The most critical aspect of building a website is the underlying design.
This means, when building a site, you should prioritize underlying design elements such as the content of your site, the placement of vital elements within the site, the navigation and how users might interact with the site — among other things.
To manage all of these different elements, it’s important to remain organized, and ensure that everyone is on the same page. But how do you do that? And how do you involve non-technical stakeholders?
Enter the wireframe.
What Is a Wireframe?
A wireframe is an essential tool for communicating complex ideas in an easy-to-understand format.
At the beginning of a project, you probably heard a slew of ideas tossed around from your client on what they want from their site. Your job as the designer or developer is to bring those ideas together in a cohesive way with the best choice of front-end and back-end design elements. You can think of a wireframe as a mockup that organizes all of your elements during the planning stages.
Different Types of Wireframes
You can use wireframes in several ways:
- Front-end developers can use them to create the user interface. By using a wireframe, developers are able to consider how users interact with a website to make navigation easier and to make it intuitive. That offers many benefits to the clients, from productivity boosts to speedier processing.
- Back-end developers use it to look at the functionality of a site and how the site responds to the visitor interaction. Wireframing helps developers understand the workflow better so they can create a seamless user experience for the client. The website wireframe provides the foundation for taking the product design to the next stage.
The wireframing process has its information architecture, too, going from low, to mid, to high-fidelity. Each step takes you closer to the final product. Each one helps both the designer and the client to bring their vision to life.
Often, the blueprint itself isn’t more than a sketch and is typically very abstract. This line drawing, otherwise known as a low-fidelity wireframe, is usually focused on the overall design. It prioritizes elements such as the page layout and the all-important “above the fold” for e-commerce sites. Additionally, it uses placeholders to give team members the overall look of the web pages in black and white, without any images.
This stage of wireframing allows you to consider various concepts, throw out ideas, and get feedback. You can think of it as a virtual whiteboard activity, not unlike mind mapping.
Mid-fidelity wireframes begin to flesh out more of the website and add more detail to the initial low-fidelity mockups, using grayscale. Many people cut to the chase and start at this level of the design. If the purpose and goals of your site are clear, consider starting your project at this stage.
For mid-fidelity wireframes, the specifics of brand colors and fonts are not on the table yet. This lack of background noise allows team members and clients to focus on navigation and functionality instead of a website’s appearance. It’s worth noting that the developers have not yet started coding until they get to the next step.
High-fidelity wireframes help bring a client’s vision to life. It brings in the images, colors, and fonts that give a website personality and life. It’s user-friendly for non-tech stakeholders, yet it allows the developers to determine what the client needs and expects from the final product.
The process often includes prototyping for usability testing. Developers can use quicker paper prototyping or digital options for projects, such as a mobile app. This step allows the user to test how the site works for them in a controlled setting. It’s an excellent way to identify misdirects in the workflow, functionality issues, and navigation problems.
It’s also an opportunity to view the UI design in the wild, as the designer can still make changes before a site goes live. However, it is the most time-consuming part of the wireframing process. Regardless, it’s still incredibly important because it prevents downtime by testing the user interface in a controlled setting in the development process.
Benefits of using wireframes in your design process
Often, it’s hard for non-tech people to communicate their expectations to UI and UX designers. Wireframing removes these barriers at several levels during the design process. It also keeps the process moving by concentrating the focus to different aspects of the final product. You can think of it as a website playbook that outlines the roles of the design elements individually.
Wireframing also creates a smart progression from concept to the final product. It saves time and money for hour-based gigs. If you combine it with the use of templates, you have an excellent workflow solution for designers, too.
Getting started with the wireframing process
Rarely will a UX or UI designer approach a job where their only task is to write the code. Even established websites can benefit from the wireframing process. Chances are, rebranding or upgrading will be an essential component of the site or the mobile app. Wireframing tools can take a site from bare bones to fully functional with a more organized plan.
Determining if you need a wireframe
If page layout or a change of the user experience is part of the mix, a wireframe is necessary. Whether you choose a low-fidelity, mid-fidelity, or high-fidelity wireframe depends on the project’s stage of development. Using this framework is helpful if you have several stakeholders who want to participate in the project. If something isn’t defined, using a wireframe process can make it happen.
Create a wireframe mockup
The benefits of using low and mid-fidelity wireframes are that they are easy to create quickly. Even if you don’t use the former with your client, you may find it helpful to use as a note-taking method. You can think of it as website mind mapping.
Using Wireframing Tools
Several wireframing tools can streamline the process from concept to page layout. Many use the WYSIWYG approach to design.
Adobe Photoshop is the granddaddy of wireframing. It’s an obvious choice, being a graphic design program itself. The program simplifies the process from the get-go. You can set your parameters for pixels and other design elements that give you a heads-up, especially when starting at the mid-fidelity level.
Adobe Photoshop is robust software that can match brand colors and fonts easily for a consistent look. It’s simple to populate the placeholders with the images and other elements you need. The best thing about it is that you can export it with a (X)HTML web design. You’ll also find many tutorials to guide you through the process.
Sketch makes collaboration a piece of cake with its web-based interface that your team members will appreciate. Timesaving is one of its excellent benefits, with a robust library of resources that include plugins, templates, graphics, and styles. You can also use its Mac and iOS apps for standalone applications.
Figma makes web design quick and efficient with its wireframe kits that get the project going fast. You can access your work online or through its app. One of the best features is the comment section. This section makes it easy to keep track of feedback and tweak your projects to your client’s specs. You can also use it for digital prototyping without coding to save you time and effort.
JustinMind is an all-purpose solution for developers who work on both web and mobile applications with its free UI kits. Its prototypes allow you to test how either one works to speed up troubleshooting and project delivery. You can also create base templates to save your work. A click-and-drag interface makes design a snap, starting from low-fidelity wireframes.
Everyone should wireframe
Learning how to harness the power of wireframing is something every web designer should put on the top of their to-do list. The manual stage saves time while wireframing tools take it to the next level by streamlining work and creating professional deliverables throughout the design process.