An Introduction to Wireframes
In project development, application and web design, structure is key. Not only is the structure of the final product important, but the structure of how you develop the product is key to its ultimate success. Many problems and difficulties arise within the development of a product, especially for new developers and those lacking technical partnerships or support, and that is why using the process of wireframing can really help turn your raw idea into the best possible design.
A wireframe is essentially a visual guide or outline of a webpage, screen, or skeleton design of the future product. Wireframes define the layout, navigation, element features and content placement in a simple and visual format to allow approval of a basic structure of pages or screens. They provide simple yet high-level overviews of the key components and their included functionality to focus the developers into how the functions perform and if there are any unexpected problems or issues with the format presented. This effective process helps organisation and focus on the usability of a design rather than the aesthetics and visual design. Effective wireframing processes can help your team to be more focussed on the performance of the usability of the product or site and avoid being distracted by visual design elements.
A structured approach to wireframing helps ensure that the flow and natural logic of the process are followed. Responsiveness and compatibility are key elements of web design and with the advent of a multiplatform environment, designers should use wireframes to test and ensure compatibility across a range of different platforms including desktop pc, tablet and mobile and a range of different operating systems and browsers.
The Advantages of Wireframing
Wireframing can help developers and designers in multiple ways. A major benefit of using this process is the time and cost effectiveness on the project itself. By creating a visual initial draft of the project, it allows the development team to see the product and process in action. This helps keep everyone within the team with the same visualisation of the product and allows for better understanding of its capability and use. The use of a visual also helps receive initial feedback from the development team; showing what works well and what changes may be required to improve the functionality.
With the whole team being part of the wireframing process, this increases transparency in the project and allows a channel for improved communication from the very start of the project. The teamwork within the project is strengthened with each member having the opportunity to contribute to the development and success. Being involved from the very beginning, allows total ownership and awareness of every single aspect of the project.
This also gives an opportunity for the team to voice their concerns or improvements over any potential issues or problems early in the development stage. Identifying and rectifying these issues early, saves time, effort and cost of the development and minimises the risks of the final product failing and further required development potentially required. If navigation or layout issues are not discovered early and the graphic design is finalised and produced, then it is difficult to them resolve without affecting or redesign of the design elements.
Wireframes are quick and easy to produce and can contain as much or as little detail as required. Wireframes can take shape by simple sketches of displays or pages with minimal navigational functionality right through to complex CAD diagrams which outline each feature and the benefits and pitfalls of said features. The basic premise remains that there is a visual diagram to represent the functionality of the product or site that visually demonstrates its features.
Overall, the main advantages and benefits include:
- Defining the information architecture and content of the project
- Reduce the need for revisions, reworkings and further development
- Facilitation of client and stakeholder feedback and initial product responses
- Ensuring the right user experience from the very start of the project
- Collaboration with the entire development team and potential users and customers
- Helps outline a plan for development and build right through to final product release
Process for Wireframe Creation
As previously mentioned, wireframing can encompass many different varieties of visuals including basic sketches through to high-level computer aided design using specific programs but the basic structure remains regardless. Here are four steps to creating your wireframe:
- Produce the basic sketch of the product
Start by hard-drawing sketches of the product on a whiteboard or paper. These ‘low-fidelity’ wireframes contain the sitemap and architecture that have been developed from the initial product design and raw ideas following from user research and initial design feedback. These sketches should contain basic navigation and all the individual pages of the site or product functions to ensure they capture the full user experience.
- Focus on the User Experience
The user experience or UX should always be the focus of the wireframe process. Difficult, confusing, or bad navigational planning can cause confusion to the user and a bad user experience can create a poor product success rate, poor feedback, and a high bounce rate for the site. Taking the journey from your user, navigating each page and taking the different routes and options will help understand what your end users will experience and if you find yourself lost or not finding the right information on the right page at the right time, it will seriously damage the effectiveness of the product or service.
- Turn the sketches into ‘hi-fidelity’ wireframes
Tweak your initial draft into the final user layout and navigational design. The process of turning the rough sketches into high quality digital designs help with the visualisation at the team group meeting stage, allowing everyone to understand how the functions work, what elements are included and makes it visually more appealing and professional to present to the group. The aim here is not to look at design elements but to produce something professional and clear that each team member can recognise and understand.
- Create a prototype
The prototype created from your initial designs allows the team to act as ‘users’ and effectively navigate themselves through the functions and elements included to give a real-life experience for comments and feedback. Using sketches and visuals are valuable, but to get the real feel, a prototype is more beneficial.
Wireframing is a simple yet effective tool for developers and are reflective of business goals and expected outcomes. They are very useful in easing the design and development process of any project from the very beginning.