hairball of ideas, prototypes, consulting and technology is “centaur consulting”. Borrowing heavily from Matt Jones’ idea of centaurs as technology-enabled (rather than technology-replaced) people: centaurs not butlers.

The only reason I’m able to build prototypes and high fidelity consulting is because I’ve been curious and interested in a variety of technologies and approaches.

So, next time you’re thinking of recommending action, don’t just say “We could…” that’s low-fidelity consulting. Show the thing. Packed into a prototype or visual mock-up is a strong point of view. Experience of what works. Something to adequately critique.

Ideas AND details. Details AND ideas.

Update: Maxim has a great little tweet thread on this:

This blog is written by Tom Critchlow, an independent strategy consultant living and working in Brooklyn, NY. If you like what you read please leave a comment below in the comments or sign up for my newsletter.