It would be pretty absurd and senseless to start building a house by focusing on the interior design, rather than the blueprints. Generating a blueprint for a building or structure ensures that every other step that comes afterwards is successful because everything depends on this.
In a similar way, wireframes are the building blocks for the design of web and/or mobile applications. Trying to ignore wireframes with the intention of saving time may only lead to the entire project failing. But before, thinking about the role of wireframes in design, it’s crucial to understand what they are in the first place.
What is a wireframe?
According to Nick Haas1, a wireframe is a simple outline in black and white that specifies the essential elements of a web or mobile application. Wireframes serve as the foundation on which the entire application is based and designed. Just like the blueprint for a structure, wireframes are developed first before the other components of the app are put in place2. The wireframe provides such critical details as the spacing of elements of the app, available functionalities, content prioritization as well as user navigation3.
Have these in mind when creating wireframes
- Wireframes are totally devoid of colour. Only blacks, whites and greys are used when creating wireframes.
- Generic fonts are used when developing wireframes. Different font sizes and stylizing between bold, italic and regular text can be used to show information hierarchy.
- Simple squares and rectangles are used as placeholders instead of highly stylized images and graphics.
All these considerations are intended to keep the user’s attention on the important details and avoid distraction.
Reasons why wireframes are critical to the design process
1. Mapping out the app functionality and features
Setting out on a journey without a map is a recipe for disaster. Wireframes serve as maps for the entire web/mobile app development process. They show the features of the app being developed, together with their key functions. The project becomes much easier to implement if there is a clearly laid out path and a plan to follow it. It is also easier to make changes to the wireframe in case something goes wrong, rather than trying to change a high fidelity mockuphaving lots of elements already. Taking the time to work on a wireframe will pay off eventually because it helps the designer avoid costly mistakes later on in the design process.
2. Focusing the attention on usability
The intention of the wireframe is to emphasis on usability and the functional aspects of the app rather than aesthetics and associated features. The fact that wireframes are devoid of color and distracting fonts and graphics means that they are straightforward and simple to use. They are therefore great tools for selling the app idea to potential clients, financiers and other stakeholders. Identifying the elements that will be included in the app and the function it serves will make it easier to make decisions whether to include them or not in the first place.
3. Prioritizing critical content
One of the greatest constraints that app designers have to deal with is the lack of space. There is usually lots of content to include but less space to put it in. designers are therefore forced to cut back on some content and only include what is absolutely necessary. This is where wireframes come in handy. Just like blueprints display only what is critical for keeping a structure standing, wireframes indicate the barest skeleton on which the entire app structure stands. Critical content is prioritized while the non-essential elements are placed lower in the hierarchy of elements.
4. Makes the design process iterative
Feedback is a critical component of any project. The various players on a particular project should be able to provide their views, which are then incorporated as the project progresses. Important suggestions, ideas and views can play a vital role in the success of the project if they are captured and integrated into the design process. With wireframes, this is possible. Key stakeholders are able to have a glimpse of the app’s outline and provide feedback on what they think and what changes need to be made. This makes the process truly iterative without the accompanying costs if wireframes weren’t used.
5. Cuts back on time and resources wastage.
The mobile/web app design process becomes faster with the use of wireframes. Designers and other experts involved in the process will have a clearer picture of what they are working on, making it possible to fasten the process. Elimination of mistakes and unnecessary errors also means that resource wastage is avoided since problems are identified and dealt with early in the wire framing stage. The process is also much more calculated and deliberate, further enhancing the quality of the product.
The use of wireframes is important to the design of mobile/web apps as seen from the foregoing. It makes it possible for both clients and designers to look at the various design elements critically and objectively, thereby ensuring that the product resulting from the process will appeal to the target audience.
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