If you’ve spent time in the UX/UI design space, or touched on the lifecycle of a product or design, no doubt, you’ve come across discussions of wireframes. A wireframe can help you wrap your head around a design, iron out any problems or missing pieces before moving on to the next step, and ensure that the page content and functionality are correctly placed based on the user’s needs.
So, what are wireframes, and why are they important?
To help clear any confusion you might have about wireframing, let’s get a deeper understanding of what wireframes are, why they are essential for UI design, the different types of wireframes, and the advantages of proper wireframing.
What is wireframing?
A critical step in the design process, Wireframing is the creation of a clear, simplified framework plan for a future product. Wireframes can be drawn by hand or created digitally, depending on how much detail is required, and are typically created before the visual design phase.
A wireframe is a 2D illustration of a page's user interface, mapping out the content and functionality. It can be as simple as a hand-drawn sketch or as well-crafted as a digital creation.
A wireframe is not supposed to be polished. However, there are several key details that a wireframe should contain. As such, the specific needs of your project are what determine the kind of wireframe you create.
There are three wireframe types, low-fidelity, mid-fidelity, and high-fidelity wireframes. A designer will choose one type of wireframe and, upon approval, move to high-fidelity designs.
Using the user’s journey as a frame of reference, Wireframes are key to helping you establish a hierarchy for information and content, neatly encapsulating in a visual guide that represents the bones of your website, app, or digital product before the creative process starts.
By helping to provide structure and clarify missing user needs, wireframes are key to identifying and addressing usability issues before they become a disaster. By mastering wireframes, you’ll ensure that your project runs smoothly by helping key stakeholders to visualize the final product.
According to Figma’s Tony Gemayel, the best way to think of a wireframe is as a blueprint for your end product.
“You’re providing enough detail so that everyone knows the shape of the wall, but you’re not getting so deep into it that you’re giving exact details on the type of brick the walls should be made of (that comes later),” he says.
Most often created by designers, a wireframe needs to be simple enough for all relevant team members, stakeholders, and clients to grasp the concept and end product fully.
You may often find yourself creating one wireframe and then replicating it repeatedly. This is where wireframe kits help. A wireframe kit is similar to a template file, where you create various components which can be reused. This means less time spent repeatedly creating the same thing and more time for creating solutions.
Overall, the best practice for creating an effective wireframe is to use a Figma wireframe kit. To help you rapidly prototype and test new ideas within your team, The Designership has created Outline: Figma’s ultimate wireframe kit. This multi-purpose wireframe kit has 350+ Figma components and variants and 90+ pre-built layouts—everything you need to design better, and faster.
The different types of wireframes
There are generally three types of wireframes: low-fidelity, mid-fidelity, and high-fidelity wireframes. Each wireframe type is a continuation in detail, time, and complexity of the previous one.
- Low-fidelity wireframes: are used to design and/or move quickly. Often created using simplified shapes, low-fi wireframes are used to map out the general direction and any guidance on layout. Lo-fi wireframes are a good way to rapidly communicate information to clients and stakeholders, as defined by UXdesign.cc, “it’s most optimal [way] for designers to achieve solutions quickly.”
- Mid-fidelity wireframes: are a continuation or improvement of a low-fidelity wireframe—it’s the next level of detail. Mid-fidelity wireframes bring through example copy and placeholder images and give a more accurate visualization of the final product.
- High-fidelity wireframes: The wireframe showcases all the UI components and real copy, near-final images, and icons in their final position. A high-fidelity wireframe is more fleshed out and helps to communicate how aesthetic features support any essential functionalities. Often, a high-fidelity wireframe will be clickable and responsive to a user’s actions to mimic authentic interface interaction.
Which wireframe should I use?
A designer should choose a type of wireframe depending on the level of detail they want to provide for stakeholders.
Many UX/UI designers make the mistake of jumping straight into high-fidelity designs. High-fidelity wireframes are built in the more advanced stages of the design process and used to communicate design decisions or to validate complex interactions during user testing.
While this may work for certain projects, it can waste time trying to solve layout issues while focusing on aesthetics. Using a low-fidelity wireframe can help get approval on certain layouts before addressing the finer details.
Why wireframing is essential in UI design
They help you to wrap your head around a design.
Wireframing allows you, the designer, to visually determine where interface elements will go, where, and why. It allows you to iron out any problems or missing pieces before moving on to the next step.
Occasionally, when designers work on a product, it can be easy to lose your way. Design should always be enjoyable and invite a little creativity, but this creativity can lead to usability errors without a proper design roadmap.
From a practical perspective, wireframes ensure page content and functionality are correctly placed based on the user’s needs.
Wireframes take the users’ needs and journeys as a frame of reference to determine which content will take priority, space allocation for each block, available functions, and the intended behaviors. If there are any missing gaps, a wireframe help reveals whether you’ve lost sight of usability or purpose.
It provides stakeholders with an opportunity to visualize the final design.
Not everyone will have the same design eye as you. While you may have the perfect vision for your end product, clients, developers, and other stakeholders may not have the same understanding.
You need a simple, easy-to-understand visual tool that allows stakeholders to visualize the final product (and get their tick of approval) early on before the visual design phase begins.
As Anton Suprunenko for Smashing Magazine says, “Wireframes should precede the stage of visual design, not vice versa. It’s like deciding on the technology stack for your application after having the code written.”
Finer aesthetic details like colors, fonts, and copy should be addressed later on down the road.
Iterating the development of the wireframes will provide the client and key stakeholders with confidence and helps you to identify any knowledge gaps and, if necessary, gather more information through user research and feedback.
You can emphatically map out how your design will meet the user and business needs and amend any potential missteps before they get too costly.
They are easy to create, ensure consistency, and save time
Another reason that wireframes are critical in the design process is that they are easier to adapt than a concept design. It’s a quick and cheap way to review and amend the structure of the key pages in a wireframe format.
Selection of wireframe type will ultimately affect how quickly and accurately your design progresses. You need to choose the right type of wireframe depending on your stakeholder.
A low-fidelity wireframe is advised for when you want to move quickly but may require more communication with stakeholders who do not have the same visual eye as you. Conversely, a high-fidelity design is more labor-intensive, but you may lose time with layout or usability issues while focusing on aesthetics.
Wireframes can be hand-drawn, but often, they are put together by a designer using software like Microsoft’s Visio or Figma itself. However, if the wireframes are going to be used for a prototype usability test, it is best to create them in HTML.
According to Adobe, an essential property of good UI design is to make all user interfaces consistent as “consistent design is intuitive design.” That’s why so many UI designers insist on using Figma wireframe kits: they save time and ensure consistency.
Check out Outline: Figma’s Ultimate Wireframe Kit, a powerful tool to help you wireframe smarter and faster with quick access to hundreds of media resources. For more wireframe kits, check out our list of the 17 best Figma wireframing kits to help streamline your workflow.
What is wireframe testing? What are the benefits of wireframe testing?
Testing wireframes, specifically low-fidelity, can help you identify the most effective layout and the best way to present information to a user. It’s a preventative way to ensure your design works and works well.
Wireframing testing is a preventative measure that stops small mistakes from driving away users.
Wireframe testing allows you to:
- Explore and play around with different layout concepts and ideas
- Detect any critical usability problems
- Test and validate your ideas
- Gain a deeper understanding of the design, which is used to guide the creation of mid-fi and high-fi prototypes
It’s a quick, easy, hassle-free method to stop any mistakes from snowballing into something bigger. For example, if one single, poorly designed component slips through the cracks and makes it to the final product, it can be a massive usability problem. Suddenly, users are dropping off, leaving you with a potentially very expensive mistake to fix.
The power of wireframes in UI design cannot be understated. Without a wireframe, a design loses its usability and purpose and becomes a complicated mess. Like building a house, you must have clear blueprints to create a solid foundation and, subsequently, a liveable home.
Check out our blog if you want to want to learn more about UI design and the best way to learn UI design.