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Wireframe vs. Mockup


A UX wireframe isn't a mockup of a digital product or a prototype.

A wireframe is a skeleton of a website, web application, or mobile application, their simplified, conceptual version.

Its primary goal is to help UX and UI designers and the development team visualize the appearance and functionalities of a finished product.

A wireframe contains only the most essential elements, such as:

For the record, a mockup visualizes a graphic layer, while a prototype allows you to test a product and familiarize yourself with its operation.

We write more about the differences between wireframes, mockups, and prototypes in the article "Wireframe, mockup, and prototype. Why are they so important, and how do they differ?".

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Wireframe vs. Mockup: Differences

The development and design process of digital products starts with creating low-fidelity wireframes, progresses to more refined mockups, and ends with low-fidelity or high-fidelity prototypes.

Low-fidelity wireframes outline the project of a digital product. They show how specific screens are supposed to look and determine the user flow and basic user interactions. Wireframes aren't prototypes or meant for user testing, mainly because they're inaccurate representations of the final product.

Mockups demonstrate how the final product will look like. They contain the selected fonts, color schemes, contrast, icons, and other screen content. They're made based on wireframes and reflect the aesthetic and design of the finished product. They also more accurately represent the appearance of a user interface.

Wireframes and mockups are essential for efficient communication between designers (UX, UI), product managers, stakeholders, and engineers.

Low-fidelity wireframe vs. High-fidelity wireframe

Designers create a low-fidelity wireframe, usually in grayscale and on a white sheet of paper (physical or digital). The design uses basic geometric figures like rectangles, squares, circles, and placeholder symbols.

The wireframe lacks visual elements such as colors, icons, photos, and text (even in the form of standard "lorem ipsum"). High fidelity and accuracy in a design are neither desirable nor advisable.

Wireframing involves creating a general layout of elements (text, graphics, video, menus, buttons).

Did You Know...

By limiting yourself to only the most general elements, you focus on the structure, functionalities, and method of operation. You think about the optimal use of space, not aesthetics, which, while important, doesn't determine usability and user experience.

Creating wireframes also allows you to predict and plan the paths that users will use. Most importantly, you can improve the user experience and usability even at this early stage of work.

A high-fidelity wireframe is much more complex, detailed, refined, and similar to the final product's appearance. Realistic color schemes, text, and specified distance ratios between elements also allow evaluation of the aesthetic layer. Therefore, a high-fidelity wireframe containing high-fidelity design elements becomes a mockup.

The high-fidelity wireframe is relevant to the content of a site, product, or industry and complementary to the organization's design system (if it has one).

While low-fidelity models are created early in the work, high-fidelity models are presented at a very advanced stage before coding.

With their help, it's possible to conduct user testing and collect much more valuable feedback.

Wireframing: Preparation stage

Although wireframes seem to be created "on the fly," their preparation must begin with analyzing the brief and expectations.

Comprehensive functional guidelines for information architecture, interface type, and navigation path allow you to rank individual elements.

Determine their role, function, and importance in the structure of the entire website or web application.

By planning how they work and where they're located (e.g., the home page, sub-pages), you can significantly speed up and rationalize the design process and programming work.

Two types of wireframes

There are two ways in which you can create wireframes.

Paper wireframes

Paper wireframes are created with pen and paper and are a great opportunity for designers to brainstorm and sketch different ideas. This simple method allows them to work fast and cost-effectively. Naturally, they can transfer these designs to a digital tool later.

Digital wireframes

Digital wireframes can be made with tools like Figma, Sketch, or UXPin. They're usually used by remote teams (but not exclusively) or to polish the paper wireframe. Digital wireframes are easy to share between team members and stakeholders and allow you to collaborate with the design team in real time.

Wireframes: Information architecture

Wireframes' most prominent advantage is their ability to improve information architecture, which becomes increasingly important as the project grows in size and complexity.

Information architecture design is time-consuming. Mistakes made during the conceptual phase often generate high costs (related to their repair) in later stages of the work, which is why it's so important to avoid them.

Planning information architecture requires thoughtful consideration of how content is presented so that its substance and placement best serve accessibility and unambiguity.

Wireframe also allows you to design doable actions and assess the level of clarity of the digital product structure.

Did You Know...

This method can be used to determine possible paths and ways of navigation. By considering the user interface (option and selection buttons, types of menus, etc.) in the wireframe, you can think about the website's usability from the beginning of its development.

What are the advantages of a UX wireframe?

The preparation of wireframes allows you to estimate and plan the following:

  • Time of project execution
  • Cost
  • Iterations (cyclically repeated revisions of the project)

Wireframes, prototypes, and UX mockups of a website or application should be considered essential parts of the documentation and organization of work. Wireframes are also a perfect solution for a client looking for a contractor who wants to know how much it costs to create a website.

The widespread use of wireframes (regardless of the project size) is due to their many advantages.

Wireframes allow you to:

  • Document ideas, variants, versions
  • Visualize structure
  • Test usability
  • Collect feedback — customer, project team, and user feedback
  • Test crucial design assumptions (business and functional)
  • Organize information about spacing, functions, and tools
  • Choose the best way to present different types of information
  • Catch design errors
  • Test and compare solutions that are typical, standard, and ones that deviate from the habits and expectations of users
  • Simulate paths and user flows
  • Communicate (inside and outside) concepts, ideas, and solutions.

How to make a wireframe? UX wireframe design

Understanding the client's business needs and the needs of the target users should precede creating a digital product wireframe model.

The future website or application should be a product of these two expectations.

Thanks to the simplified form and focus on the "mechanics" of the tool, you can see how quickly and effectively the customer and user can achieve their objectives.

You can see the product's potential in its most obvious and crucial layer — usability.

Did You Know...

The product skeletons should be as simple as possible while being as communicative as possible. Their visual embellishment is unnecessary, but it shouldn't be at the expense of the legibility of the drawing. A wireframe conveys general ideas, not details.

If the concepts aren't understood immediately, in an obvious way, it usually means that they were poorly presented.

For the record, concepts can be good or bad but can't be incomprehensible.

This is especially true since the ease and speed of creating a wireframe allow you to develop multiple ideas and confront different solutions with stakeholders' expectations.

Wireframes, mockups, and prototypes are invaluable tools in the development and design process. They should be a fixed element of digital product development.

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