Wireframing is an essential skill for UX Designers and other experience design participants. Yes, wireframing is a skill , not just a technique. It can be done well or poorly and the result can have a huge impact on the outcome of the final product.
Fortunately, like all skills, it can be learned and honed. This tutorial will point you in the right direction. What is wireframing?
Wireframing, in the context of user experience design, is the act of creating user interface wireframes .
Michael Angeles, on his design blog “Konigi,” has one of the best descriptions of a wireframe out there (emphasis mine):
“A wireframe is a schematic or other low-fidelity rendering of a computer interface , intended to primarily demonstrate functionality, features, content, and user flow without explicitly specifying the visual design of a product….
“Wireframes are usually rendered in software, but are also created as works on paper or on other ephemeral materials, e.g. white boards. Wireframes are meant to be used as rough representations of interface ideas that can be quickly discarded and iterated upon until design solutions are selected.”
An example of a wireframe. Wireframing is not the same as prototyping
Wireframing as a practice has more in common with sketching than prototyping, especially in the first phase (which I’ll describe below). A prototype, on the other hand, while also not a customer-facing product, is intended to demonstrate realistic interface designs and interactions, often for usability testing and/or client presentations.
Unlike wireframes, prototypes often look and feel like the final product , even when they are not fully functional or built with code that will eventually be used in the product. (“Click-through” wireframes can be used as early-stage prototypes, but that is not their main purpose.)
The article “Why wireframes are essential for web design” likens wireframing to writing an outline in a document. The author reasons: “You’re starting to make design decisions and get a feel for how this site will come together before committing serious time to building anything.”
These concepts are important to keep in mind while creating wireframes. The two phases of wireframing
Defining wireframing as simply the process of creating a wireframe sells it short. As UX designers know, it’s not the tool that people want, it’s what it does for them that matters.
A wireframe is a tool. Successful wireframing is the practice of using wireframes to solve real problems .
The first problem that wireframing can answer is “what are some ways our product can help our customers accomplish their goals?” (Note that this is an open-ended question, which is preferred, as opposed to something more constraining, like “I need to design the export to PDF feature.”)
The second problem that wireframing addresses is “how do I know this solution will work?” This is where the ability of wireframing to elicit helpful feedback and diagnose problems early really shines.
These problems can be divided up into two distinct phases: the ideation phase and the validation phase . The ideation phase
The first problem, trying to figure out how your product can help customers accomplish their goals, is addressed in the creative ideation phase of the wireframing process. This is where you g enerate as many ideas as possible in order to iterate toward better and better solutions.
The ideation phase is one of the few places where quantity matters as much (or more than) quality . The ability to generate multiple ideas and variations on a single idea allows you to see the faults and highlights of each. The more designs you put down on the page, the more individual ideas you have to choose from. The root of “creative,” after all, is “create”; that’s the strategy here.
A helpful way to think about this phase is to flip convention around. Focusing on creating only good ideas may restrict you; instead, try to create as many bad ideas as possible . This will remove the creative block and free you up to just produce. You won’t get to “aha!” without going through “oh, no!” An ideation phase walkthrough
A good way to demonstrate what this phase looks like is to show an example. Here is a series of wireframes that I created in about 25 minutes using Balsamiq Mockups (sped up 4x). I gave myself the challenge to design a to-do list app for a mobile device (quite original, I know).
Caveat: I did no preparation beforehand (not recommended) and don’t consider it “finished” even by ideation phase standards, but it should give an idea of the process I follow.
Here are a few screenshots from the video: