What Is Wireframing and Its Role in Product Development

Article by:
Maria Arinkina
14 min
Wireframing is one of the most important initial steps of product development. Learn what wireframes are, how to use them, how to create them, and more!

Even the most renowned art masterpieces started out with some kind of sketch. Before choosing colors for the palette or making paint strokes, the artist dashes down element placement on a canvas to visualize the composition of the future piece. That's how it usually starts.

Software design has a similar process sequence and follows the same principles. Designers use wireframes to map out a digital interface's structure and functionality, providing a visual representation of the concepts at the earliest stages of product creation.

Let's take a deep dive into the matter: learn which types of wireframes exist and how to create a wireframe, when to do it, why it's necessary, and which tools can be of help.

What Is Wireframing?

Giving the wireframing definition, it is the basic outline of a page, screen, or digital product. It's often the first iteration of the page, somewhat a skeleton of the key interface elements to be present on it. They are like footprints, marking the user's path from screen to screen. If compared to a pencil sketch, a wireframe strips away all the intricate visual design details, fancy fonts, distractions, and colors, emphasizing arrangement and component interaction.

What Is a Wireframe in UX?

But how are wireframes used? Such two-dimensional blueprints are typically grayscale and schematic. They give a clean and clear visual representation of the screen layouts and the approximate size of the UX/UI elements, tracing the final product's future components and essential features.

A product wireframe determines what kind of content will be placed on specific screens, what is of most importance, as well as the screen sequence and navigation. At the very start, wireframes could be low-fidelity sketches. These are generally made up of placeholders, boxes, buttons, and filler texts like "lorem ipsum".

It's easy to make changes to them compared to doing the same in a nearly finished final design mockup. Wireframes are often iterated, and, in fact, it's encouraged. They make it simpler for designers to refine the flow, fine-tune the user experience, and make vital decisions, such as regarding the hierarchy. Wireframes could even be considered a collaborative tool since they are discussed by the team and changed according to feedback.

Why Are Wireframes Important?

The importance of wireframes shouldn't be taken for granted, as this is one of the integral first steps of the product design process. Just like a sculptor who carves excess pieces of a solid slab of stone, a wireframe hints at the creation's essence early on. There are plenty of ways a product can look like, yet you need to find the one that'll help you achieve your business goals and deliver the messages you want.

What is the purpose of wireframing in the design process? With a refined, user-centric design being the overall aim, wireframes help dot many i's as they: 

  • bridge the gap between abstract ideas and their solid visual representation;
  • ensure that every element on the page has a purpose;
  • clear up many unknowns and help formulate the requirements;
  • allow to communicate the design ideas at a basic level;
  • simplify the determination of must-include content and functionality and how it should work;
  • align the hierarchy of information and page structure;
  • outline user behavior at a basic level;
  • let designers experiment with layouts, concepts, templates, navigation patterns, interactions, and so on.

Major Benefits of Wireframing

What are the advantages of wireframing? Apart from the points mentioned previously, here is what taking the time to make great UX wireframes brings to the table.

Wireframing Importance and Benefits

You avoid many mistakes dealing with user experience, which can be costly and effort-intensive to fix during the later stages of the product development life cycle. User interface (just like the entire design) has to be intuitive, user-friendly, and simple to navigate. Illogical decisions regarding user flow and other vitals often lead to frustration and user dissatisfaction, causing people to bounce. The latter is especially disappointing, as acquiring customers and landing them on the page requires resources no business can afford to waste. Poor first impressions can have drastic consequences, so it makes sense to think through the entire journey and ensure navigation is easy early on. Wireframes can help you achieve that.

Wireframes also provide a framework to enhance decision-making and cross-team collaboration. It's your easy-to-grasp visual language that helps finalize what should be included, what the structure should be like, what to put before the eyes of users, and what to emphasize. Importantly, you get a basic yet visual representation of what you've envisioned, fostering clarity.

Likewise, product wireframes make it simpler for teams to focus their efforts on what matters most. Product owners and decision-makers get a step closer to finalizing the goals, what to expect from the design, whether it aligns with the project requirements, and the overall scope. Designers have a well-defined plan of what to include in the prototypes and mockups. In turn, the developers spend time building the must-haves instead of the good-to-haves.

Wireframe Disadvantages

Sure enough, wireframes aren't a magic wand, and they do have some downsides. Let's note a few, they:

  • might seem a bit primitive in the eyes of stakeholders and decision-makers; 
  • aren't applicable for user testing since they're just a rough draft;
  • can't show the effects, movement, and animation since they're static and lack interactivity;
  • are time-consuming to make, even if it doesn't seem that way.

Can You Skip the Wireframing Step? 

Yes, but are you sure you want to? It's a preliminary phase, of course, far from the final polished mockups. However, the role of UX wireframing extends beyond what it might seem at first.

A wireframe isn't too concerned about final design aesthetics, but it's a concise blueprint of the future design. Although simple, it lets you evaluate usability and uncover potential design flaws and constraints early in the process. It also helps make informed decisions, leading to a more holistic product design in the following stages.

What happens if you skip wireframing? It may likely lead to usability gaps that cause user dissatisfaction, costly and time-consuming revisions, release stalls, and re-dos.

When to Work on UX Wireframing

Frankly, you can make wireframes at any point of product development. However, it is best to handle such an exploratory task at the beginning.

When Are Wireframes Created?

Starting off a development project with the discovery phase is a smart move, in general. This preparation step lets you clarify many gaps (including those related to design), plan the work ahead, and save lots of resources on do-overs in the future. It's like ensuring that you've packed all the necessary supplies for your long weekend hike, from a box of matches to your tent.

Discovery is the time for:

  • conducting market research and studying the competitors;
  • defining the target audience, putting their needs and pains under the microscope, and making user stories;
  • formulating a solid product problem statement to differentiate the offering on the market;
  • working on feature prioritization to focus on first;
  • selecting the technical stack, architecture, third-party integrations, and so on;
  • outlining the project timeline with the key milestones, team composition, and budget estimates.

Certainly, product design is a part of the discovery phase as well. UX discovery is usually handled early on, and creating wireframes is next. It is followed by design phases like product prototyping and making final mockups that will be passed on to the development team for coding.

3 Types of Wireframes

Wireframes can be categorized according to their fidelity level. In fact, some designers go through all three, working their up from a practically rudimentary wireframe to a more intricate one, but this isn't always the case. Here are the three major wireframe types:

Low-fidelity wireframes — the simplest version aimed at representing the concepts you begin with. They could even come in the format of a sketch, be hand-drawn, and use placeholder elements. Lo-fi wireframes put layouts, navigation, and target user interface elements in focus.

Mid-fidelity wireframes — a more detailed and iterated initial version that shows the functionality, wireframe layout, and user flow more clearly. It is commonly created using special design tools and could possibly be fitted with some text or other content to better represent the must-add functionality and how elements interact.

High-fidelity wireframes — may be considered your "initial prototype" or a really early version of design mockups. These are more polished wireframes with more attention to elements, as well as pixels, grids, paddings, etc. Hi-fi wireframes could also have more recognizable branding and colors, images, fonts, colors, typography, and so on.

Want to ensure that your project discovery isn't a waste of time?

In just 2 weeks, Upsilon can deliver detailed feature descriptions, user stories, wireframes, UI/UX designs, a defined tech stack, and more so that your development kicks off from the right note!

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Want to ensure that your project discovery isn't a waste of time?

In just 2 weeks, Upsilon can deliver detailed feature descriptions, user stories, wireframes, UI/UX designs, a defined tech stack, and more so that your development kicks off from the right note!

Let's Talk

How to Create a Wireframe: 5 Steps to Follow

As you see, this task can bring back many effective results. Let's overview how to make wireframes and what you should know about them. The steps below may serve as your wireframe design checklist to follow and are more applicable for digital versions rather than marker board or pencil-drawn ones.

Creating a Wireframe in 5 Steps

1. Set Your Design Goals

Start by identifying the aims the product's future design should achieve, as this can be the mark guiding your wireframe creation. Such goals usually revolve around the action that you expect the user to take. For instance, you might want the user to purchase a product or leave their contact details. Putting down the major goals will set the tone for your UX wireframes.

2. Make a List of Pages and Screens

You need to have a clear picture of which screens are fundamental. Enumerate or jot down the necessary pages and screens. This way, you'll get a realistic scope for how many wireframes to make. Ideally, mark the hierarchy and the main goals you have for every screen. 

3. Select Wireframe Size for Multiple Devices

Will the solution be available only on desktop? Or does it imply usage on mobile apps or tablets? Depending on the type of product to be created, a designer can work on various wireframes, showing what it'll be like on other device types. So, as a big step, select the size of the wireframes. The pixel width and length will differ for tablets, smartphones, and desktop computers, as well as various-inch screens.

4. Envision User Flows in Your Wireframes

Proceed to sketching your wireframes to form the templates of your future screens. You can split the screen into blocks that will be fitted with content placeholders for images or buttons. Do your best to stick to the grids even at this stage. If necessary, leave comments or annotations for your teammates to get your ideas across.

Verify that you've covered the most important user flows (many designers prefer to show this using conversion funnels). Check that the wireframes portray your solution's navigation and placement of core UI elements, content, and so on.

You can come up with test cases and scenarios, too (this is where user stories come in handy). Since the screens of a wireframe help show what a user can achieve at every step, you may apply them when working on other design tasks like user journey mapping.

5. Mend the Wireframes

Overall, as we've mentioned, wireframes get altered multiple times. Since usability is in the spotlight, wireframes are the central stage for experiments. They are applied to refine the layout, fix inconsistencies, and ensure the most optimal UX gets brought to life during consequent design stages. So, make adjustments until you settle on an approved variant. And don't worry if the final product design is very different from your initial wireframes.

Wireframing Best Practices

Here are several best practices in wireframe design and additional things worth knowing about when creating a wireframe.

Lose the Colors

In the world of wireframing, simplicity rules. When it comes to wireframes, "basic" is implied. That's why most designers stick to the black-and-white color scheme and use multiple shades of gray, rarely adding extra colors. So, keep it plain, no bows and ribbons yet.

The thing is that wireframes shouldn't be distracting and have to encourage discussion. Their main goal is to help you understand the solution's element structure, where things will be placed, and whether the user experience is logical.

This isn't the time for curvy fonts, animation, and other excessive decorations. Leave the color palette and other decorative decisions for the clickable prototypes and final mockups. Otherwise, with such a wireframe example, you might lose sight of what you're doing this for.

Stay Consistent

Sticking to a consistent element design is important, even during wireframing. Yes, you'll most likely be using placeholders, yet if some element is repetitive on various screens, make sure they're the same across all of your wireframes. This will let you avoid confusion and simplify consequent steps.

Be Careful with Wireframe Adaptation

As shortly mentioned earlier, wireframe size differs based on the device. Importantly, this doesn't imply downsizing or vice versa. Just as it doesn't mean that everything from a large screen should get squished in the wireframe of the smaller one. Instead, wireframes often pose the challenge of rethinking the design and changing elements. Taking into consideration the screen sizes and usage peculiarities is among the wireframe best practices (e.g., reaching for elements on the screen with your thumb when using a smartphone vs clicking a mouse on a laptop). 

Don't Get Carried Away

And yet, a wireframe is just your starting point, a draft that doesn't imply perfection. There are plenty of wireframes examples that prove this. You will iterate them more than once, and it's okay to keep making changes, as wireframes are born for alteration. So, it's wise not to overdo it or rush ahead to the high-fidelity wireframes, as you'll handle design polishing during the next stages.

For now, direct your attention to UI and the core wireframe goals, as this early requirement-gathering tool is used to help the team reach an agreement on how to proceed with the product. It's your preparation step, leading to faster and more effective prototype and mockup creation that'll follow.

A Few Wireframe Examples

What does a wireframe look like? Here are some wireframing examples, showing both low- and mid-fidelity options.

Wireframe Examples

As you see, these are more final versions of wireframe screens. However, they still have placeholders, use "lorem ipsum" filler texts, and show navigation elements.

10+ Best Wireframing Tools

Now that you know how to create wireframes, let's overview the top wireframing tools that can be added to your kit to facilitate the process. The following collection implies digital tools that are intuitive in use, modern, and that provide functionality for sketching or using drag-and-drop blocks for making wireframes easily.

Top Wireframing Tools
  • Figma (the ultimate design tool that lets you handle multiple design phases and turn your wireframes into mockups);
  • Sketch (has plenty of options for wireframing among its utilities);
  • Balsamiq (with a big focus on structure, this tool is popular for its simplicity and notepad-looking sketches);
  • Justinmind (a free wireframing tool suitable both for mobile and web);
  • Lucidchart (a good option for crafting wireframes for various devices);
  • Uizard (uses AI to convert hand-drawn wireframes into editable digital format);
  • Wireframe.cc (mentioning free wireframing tools, this web-based standalone tool that lets you start with a blank canvas and provides templates for customization);
  • Whimsical (efficient wireframing tool noted for its clarity and collaboration features);
  • Miro (has plenty of templates to offer for customization);
  • Axure RP (suitable for both low- and high-fidelity wireframe creation);
  • MockFlow (a simple tool for those who are just getting started with wireframing, has a wizard mode for quick creation);
  • Marvel (provides hundreds of assets and templates for wireframing).

Need a hand with product development?

Upsilon's team can be with you all the way from the discovery phase and product design to developing an MVP and then scaling your product.

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Need a hand with product development?

Upsilon's team can be with you all the way from the discovery phase and product design to developing an MVP and then scaling your product.

Contact Us

Final Thoughts on UX Wireframing

Hopefully, we've helped you recognize the value wireframing in UX design brings to the overall product development process. It's a key building block of the entire design workflow, and if done right, it can result in better user experiences and more fruitful end products.

If you're not sure where to start with product development or need assistance, Upsilon's expert team can gladly help you from the very beginning of your journey to MVP development and beyond.

We can start off with a two-week discovery phase, which will equip the project with everything you need for successful development and release. As a result of the sprint, you'll get to avoid such headaches as scope creep and a bloated budget, as we'll provide you with the essentials from features to prioritize and the optimal tech stack to apply to user stories, wireframes, UX/UI designs, data flow diagrams, and more. Feel free to reach out, we're excited to hear about your ideas!

FAQ

1. What is a wireframe in UX?

A schematic layout of the product's page structure. A basic visual representation of the elements, navigation, and user flow. Such a sketch is often black-and-white with placeholders and lines, gets iterated frequently, and is used for team collaboration.

2. What is a wireframe in software development?

The use of wireframes in software development is vital, as this is one of the earliest ways to depict future products. They focus on UI, help gather requirements, decide on the functionality, how it should work, and what users will see.

3. What is the purpose of a wireframe?

The purpose of wireframes is to portray the screens of a product at a very basic level. They help designers select optimal layouts that'll be intuitive for users and that'll align with the business requirements. This tool also helps teammates collaborate and discuss the essentials of the product at the earliest stages of the project.

4. What are the best tools for wireframing?

The commonly used ones by designers and product creators are: Figma, Sketch, Balsamiq, Justinmind, Uizard, Miro, Axure RP, Marvel, and MockFlow. Some of these and other MVP tools can also be used for design phases that follow.

5. Is the process of sketching wireframes long?

Due to the iterative nature of wireframes, creating them can be a longer process than expected. The duration of the stage depends on the number of screens and the alterations to them.

6. When can you skip the wireframing stage?

It depends on the situation, but if you're not exploring a product concept that's brand new and have a design system in place, there's no need to start with a low-fidelity wireframe, you can skip right to the hi-fi one or a prototype.

7. What is the difference between a wireframe and a prototype?

These two can be considered consequent stages of product design. Wireframes are a preliminary step focused on UI, outlining the user flow, page layouts, and navigation at a very basic level (e.g., using placeholders, filler texts, and lines). Prototypes are usually more interactive, realistic, and packed with details, they can be tested, and portray what the product will be like.

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