Wireframes are critical for a successful and well-designed website or application. The easiest and most efficient way to start is by using a pen and paper or a large whiteboard. At this stage, interface elements and screens can look very rough, but they allow designers and people from other departments to come together and quickly get on the same page about their product.
But there's a catch. At some point in this process, these essential tools are no longer sufficient. Welcome digital low-fidelity wireframe! Let's break it down a bit more.
What in the world is a wireframe?
A wireframe is a schematic and visual representation of a screen or an interface. It shows us the overall layout, functionality, and flow of actions without any details like colors, styling, photos, icons, and text.
But do we need wireframes?
In one simple word, absolutely. Wireframes are the foundation for any successful project. Over the past ten years, every time I came across a project where wireframes were ignored it always resulted in higher costs to the client. Instead of having them as a foundation, time has to be allocated for their creation. The delayed review of user experience and the countless hours of additional work for designers and developers is extremely expensive.
But please keep it simple. Wireframes can help you create a better user experience for your customers. You don't need a high level of detail and styling; they will only distract you from User Experience (UX) and pull you into the User Interface (UI) phase.
What goes into a wireframe and how do I create it correctly?
Keep in mind that every wireframe focuses on high-level UX architecture, information design, and low-level UI.
A wireframe is a map of your user experience. Outline and highlight actions users can take on each screen to get to their goal. A good wireframe will bring to light issues and pain points for your users. If the path to a user’s destination is too long or they have too many choices on the screen, then you need to rethink your strategy and come up with a better solution.
While user experience focuses on screens, (the path a user takes to reach their goal) information design focuses on information intake and processing. Wireframes will help you decide when and how users will be presented with new information on the screen.
User Interface Design
UI is all about the interface and visual elements in your wireframe. In this phase, you can address your user’s visual needs: menu size, buttons, labels, spacing, navigation, etc. Some UI elements may change based on the device you're designing for (ex. web, tablet, mobile, or watch).
What tools can I use?
There are many options these days that will allow you to create wireframes of high or low fidelity. Some are free, and some require a subscription. Below are my favorites.
Adobe XD is my favorite tool. It's not as advanced as Sketch, but it offers a better user experience, software performance, great tools selection without sacrificing features and its capabilities. You can create anything!
Figma is very popular, and it allows you to do a lot and mostly for free. Creating vector-based graphics and dynamic prototypes straight in your browser, share your work with your teammates, and so much more.
Balsamiq has been around for a long time, but it has a unique hand-drawn style that might not be for everyone. If you can live with that, it's a great tool to get you started.
Wireframes may look very easy to create and work with, but don't be fooled. It's a skill that every designer needs to have in their stack. Creating your first wireframe might be intimidating and overwhelming, but I assure you that once you start practicing you won't be able to start a project without them. Don't worry about the details, looks, and colors. Focus on the bigger picture.