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GuidesProduct developmentWireframing 101: How to create effective wireframes

Wireframing 101: How to create effective wireframes

Last updated

15 April 2023

Reviewed by

Jean Kaluza

You've probably heard about wireframes if you’re involved in UX design. They’re a crucial part of the design process and initiate much of the planning for further development.  

Wireframing is quick, inexpensive, and straightforward. It’s a great tool for idea exchange and obtaining user feedback. 

Let’s delve into the process that can play a vital role in your product development.  

What is wireframing?

A wireframe is like a blueprint for your website or app, and you can draw them manually or digitally. Wireframes are very basic, two-dimensional outlines that lay out a page’s general content and functionality.  

UX designers use wireframes to ensure everyone agrees with the layout and design before moving to the design and development stage. They’re an essential idea-generation tool, too. You can create and share many variations to determine the best idea before diving in too far. 

Since wireframes occur early in the development process, they are more of an overview, so there’s no need for color, graphics, or typography. 

When does wireframing take place?

Though all companies and designers differ, wireframes generally occur at the beginning of the design phase or product's lifecycle.  

You can use wireframes:

  • When a designer is speaking with a client

  • For user feedback on the front end of the design

  • As an approval mechanism for stakeholders

A prototype usability test often provides user feedback before the creative process begins.  

What is the purpose of wireframing?

The purpose of wireframing is to provide a visual outline of a page early on in a project. This provides the opportunity to offer suggestions, ask questions, or approve the process before it goes to the next phase. 

Wireframes keep the concept user-focused

Wireframes prompt conversations and feedback with stakeholders and designers. The exchange of ideas and feedback during this stage is vital for moving on to the next phase.  

The wireframe stage can be an excellent time to conduct user testing and use feedback to solve any issues, implement suggestions, and ensure user-friendly products. However, wireframes can sometimes be too low-fidelity to generate realistic user test results.

Wireframes clarify and define website features

Wireframes allow stakeholders to get an idea about each feature. They make it easier for non-techy clients to get a better understanding of features and processes.

You can use wireframes to connect the site's information to visual components, increasing the clarity of the page's functionality. They also allow you to see how features work together.

Wireframes are quick and cheap to create

Wireframes are quick to create. You can put one together with a pen and paper, making the process inexpensive. If you’re making a digital wireframe, you can create and share it in a brainstorming session in a matter of minutes.

What are the different types of wireframes?

There are three main types of wireframes based on the amount of detail they contain:

Low-fidelity wireframes

As the name indicates, low-fidelity wireframes are simplistic designs that serve as a starting point. You might scribble one on a sheet of paper or skip the scale or grid on an iPad. 

Before jumping into the digital space, a team could start on a dry-erase board to discuss flow, share concepts, and clarify solutions. Low-fidelity wireframes are quick, inexpensive, and omit distractions.  

You can use these wireframes as conversation starters, idea generators, or to decide on next steps.

Mid-fidelity wireframes

Mid-fidelity wireframes are probably the most common. These wireframes are a step above the simple sketch, featuring a more accurate layout representation.  

They contain more detail and varying text weights to denote importance, and you’ll usually create them with a wireframing tool.   

High-fidelity wireframes

The wireframe containing the most detail is the high-fidelity wireframe. These wireframes contain more detailed, pixel-specific layouts and may include images and written content.  

Usually, if you’re going this high-fidelity, consider building a more complete prototype for the end of the product's design cycle. The cost and effort of a wireframe should never outweigh the benefits. 

Advantages of wireframing

In addition to wireframes being quick and inexpensive, wireframes also give you an easy way to go over preliminaries with your users. Users can give early feedback for usability tests. Since wireframes are easy to change, the designer can confidently make changes.  

Wireframes also give you a great idea about how your content and functionality will meet the user’s needs. As wireframes progress, they offer opportunities for suggestions and dialogue between product team members about the product vision and scope.

If you’re an independent designer, wireframes can offer a lifesaving step between you and your clients. They show progress and add clear, useful milestones to your process. 

Clients can get a visual representation of what you're thinking and the directions you may be considering. This allows them to offer early feedback before you do the work.

Disadvantages of wireframing

Since wireframes are often simplistic, they may be challenging for users to understand. 

When you show them to stakeholders or clients, they may require clarification on the wireframe construction.  

Finally, it can take time to edit the wireframe’s layout to fit your content.

What does a wireframe include?

Wireframes typically use rectangles, lines, and simple shapes to represent: 

  • Logos

  • Headers

  • Components

  • Buttons

  • Search fields

  • Placeholder text

They also contain navigation systems, footers, and even contact information.  

Wireframes are always two-dimensional and do not contain color, although some creators prepare them in grayscale.  

Importantly, wireframes clearly communicate how a design will look and function.

Website wireframes vs. mobile wireframes

There are website, mobile, and app wireframes, with sizing being the distinctive difference.  

Size

Considering the size difference between websites and mobile apps is important, as you must carefully assess break points and alternative layouts.   

Mobiles and tablets don't have the width of desktops, so the same functionality often won’t work across all devices. Wireframing is a helpful way to decide what will stay or go.

Behavior

A user navigates a website differently from a mobile app. Mobile users will primarily use their fingers to navigate. 

You’ll also need to redesign many components at the mobile level. Mobile designers often “hide” navigation in a hamburger menu and create new design patterns for things like tabs, affordability mechanisms, or complex search results. 

What skills are required for wireframing?

It’s crucial to understand spatial design, how to represent common components and navigation pieces, and draw quickly and clearly. 

In addition to design, a good understanding of user needs and the user journey are essential skills for wireframing. When using software to design, you’ll need a good handle on that tech. 

What tools create wireframes?

As we said earlier, wireframes can be as simple as a pen and paper. In today's world, you also have many digital tools to choose from.  

Programs with built-in features, such as form elements, navigation, and buttons, allow designers to use pre-made design decisions, taking less time than ever. The most common UI toolkit today is probably Figma, but specific wireframe tools include Balsamiq, Axure, and Mockflow.

FAQs

Is wireframing a prototype?

Wireframes are preliminary designs that focus on multiple solutions and quickness over quality. A prototype is a low-fidelity representation of the final product in the way it looks, acts, and behaves.

Are wireframe and Figma the same?

You can create a wireframe in many ways. Figma offers software that helps you design a wireframe. Designers more commonly use Figma for higher fidelity designs like final prototypes.

Do web designers do wireframing?

Web designers can use wireframes like the rest of the design community. After the wireframe’s creation and approval, the web designer would craft the high-fidelity design around it and hand it to the developer on approval.

Is wireframing a skill?

The skills needed for wireframing include a good understanding of user needs and the product, layout, and content. If you’re using software, knowledge of that technology is vital.

Is wireframing UX design?

Wireframing is a common practice among UX designers. This process allows all stakeholders to agree on the best information placement before the designers make a higher-fidelity prototype for the developers.

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