What is a wireframe and why do we use them?

Have you ever tried to delegate work to someone else and given them what you thought were clear instructions, but then were surprised and let down by the final outcome?

Without a way to properly show someone what you want the final product to look like, miscommunications are inevitable. 

When it comes to creating a website, these time-wasting miscommunications and disappointments are all too common without proper planning. That's where wireframes come in.

Wireframes help web designers and clients get on the same page early on in the process. By learning the importance of properly planning your site with wireframes, you'll prevent miscommunications and receive a better final product that benefits your business and your customers.

What is a wireframe?

A wireframe is essentially a two-dimensional, black and white skeleton of a website's interface. Wireframes use placeholder shapes, to provide a clear structure of where content, navigational elements, and branding elements will be located. Wireframes can be sketched on a piece of paper or created digitally, depending on the amount of detail required.

By not including style elements like images or colours, wireframes help designers and businesses visualise the user interface's functionality and spatial layout without distractions. Wireframes are UX and usability focused, not a mock-up of the final website.

Wireframes are an initial concept, not the final product. They will go through many iterations after feedback and testing of later models. Wireframing is just one important step in the design process.

What are wireframes used for?

Wireframes are used for clarifying the structure and focussing on usability, enabling web designers and clients to be on the same page from the beginning. They help plan out the site's features, with a focus on creating a great user experience.

What are wireframe templates?

While all wireframes act as a template for your own customised website, the term 'wireframe template' often refers to software templates that assist wireframe creation, with wireframing elements rather than user-interface components.

Some designers like to start with a wireframe template, while others like to start with a blank document that they can fully customise for each client.

What is included in a wireframe?

All wireframes should include the structural elements that make up a website, but the number of details they include depends on the wireframe's fidelity level.

Low-fidelity vs. high-fidelity wireframe

A low-fidelity wireframe should be created towards the beginning of the web-design process. It’s a very rough concept, including only the essential page elements needed to plan the layout, spacing, and functions. It communicates the concept, but won’t include specifics such as images, colours, more than one font, or any clickability. 

A high-fidelity wireframe is made further along in the design process. Its content and design choices are more refined and detailed compared to the earlier low-fidelity wireframe.

A high-fidelity wireframe will include colours, realistic typography and grid systems, edited web copy, fonts, fine-tuned layout, and the ability to navigate to other wireframe pages like a real website. Both low-fidelity and high-fidelity wireframes are important steps to creating a great UI/UX.

Wireframe elements

Wireframe examples consist of standard functional design elements, including:

  • Logos
  • Headers
  • Body content
  • Navigation bar
  • Breadcrumb navigation
  • Footers
  • CTAs and button placeholders
  • Content layout.

When are wireframes used?

Wireframes are used primarily in the early stages of the design process. Low-fidelity wireframes are used in the early scoping and ideation stage, while high-fidelity wireframes are used later in the design process to expand upon the ideas from the low-fidelity versions.

From ideation to validation, wireframes go through many iterations as the stakeholders and designers provide their input. Wireframes are used before any website coding occurs so that the structure is agreed upon first and time doesn't get wasted.

Why are wireframes used? 

By putting time in at the beginning to plan your site's UI through wireframing, you'll ultimately save time in the future that would've been used to fix miscommunications and bad UI. Wireframes serve many important functions for an efficient website design process:

They set proper expectations

From the perspective of web designers and developers, wireframes are used to manage client expectations. By mapping out the structure first, they ensure an understanding between businesses and developers, so there are no surprises down the line.

They facilitate collaboration and feedback

Web designers use wireframes to communicate their plans for your website, without having to use technical jargon or abstract concepts. With this easy-to-understand visual, stakeholders can quickly and easily communicate their thoughts and provide feedback by pointing to exactly what they like and don't like about the initial plans.

Wireframes take the guesswork out of ideation, so you will be able to see the earliest plans instead of having to interpret the designer's words.

They keep UX a priority

If a car has a stunning exterior, but no steering wheel, will people buy the car? Probably not. Without usability, a goodlooking design is almost meaningless.

Similarly, if your website contains high-quality product shots and persuasive language but no way to navigate to another page, then no one will buy your products or trust your brand. That's why wireframes are important in web design.

When thinking about the design of your new website, it's easy to focus on what you want it to say and look like, instead of how you want it to function. Even web designers and developers can struggle with the concept of prioritising UX. Wireframes help you put the customer's experience on your website first, which will likely result in more conversions, sales, and happier customers.

They allow iterative changes

Wireframes help create iterative changes to your growth-driven website. Growth-driven design and wireframes both prioritise the user experience, optimisation, and minimising risk, so it's unsurprising that wireframing is such an important step in growth-driven design.

Wireframing streamlines the GDD process.

What's the difference between a wireframe, mock-up, and prototype?

Once the wireframing stage is complete, web designers use other visualisation tools to aid the collaborative design process. These tools are called mock-ups and prototypes.

Wireframe vs. mock-up. A mock-up is like a wireframe, but it also includes images, colours, branding elements, fonts, and other style elements. If the wireframe is the skeleton, then the mock-up is a body with clothes and style.

Wireframe vs. prototype. The difference between wireframe vs. prototype is that a prototype is functional. A prototype is a working model of your website that's used to conduct quality assurance and user testing.

Prototypes test the UI ideas from your wireframe or mock-up. To have a great prototype, you first have to design a user-friendly structure in the wireframe stage.

Wireframes, mock-ups, and prototypes build on each other, all with the end goal of a visually appealing, highly functional, and high-converting website.

How wireframes fit into ESM Inbound's web-design process

Wireframes are an essential part of ESM Inbound's web design process. After an analytics review, content audit, sitemap creation, and copywriting, we work with you through multiple phases of wireframing to plan the UI that is right for you and your customers. We then build on the wireframes to create high-fidelity mock-ups before starting development. 

We use wireframe diagrams as a collaborative tool throughout the growth-driven design process so that the final outcome will be customised to meet you and your customer's needs. With a thoughtfully designed website and HubSpot integrations, your business will be set up for success. 

Please contact ESM Inbound to get started on your next website design, or if you have any questions.

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