Wireframing is a practice used by UX designers which allows them to define and plan the information hierarchy of their design for a website, app, or product. This process focuses on how the designer or client wants the user to process information on a site, based on the user research already performed by the UX design team.
When designing for the screen you need to know where all the information is going to go in plain black and white diagrams before building anything with code. Wireframing is also a great way of getting to know how a user interacts with your interface, through the positioning of buttons and menus on the diagrams.
Without the distractions of colors, typeface choices or text, wireframing lets you plan the layout and interaction of your interface. A commonly-used argument for wireframing is that if a user doesn’t know where to go on a plain hand-drawn diagram of your site page, then it is irrelevant what colors or fancy text eventually get used. A button or call to action needs to be clear to the user even it’s not brightly colored and flashing.
Before you start designing the wireframes of your own app or product, take a look at some examples of wireframes. This will give you some inspiration for your own wireframes, as well as giving you an idea of the variety of ways of creating them. Some people like to draw their wireframes by hand, others feel more comfortable using software like Invision, or Balsamiq to create theirs. We’ll go through some of the tools you can use to create wireframes shortly, but it’s important to emphasize that how you make yours is up to you: some people feel more creative when sat at their computer, while others prefer to have a pen and paper in hand.
That said, for complete beginners, bear in mind the following when deciding on your wireframe creation process:
Wireframes drawn with paper and a pencil, or at a whiteboard, have the advantage of looking and being very easy to change, which can help tremendously in early conversations about your website or product.
With the help of paper-prototypes, you can test with end users at every stage of ideation and design. Changes at these stages are much easier—and therefore cheaper—than changes deemed necessary after coding is under way.
Switching later to software (after initially hand-drawing your wireframe) allows you to keep track of more detailed decisions.
It’s likely to be to your advantage to start off hand-drawing your wireframes before executing more detailed versions using an online app or software. The following wireframes should give you a good idea of how information can be organized on the screen.
As we mentioned above, different UX designers approach the task of wireframing in different ways. Some like to draw by hand, while others like to use apps or tools found online. But more often than not, the decision to use online tools or to wireframe by hand, and the process used to get to from wireframe to code, is less related to the individual preference of the UX Designer, and much more related to what approach the particular situation requires. It depends largely on how much emphasis there is on visual design in a project, and how much uncertainty there is with respect to what is being designed.
In the bullet points below are a number of ways different designers can structure the process from design to implementation:
Wireframe > Interactive Prototype > Visual > Design
Sketch > Code
Sketch > Wireframe > Hi-Def Wireframe > Visual > Code
Sketch > Wireframe > Visual > Code
If the task is very narrow and the visual design is either set or considered unimportant (such as with many backend administrative interfaces), then sketch > code makes sense, whereas if the time and resources and the business value are all high, then spending the time to make a high-definition wireframe and going through a cycle of testing with a fully realized interactive prototype makes better sense.
There are heaps of free tools out there for creating wireframes and prototypes, so you should experiment with as many as you can to find the ones that suit you the best. Don’t forget that you can also just use pen and paper! Below we’ve listed three online tools we find particularly good. The examples below all have free trials, so check them out!
UXPin: UXPin has a wide range of functionalities, but one of the best ones is how how it facilitates building responsive clickable prototypes directly in your browser.
InVision: InVision allows you to get feedback straight from your team and users through clickable mock-ups of your site design. It’s completely free too!
Wireframe.cc: Wireframe.cc provides you with the technology to create wireframes really quickly within your browser, the online version of pen and paper.