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What Is a Wireframe and Why Are They Crucial for Web Design

#Design & UX

26th September 2019

Wireframes are a crucial part of any efficient website design process. However, most clients are confused about them. They think wireframing will be hard to understand and they’d rather fast forward to designs. In this article, we will shed more light on the purpose of wireframing, how to read them, why wireframes are required before designing, and why not using them can inflate the cost of the project.

What is a wireframe?

Wireframes are simple, usually black and white layouts of pages. They are used to:

  • communicate feature choices
  • outline the placement, size, margins, and paddings of all sections
  • visualise user interface

The role of a wireframe is to create a blueprint of your website. They are stripped of design cues to clearly communicate the site structure.

What does a wireframe look like

Here’s an example of a wireframe of a Contact Us page from one of our website projects.

Example of a web page wireframe.
An example of a wireframe for a full page

Now that you know the purpose of wireframe and what it looks like, let’s discover the reasons wireframing is the foundation of web design.

Wireframes visualise website features

We can implement every website feature in several ways. It’s not always easy to communicate the choice using words. Wireframes can showcase future design choices and explain the essence of certain concepts.

Many web agencies assume their descriptions of a column layout or a hero section are obvious to the client. Often they’re not. The mix of jargon and design flexibility can lead to a huge disappointment if we skip wireframing altogether.

Wireframes improve the cost-effectiveness of the design process

Designing with no idea of feature choices inflates the budget. It’s hard to put a price on the creative process already, let alone if there is no foundation in the form of wireframes.

Iterating over complex designs is much more expensive than changing a simple, black and white wireframe. It also disturbs the priorities of a web designer, who now has to evaluate both design and feature choices. And then there’s client feedback, which almost always requires additional design iterations.

Abandoning wireframes turns an exciting and creative design process into an expensive chore.

Wireframes help with user journey design

Wireframes can be created on a whiteboard during a meeting or in advanced software. The latter opens up an opportunity to test the user journey at a very early stage.

Interactive wireframes include a prototype of navigation, which can be tested by both the UI designers and the client. This again ties into the cost-effectiveness of the project, allowing to identify navigation issues long before design or development starts.

How to read wireframes

Apart from a few conventions, wireframes aren’t as hard to read as you might think. As mentioned above, wireframes communicate the layout, features and usability aspects, such as user interface and user journey. And they’re more intuitive than you may think.

Here’s what you need to know about reading wireframes:

  1. Wireframe conventions – wireframes use basic visual containers to represent different elements of the layout. While their appearance varies based on preferences and software choices, it’s usually very intuitive. Below are two different representations of an image in a wireframe – a standard one (on the left), and a more intuitive and visually appealing alternative.

    An example of what image blocks look like in wireframe conventions.
  2. Interactive elements – as mentioned above, the containers are very intuitive. Expect to see a dropdown menu sketch similar to the one you know from your everyday use. Buttons and similar elements are represented by plain shapes with text over them. Links usually use an underline, but sometimes the traditional blue colour is used to make the wireframe easier to read.
  3. Page structure – wireframes use conventional formatting for page structure, i.e. bigger, bold font for headings, a specific amount of whitespace, etc.
  4. Copy – depending on the process of your web agency, wireframes will use either a finished copy or placeholder text similar to its expected size. In our case, we complete our Content Creation process before wireframing, which makes the layout as close to the final product as possible.

Wireframes are crucial for web design

Wireframes should be a crucial phase of every website build. Communicating their purpose is the only challenge. With that out of the way, they are beneficial to both the client and the web agency.

Has our article helped you understand the concept of wireframes better? What is your experience with them? Let us know on social media or drop us a line.

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