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What is Wireframing in UX Design?

09
Jul
2024
UX/UI
What is Wireframing in User Experience Design

Wireframing is one of the most important and exciting stages of the Product Design process. Product Designers create wireframes to quickly define how the product is going to look and how it will help users solve a specific problem. With wireframes, Product Designers can clearly represent the User Experience (UX) of the entire product. Wireframes provide the basis for creating interactive and usable prototypes needed to validate business ideas. They work as the framework or road map that guides the creation of the final product. Let’s dive deeper into what Wireframing is and why it’s so important in UX Design. 

What is Wireframing?

Wireframing is the process of defining the structure and layout of the final product with a collection of screens. Each screen or wireframe represents an interaction or touch point a user will have with the final product, involving the way they connect to each other. In other words, a wireframe shows a specific action the user has to take. Wireframing also involves the creation of all the User Interface (UI) elements in a product and the way in which they will be arranged on every screen. It uses findings from thorough User Research to ensure that the product addresses users’ needs and solves a real problem for them. In this manner, Wireframing plays a major role in the product’s usability and overall UX. 

Types of Wireframes in UX Design

There are three main types of wireframes depending on their level of detail and complexity. They have different purposes and also provide different benefits to the Design Process. 

The first type, low-fidelity wireframes, or lo-fi wireframes, are initial design drafts used in the early stages of the Product Design process to ensure the product has the elements arranged in a proper way and features to provide a great UX. To make them, designers can use pen and paper or digital wireframing tools, which makes them practical and cost-effective to explore multiple solutions quickly. Since they omit things like colors, images, and typography, lo-fi wireframes allow UX Designers to focus on the Interaction Design process. It is also convenient to ensure the stakeholders are pleased with the UX by avoiding unnecessary distractions at that stage. 

On the other hand, mid-fidelity wireframes are more like refined structural layouts. They include much more detailed spacing and text layout, making the important UI elements of a page more noticeable to users. Mid-fidelity wireframes incorporate images, headlines, and buttons, helping define how different pages will connect to each other. UX Designers get a much clearer and more accurate representation of how the product will look and function, helping them evaluate the visual hierarchy of design elements. Mid-fidelity wireframes typically require the use of an advanced wireframing tool to help guarantee precision and consistency in UI elements. 

Lastly, high-fidelity wireframes, or hi-fi wireframes, provide a much deeper level of detail about the product. These polished design blueprints make it much easier for UX Designers to identify potential usability issues as they get real user feedback. Wireframes delineate every single interaction users have with a product from the moment they open it up until they complete their intended purpose. On top of that, hi-fi wireframes help evaluate interactivity on multiple screen sizes with ease through pixel-specific layouts, which help assess the product’s responsiveness.

Wireframing vs Prototyping in UX Design

Paper and digital wireframes are static, aiming to outline the structure of a product, including User Interfaces (UIs) and navigation layout. You can think of them as the skeleton of a prototype, which focuses on interactivity. In other words, prototypes are interactive wireframes that intend to pass as a realistic representation of a product aiming to get honest feedback from its users.  

The wireframing process tends to be a quick process with relatively low risk and costs. On the other hand, the time, risk, and costs required to build a prototype can be significantly higher. Finally, it's worth mentioning that the digital tools UX Designers use for each task are also different. Two of the most popular digital wireframing tools with robust solutions for prototyping include Figma and Sketch. UI/UX Designers can also use tools such as Framer or Webflow for more functional and interactive prototyping. Both Framer and Webflow also allow UI/UX Designers to launch the finished product and make it live as a fully functional websit

When to Start Wireframing in UX Design?

The exact moment when the design team should begin the wireframing stage can depend on multiple factors. Some include product, complexity, the amount of research needed, and the way the teams approach the Design process. For example, in a typical Design Sprint, teams can start creating visual designs and interface elements with paper wireframes on the second day, which involves brainstorming and sketching. However, if you're using the Design Thinking methodology, you should start wireframing on the "Ideate" phase, after "Empathize" and "Define." In either case, the Wireframing process, an important design phase, should be implemented as soon as the team has a clear understanding of the user needs and business requirements.

Note that not all projects require low-fidelity wireframes at the beginning of the ideation phase. Low-fidelity wireframes can be useful for exploring new concepts and design ideas that may not have been tested before. Tom at Figma argues that if you're using a Design System and your idea is similar to others in the market, you can start with high-fidelity designs. He mentions that this approach would be just as effective as starting with rough sketches.

Conclusion

Effective wireframes support the process of user-centric and successful digital Product Design. These skeletal frameworks have a strong impact on design decisions, helping teams align users' needs and business goals. As a UX-driven, full-cycle Product Development agency with 14 years of experience in UI/UX Design, we know how the advantages of wireframing impact the UX Design process. Feel free to check out our showcase of UI/UX Design projects and contact us if you’d like to hear about our approach to bringing bold business ideas forward.