The wireframe is one of the most potent tools for user experience designers. Wireframes have become a fascinating and frequent topic of discussion around UX design for versatility and practical application.
What is a wireframe, and how is it best used in user experience mapping?
Our guide will walk you through the essentials, such as what a wireframe is, where it fits into a design process, and the variations on wireframes that designers utilize.
Related reading: UI vs. UX Design: What’s the Difference?
What is a Wireframe?
Knowing the definition of a wireframe, as it can be pretty contextual, is essential. Wireframes may commonly be known as components of 3D visual design. In that sense, they’re like a 3D manifestation of an architectural blueprint. However, that’s not what wireframes are in UX design.
In UX visual design, a wireframe is a two-dimensional outline of an interface, such as a webpage or an app. These wireframes provide a visual representation of elements of the user interfaces, such as layouts, user flow, and functionality. Colors and styling are often limited, leading to these wireframes pulling heavily from the visual styling of blueprints.
Why Use Wireframes?
Wireframes are used heavily in the UX design and development process as they allow different contributors to an app or website to understand the structure and interface elements of the eventual product and map out features before committing resources to more in-depth design, programming, and the like. These different advantages to the wireframing process are excellent for unity in design teams.
1. Encourage Feedback Early in the Design Process
Design teams can be guided early on in their work and ensure it matches the needs of other development parts through wireframes. Design ideas can be the focus early on, and visual elements can be mapped out without investing too heavily in the design work during the wireframing stage.
This early feedback is a great place to unify the product design process, user experience design, and visual design elements without committing to actual images or code.
2. Keep the Focus on Usability
Wireframe design focuses on the basic structure and placement of essential elements. For example, navigation systems and secondary navigation are usability elements mapped out in the wireframe design concepts. While the visuals come later, placing simple shapes and placeholders for images allows designers to understand key placements and their canvas.
3. Changes Can Be Made Quickly
UX design is an interactive process, and user-centered design is about flexibility. Wireframes allow the quick drafting of an interface and experience without dipping into the design phase or developing actual content, ultimately helping an app or webpage develop with a strong foundation. Product managers can leverage the quickness of the wireframe design process to ensure designs are mapped out and responsive.
4. Save Time and Money
One advantage to the quick, draft-like nature of wireframes in user experience design is that it saves money in the long run. With wireframes at the earliest stages of the design team’s work, it results in less time fine-tuning a design in the long run. Lest time paying designers to iterate in the more complicated graphic and interface utility stages means less money spent overall, which is a boon to a development team.
Related reading: Web Design vs. Web Development: What’s the Difference?
Different Types of Wireframes
Not all wireframes fit all design processes, however. High-fidelity wireframes have their usage, as do medium-fidelity and low-fidelity wireframes. When it comes to user feedback and development, different forms of digital wireframes serve specific needs.
Low-fidelity wireframes are the most basic form of the iterative process of wireframes, but that doesn’t mean their importance should be ignored.
These wireframes serve as the most stripped-down form of representation of a design put together by the project team. These forms map out interactive elements and tend to be pretty rough. They’re not pixel accurate and are more like thumbnails, doodles, and sketches.
Think about the type of drawings a team might do on a whiteboard during a project planning session, and that is where you’re at with low-fidelity wireframes.
Medium-fidelity wireframes are the most used form in the creative process. Mid-fidelity wireframes have more complexity than initial wireframes and help lock user interface design elements in a place other design teams can utilize.
Essentially any images are absent or placeholders at best, but the layouts and interactive features are in place. Many wireframe digital tools revolve around medium-fidelity wireframes due to their ubiquitous nature in the design industry.
Usually, the design of digital projects finds most of their basic design mapped out with med-fidelity wireframes. These are not pixel-perfect but offer an accurate placement and step toward beautiful design.
High-fidelity wireframes are the most polished form of wireframes in the design of digital products. These wireframes often target user-specific features and feel and boast pixel-perfect layouts.
In many ways, these high-fi wireframes can be mapped to the software to create a working app or website, allowing designers to come in later and swap placeholder assets for more specific and polished ones.
High-fidelity wireframes are also essential because they’re usually employed in a usability testing stage to determine what features in an app or site need to be revised. These wireframes help map the user experience as best as possible without committing to too many expensive resources.
How to Create Wireframes
While many growing digital wireframing tools exist, project teams have collectively gathered toward three. These three, Balsamiq, Figma, and Sketch, are solid options for the wireframe stage of the entire design process. The design features available in these digital design tools benefit the design field.
Here’s a brief overview of popular wireframe software for user experience designers.
Balsamiq is an industry-leading digital wireframing tool used by interaction designers and graphic designers across industries. As a low-fidelity UI wireframing tool, Balsamiq is designed to evoke hand-drawn sketches. Balsamiq’s simplicity emphasizes structure and content in the digital drawing for app screens and mobile wireframes. Balsamiq is also swift, allowing for the quick establishment of initial ideas.
This platform is remarkably innovative for medium-fidelity interfaces, focusing more on standardized design elements and tools to map out core functionality and experience in an app or website concept. The drag-and-drop building style also includes automatic alignment, allowing designers to utilize snapping to ensure their features and images line up correctly.
Figma is a straightforward wireframing tool noted for its rapid output and ease of use. Figma is an all-in-one tool that works entirely within a browser as well. As long as you have internet access, wireframes can be sketched out from anywhere, be it a design lab or at a coffee shop, for a quick solution to a design challenge.
Figma utilizes a layers panel to help organize the design process and make the design more accessible overall. It is also an excellent collaborative tool, allowing design teams to work together on wireframes in real-time.
You can also take advantage of many Figma templates available to speed up your work.
Sketch serves as another core wireframe design suite utilized by design teams worldwide. Particularly, Sketch is noted for artboard features and scalability of wireframe assets through vector design shapes. Sketch is powerful as a tool for pixel-perfect design necessary for high-fidelity wireframing.
One potential disadvantage to Sketch is a lack of premade UI elements or ready-made templates, but Sketch also tends to be incredibly robust for experienced UX designers. Also helpful is the ability to define styles that can be applied across multiple artboards for consistency among design projects.
Final Thoughts on Wireframes
Wireframe design at any fidelity offers tremendous potential in any app design. User experience in an increasingly competitive app and website landscape makes the link between interface and graphic design more and more influential to the success of a digital project.
Whether you’re at the early stages of laying down an app, like when using low-fidelity wireframes, or working on pixel-perfect design polish, such as high-fidelity wireframes, knowing the tools and their uses is essential.
If you have yet to experience using wireframe design in your UX projects, try some of the software and see how the intersection of interactivity design and graphic design can result in excellence.