When people envision the construction of a house, they probably imagine the sounds of drills and the installation of a roof — not the extensive drawings and calculations made long before the first brick was laid.
Just because that planning doesn’t get as much attention doesn’t mean it’s not important. Building a house without careful planning is possible, but that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea. The same applies to the world of software design. Low fidelity wireframes and high fidelity wireframes are the unsung heroes of excellent software.
What are wireframes?
Wireframes represent a clear overview of the page structure. Its layout, architecture, flow, functionality, and behaviors. However, wireframes don’t show colors, styles, or any other design details. One can draw a wireframe by hand or create it digitally, depending on how much detail is required by the client. Their main purpose is to save time for each party involved in the project. Let’s dive deeper into wireframes.
Why Do You Need Wireframes?
Whether you want to have a reliable house, a powerful application or a highly-functional website, the same rule applies to each case.
Take your time for thorough planning.
It’s not a waste of time, but the opposite. Wireframes save designers, developers, and their business partners time and effort. Not using low fidelity wireframes and high fidelity wireframes means adding that extra time and money onto a project for a redesign. A costly situation.
A wireframe is a simplified visual representation of a layout for a website or the screen of an application’s interface. Wireframes are like architectural blueprints. Usually black and white illustrations, sometimes with bright marks or spots. These help to outline specific areas or points, to give a clear vision of the project structure, and connections between the different parts.
The advantage of accepting the importance of wireframes is that they give clients, designers, and developers the opportunity to quickly plan and validate the value of the design of a page or screen. All this long before any great efforts have been made to design and build that same peage.
When and Why You Need Wireframing
Wireframing is most effective at the beginning of every design process when the main objective is creating the product’s structure.
Designers use wireframes for many reasons. The first is to outline visual and typographic hierarchy on user interfaces. Second, they use wireframes to plan transitions and interactions. Third, to organize the general interface in order to deliver the most valuable information to their team — and ultimately the end-users.
Since a wireframe is focused on the structure, rather than the visualization of details and styles, designers try to keep it simple. Wireframes are mostly limited to monochromatic color schemes, where only boxes and lines represent copy, pictures, and overall the page’s elements.
What Are Low Fidelity Wireframes?
The low fidelity definition is quite simple. A low fidelity wireframe is the first visual representation of a designer’s idea. It ensures that the developers and clients get a clear understanding of the functionalities and designs that the software needs to support.
Don’t be fooled.
Despite their minimalism, designers can find wireframes, especially low-fidelity wireframes, inspiring. They are flexible tools that provide room for experimentation. This makes the creative process more productive and less expensive, giving room for a field of fresh, outstanding solutions.
What Are the Benefits of Simple Wireframes?
Low fidelity wireframes are beneficial for both clients and teams. On the one hand, they enable teams to be Agile, meaning they help project stakeholders determine the best solution for end-users faster. On the other hand, a low fidelity wireframe — not a complex, fully-baked design — is enough to help the client determine whether to add or remove features in an interface.
Wireframing also saves time for both parties and ensures all designs are well-thought-out. With their simplicity, low fidelity wireframes are quick and easy to reshape so that usability is ensured before further design and development efforts take place.
Developers Know Low Fidelity Wireframes Mean Less Churn
The other benefit a team gets from the wireframes is that developers can see the placement of the elements on the page.
When entire teams can visualize and agree upon the inclusion of features earlier in the development lifecycle, they spare their clients additional costs later on in development.
If designers use digital tools to create low fidelity wireframes, this allows developers to comment and share their ideas. This results in more efficient work for all parties involved.
Types of Wireframes
Consisting of boxes and lines, a wireframe can be as basic as a sketch on paper or a whiteboard.
Most designers create wireframes with different fidelity levels within a short time that illustrate simple visual elements.
Wireframes typically fall into one of three groups:
1. Lоw Fidelity Wireframes
Lоw fidelity wireframes are usually black and white schemes or simple sketches on paper focused on the “big picture” of the page/project. They show UI elements as boxes and lines without detailed annotations.
While lоw fidelity wireframes are usually abstract, they offer a chance to see the basic structure of the user interface. They may not take a lot of effort, but they spare a lot of extra effort down the road.
They help businesses shape their product in the early stages of collaboration with the development team.
2. Medium Fidelity Wireframes
Designers can create medium-fidelity wireframes in a monochrome or grayscale palette. It’s best to create medium-fidelity wireframes manually. But using digital tools to create more detailed and realistic UI components can also be meaningful for understanding how some aesthetic details could merge with essential functionalities.
3. High Fidelity Wireframes
To create high fidelity wireframes one must solely use digital tools.
The core difference from the other types of wireframes is that high fidelity wireframes are built-in with color and present screens that are closer to how they would appear in the final version of the software.
High Fidelity Wireframing vs Prototyping
Designers create both wireframes and prototypes in full color. That’s why it’s easy to mistake one for the other. But with different aims and focuses, they are actually used at different stages of the design process.
While low, medium, and high fidelity wireframes focus mostly on conveying the structure of the page, prototypes give a more detailed look at the interaction behind the UI elements, their style, and positioning. Prototypes, unlike wireframes, are very helpful later on during the user-testing stage. Their initial purpose, however, is usually for the client to see if the solutions and decisions made about the product are efficient.
Know When to Use Wireframes vs Prototypes
Prototypes enable designers, clients, and test users to validate the usability and overall value of solution design. But in terms of design, they are still different from the final product itself, and this distinction is key.
Teams do best to use prototypes at different stages of the UI process according to the requirements and goals of the project at hand. Prototypes transform static wireframes into clickable and interactive assets so the designer can test the interface. This is a key step in the design process because it allows identifying possible problems and difficulties with user interactions.
Making alterations, adding elements, and changing transitions is much more time-consuming and costly for the client if done during the implementation of the design. Prototyping avoids this, validating interactions within software before the development team starts with their work.
Prototyping is an efficient and useful way for designers to validate their work and test their assumptions before shifting from UX design to UI implementation.
There are, of course, exceptions. Prototyping for the sake of validating aspects like usability and aesthetics in the final phase of UI design is not as reasonable as some might think. It is important to check the usability thoroughly during the UX design stage. Otherwise, it would be much harder to improve an inefficient user experience after much of the UI elements have been completed.
6 Tips to Make Wireframing More Efficient
There are no big secrets about creating quality low fidelity wireframes, medium-fidelity wireframes, and high fidelity wireframes. Still, there are some tips that designers and their clients can use to drive value throughout the software development process.
1. Do Thorough Research Beforehand
Do not start the wireframing process before outlining project goals, identifying the target audience, and understanding the problems that the product needs to solve. In such cases, it’s good to use heuristic evaluations before stepping into the process of wireframing.
2. Keep Them Simple
The aim of a wireframe is to create a structure of the page design. Save the details for later. Keep them simple now.
3. Use a Monochromatic Palette
The design process is more productive if the designer completes low fidelity wireframes sooner, and leaves details such as colors, shadows and fonts for the next step.
4. Write Annotations
If a designer plans to present a wireframe to the team, depending on the project and client needs, it’s a good idea to include annotations. These can prompt conversation and provide a guideline for those revisiting wireframes later on.
5. Gather Feedback
Ask team members’ opinions and even those of potential users. It is an effective way to improve the work and saves time for later stages that will require more intensive design work.
6. Always Use a Grid
For designers, a grid is a series of vertical and horizontal lines that divide a page into spaces used for margins, columns, inter-column spaces, lines of type, spaces between blocks of type, and images.
A grid provides designers a foundation for an entire software layout. They are especially helpful for multipage documents, making the design process quicker, and ensuring visual consistency between related pages.
Development teams also benefit from grids. They use them to space assets evenly as they take away the guesswork out of defining and maintaining proper spacing, margins, padding, etc.
Wireframes Take Low Effort & Offer High Return
Wireframes, especially low fidelity wireframes, are effective tools that save time and expenses both for software teams and their business partner. Offering simple ways to validate ideas early on before extensive design or development processes have begun, they decrease the chances of major pivots later on during technical engagements.
Image Source: Unsplash, Cris DiNoto