WIREFRAMES: WHAT ARE THEY AND WHY ARE THEY IMPORTANT?

WEB DESIGN

person typing on a laptop

CONTENTS

14 min read

Wireframes are a key part of the product design process.

If you work in website development or design, then these are something you definitely would have come across.

But for those who don’t work in these departments, what exactly are they? And what do they do?

In this blog post we’ll take you through everything you need to know including different types of wireframes and what features they include.

You never know, you might be a wireframes pro by the end of it!

Let’s start with the basics.

What Is a Wireframe?

In its most basic sense, a wireframe is a two dimensional layout of a web page. It is used to map out the features and design of a new website to get an idea of how everything works together.

It provides developers with the chance to evaluate the site’s functionality before diving into design elements such as colour schemes and images.

Features such as menus and buttons are also mapped out to see how the website flows in terms of user experience. This is key to encouraging users to fulfil certain goals, as without a good user experience, they are likely to bounce back off your website.

It needs to be understandable and accessible, and make sense to anyone using it.

A website wireframe is also hugely beneficial to your team as it provides a map of the project so they can see where everything will go. This helps them complete different tasks related to the website as you will have various people working on it such as your design and content team.

Why Is a Wireframe Important?

As we’ve touched on, user experience is crucial to any good website.

If a user can’t comfortably use your site, or find their way around it, they are not going to complete their goals.

Depending on the nature of your company, these goals will differ. Maybe you’re trying to increase conversions or sign ups to a newsletter. Regardless of the end goal, a customer is never going to get there if they can’t use your website.

By taking time to create a wireframe, you can focus on the user experience in its entirety and identify any areas which could be improved. For example, could you change the position of a ‘call to action’ to assist the user better in achieving their goal?

Whilst some people believe this is a time consuming process, planning and preparation are key to ensuring the success of your website. By creating a wireframe in the early design stages, you can identify issues early on and seek to resolve them before you have spent time creating the actual product.

four people pointing at a laptop screen

Who Uses Wireframes?

Wireframes satisfy a whole host of requirements.

Professionals who use them include web developers, designers, business analysts, information architects, programmers, and product managers, but lots of other teams will refer to them too.

Developers use wireframes to get a more tangible understanding of the site’s functionality whereas web designers use them to evaluate the user interface process.

User experience designers and information architects use this structure to show navigation paths between different web pages to make sure everything ties cohesively together. In terms of business analysts, they use wireframes to visually support the direction of the business and ensure interactions on the screen fulfill requirements.

Last but not least, business stakeholders review website wireframes to check that certain objectives have been fulfilled through the design.

As you can see, they are used by lots of people in different job roles. Working with wireframes should be a collaborative effort as they bridge the gap between information architecture and design. This is a key combo as websites need to present information clearly and concisely, whilst still being visually appealing.

Get these two things right, and you will increase your chances of conversions.
What Is the Purpose of a Wireframe?

There are 3 key purposes of creating a website wireframe to make sure it fulfills different requirements.

Let’s take a look.

Wireframes Keep the User in Mind

Essentially, wireframes are a communication tool.

They facilitate feedback from the users, instigate conversations with the stakeholders, and generate ideas between the designers about how they can improve the site.

During the early stages, conducting user testing allows the designer to gather honest feedback, and identify key pain points that can be used to enhance the product concept.

Wireframing provides designers with the perfect opportunity to assess how a typical user would interact with the interface. By using devices such as Lorem Ipsum, text that acts as a placeholder for future content, designers can ask users questions such as “what would you expect would be written here?”

These insights are very valuable and enable a designer to work out what feels intuitive for the user, and tailor products to suit.

Wireframes Define Website Features

Website wireframes keep things simple. As they are the bare bones of a website, it is easier for clients to see how things will look.

It’s a common mistake to assume clients understand different technical phrases. You might use the abbreviation ‘CTA’ or ‘UX’ on a daily basis, and talk about where the ‘hero image’ is going to go. However, clients don’t use these terms.

A wireframe helps you communicate your ideas easily, and get everyone on the same page. By mapping out specific features, you can show clients where they’ll sit, what function they have, and what purpose they serve. This helps them build up an overall picture of their new site.

Furthermore, it helps them see how much space needs to be allocated to different features. This is also important for your team, as they need to have a guide when completing different tasks so they know how much space they have to play with.

Seeing the features on a wireframe allows you to visualise how everything comes together and might even cause you to reconsider some elements if they’re not working.

Wireframes Can Be Easy to Create

There are different types of wireframes (which we’ll come onto a little later) and some of them are incredibly easy and cheap to create. In fact some are even free.

You don’t need fancy software, if you have a pen and paper to hand then you can start mapping out a wireframe.

If this hand sketched option isn’t for you, then there are lots of tools available meaning you can build a digital wireframe in next to no time. Again, we’ll cover this in more detail later so keep reading!

Whichever way you choose to create your wireframe, exposing the very core of the page layout, allows you to identify any pain points or improvements early on. The later it gets in the product design process, the more difficult and more expensive it can be to make changes!

What Are the Different Types of Wireframes?

There are lots of different types of wireframe and it depends on the level of detail you want.

It’s about finding a wireframe process that works for you and serves the needs of your project. As long as it communicates the main features of the design and functionality to your clients and your team, you can choose which wireframe you’re most comfortable with.

hand drawn sketch of a wireframe

Sketch

As the name suggests, these wireframes start with a piece of paper and a pencil. This hand drawn method is very simple and outlines the basic concepts before getting stuck into more complex design elements.

They can be fairly rough and don’t require a sense of scale, grid, or pixel accuracy. They omit detail that could cause a distraction and focus on simplistic images, block shapes, and placeholder content.

Detailed Hand Drawn Wireframe

These hand drawn wireframes don’t have to be simple. They include a higher level of detail and aesthetically look a lot neater than a sketch.

As well as using paper and a pencil, you might also choose to use a ruler to be more accurate when planning the layout of different elements.

In terms of producing detailed work, it might be more convenient to use a digital wireframe as this will allow you more flexibility when preparing the design. This would also save a designer time as they could take advantage of a digital tool rather than measuring and plotting things by hand.

Low Fidelity Wireframe

These wireframes are digitally created and use simple content blocks to showcase different design elements.

This transforms a basic concept sketch into something more refined and clear. Low-fidelity wireframes are important when identifying what graphical elements need to be created and what copy needs to be written to populate different webpages.

person using a mobile phone

Low Fidelity Mobile Wireframe

More people are now accessing websites via their mobile devices. Let’s be honest, they’re pretty much glued to our hands!

I’m guilty of this too.

So, when it comes to designing a website and assessing its functionality, web developers need to consider the mobile experience. There are key differences between desktop and mobile wireframes including size and behaviour.

Due to the size differences between mobile and desktop websites, careful consideration has to be taken when planning the layout.

For example due to the bigger screen width on a desktop website, your wireframe might feature a layout that spreads across multiple columns.

In contrast, on a mobile screen, the number of columns is usually restricted to one or two. This means you’ll need to decide whether they see an infinite scroll, or you could decrease the number of items per page to display other content beneath.

The second core difference is the behaviour of the mobile app versus a website. Users navigating a website will use a mouse or trackpad. As well as being able to click on features to reveal new pieces of information, they can also hover over buttons to reveal menus and drop downs.

However, on mobile, users will have to physically tap the screen to open a specific feature. This means thinking more carefully when creating your wireframe to identify ways you can encourage users to tap a specific button to fulfill their goal.

High Fidelity Wireframe

By using digital tools, you can create high fidelity wireframes that show your design in more detail. This gives you a more aesthetic look without spending too much time on design work.

By providing a more realistic visual, it allows both you and your clients to see how the final version will look. Compared to low fidelity frameworks, they can include typography, images, icons, colours, and CTA buttons.

Usually, high fidelity wireframes should be reserved for projects that have been approved by all stakeholders first. They take slightly longer than low fidelity wireframes so more resources are allocated to complete them.

Due to the level of detail required, digital tools make this job much easier.

Below are some free wireframe tools that can be used to benefit your project:

  • Pencil Project for macOS, Windows, and Linux
  • Mockplus for macOS, Windows, iOS, and Android
  • Mockplus iDoc for macOS, Windows, iOS, and Android
  • Fluid UI for web
  • Wireframe.cc for web

If you have more budget, then there are also some premium wireframe tools to help you in your website preparation:

  • InVision Freehand for web https://www.invisionapp.com/freehand
  • Balsamiq for macOS, Windows, and web https://balsamiq.com/
  • Figma for macOS, Windows, Linux and web https://www.figma.com/

Low Fidelity Interactive Wireframe

As we know websites aren’t static, so your wireframe shouldn’t be either. A good website is interactive and engages a user to navigate their way through different web pages and ultimately fulfil a goal.

No one wants to look at a flat, boring website as they want to be engaged in the experience and excited to find out more.

There are many interactive wireframe tools available to help you demonstrate your user experience and their journey before committing to your graphics.

an iPad on a table

What Are the Features of a Wireframe?

The features of a wireframe depends on which type you choose.

However, elements such as logos, search fields, headers, buttons, and placeholder text are typically mapped out when planning a website.

As high-fidelity wireframes are more detailed, they might also include navigation systems, contact information, and footers.

In low fidelity wireframes, typography and imagery should not be included as this just outlines the most basic concepts.

However, designers might choose to play around with the sizing of the text to see how it represents different pieces of information and to ensure it fits with the overall layout of the page. For any good website it’s important there is a careful balance between text and imagery so that the user is not overwhelmed when they scroll through.

Traditionally, wireframes are created in greyscale, meaning designers represent light colours with lighter shades of grey and use dark shading to represent bolder colours.

For some projects, designers might use some colour in high fidelity wireframes such as red to indicate an error message, or blue to represent a link. However it’s important to remember that as wireframes are only two-dimensional, they can’t display interactive features of the interface such as drop-down menus, hover states, or anything that utilises a show-hide functionality.

What Is the Difference Between Wireframes, Prototypes and Mockups?

When designing a website, these terms can be used interchangeably as they happen in quick succession of one another depending on the requirements of the project. In some cases, they can overlap which has led to some people getting confused about the 3 concepts and how they differ.

Whilst they all help you to see how a website will look and are an effective way of communicating your ideas, there are some differences in the level of detail.

Wireframe

We’ll keep this one short, as we’ve already covered it at the beginning of this blog post!

A wireframe communicates your ideas to other people and provides a foundation for how a website will look so people can see and understand the layout.

Think of this as your base.

two women talking to each other

Mockup

A mockup goes a step further than a wireframe.

This illustrates the expected appearance of your product and gives a client a better idea of how things will visually look.

It not only shows where things will sit, but also introduces shapes, fonts, and occasionally, colour. Essentially, a mock up is a static image of the final product.

If a wireframe has skipped any small details, then a mockup will highlight them. They are also used by designers to work out how much space is needed between different elements and to determine intervals and gaps.

Prototype

Once the mock up is complete, it’s time to create a prototype.

A prototype is an interactive model that shows the results of taking particular actions in an app.

A prototype might not be exactly like the real app; however, it should be very close to the product you’ll present to your customers.

The main difference between a prototype and a real application is that a prototype contains test data on the back end.

Wireframes: What Are They and Why Are They Important?

So, there you have it.

Your complete guide to wireframes. Although they seem basic, and some people are tempted to skip this stage, they are a key part of the development process.

Without a plan of how a website is going to look and how it is going to work, you won’t spot any mistakes until it’s too late. This is so frustrating for all parties involved and can push a project back.

By mapping everything out, it provides designers with the perfect opportunity to iron out these issues at an early stage and find pain points which could hinder the overall user experience. By solving these problems, you can move forward with confidence and create the best possible website.

Wireframes are essential communication tools for both your clients and your team and provide an easy but effective way of presenting your ideas.

Are you developing your own website but need a little guidance? Or do you have a website but feel unsure about the design? Whatever your questions, let’s hear them! Get in touch with a friendly member of our team to see how we can help your project.