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A Guide to Wireframing

A Guide to Wireframing

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Posted on January 17, 2010

Planning a project thoroughly is often more important than the design, app or site. If a project is badly planned and organised then your heading for a disaster.

Wireframing is usually one of the first steps to really mapping out your user flows, and is a place where all the ideas can be brought together to build a better picture of what the final project will be like. Its important to understand the purpose of a wireframe and communicate this to either your client or colleagues.

You wouldn’t build a house without an architect and plans. So why build a site without a wireframe and planning?


Project Scope

As a designer and developer who often works on personal projects in my spare time all be it limited its hard sometimes to skip the planning stage and rush straight into building something, a wireframe helps to give you project scope. It’s a flexible layout that you can easily make changes to.

Who needs to see it?

As you’d expect, a wireframe is important from a design perspective. So any designer that’s brought into a project can easily get straight up to speed understanding each element in a simplified way. But it doesn’t stop there. from a developer or architects perspective, wireframes are key for mapping out processes and getting to grips with any complex interactions.

Save money

Wireframes can help to uncover any underlying problems at an early stage in a project. Its far more cost effective to make tweeks to a wireframe than a site design or worst still site architectural changes which could also impact on site design.

Simplicity is key

You’r wireframe is in no way a basic site design. Don’t be tempted to over design your wireframe, keep it clean and simple. If anything it should help from a user interface perspective, don’t overcomplicate it with notes about AJAX elements, this can come at a later stage. If for example your wireframing a contact page that requires just three text fields and a button then thats all you need to include in your wireframe.

Don’t cut corners

Its often easy to want to skip simple pages like legal or contact pages, pages that are not regarded as high traffic. Don’t do it. wireframe each page, it’s so important to build up a complete structure of your project.


Select the right tools

When setting out its much easier to grab a sheet of paper and a pen and scribble some boxes and buttons down than dive straight into a more structured computer approach. A tool I like to use to build wireframes is Balsamiq an Adobe air application for both Max and PC that has a set of almost pre-defined stencils that you can manipulate, it even has an array of iphone development tools. If you don’t want to invest in specific software like Microsoft Viseo you can always use Adobe Illustrator, Photoshop or even Powerpoint.

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  • brinda

    In case you want link to mockuptiger here it is wireframe

  • brinda

    MockupTiger is a good html5 wireframe, you can host it on your domain, desktop, switch between hand drawn look, change fonts and prototype dashboard mockups with data

  • brian mcdermott

    Wow, great post guys!

    As a newbie to web design, and with a few new web projects on the horizon, this article alleviates a lot of the anxiety I was having about “where do I start?”

    I wonder though, 1) is it necessary to wireframe every single page that will exist throughout the site? — and 2) do you present a few various wireframe options to illustrate possible layouts—along with all subsequent wireframe pages? OR would you present, say, 2 or 3 home page wireframe layouts to the client, and then based on their feedback, flesh out the remaining wireframe pages of the chosen direction? I hope this makes sense.


  • Dan

    I love the pen and paper suggestion. It’s so tempting to simply open up a browser, or photoshop, and go to work, but I’ve found that stepping away from the laptop can offer new design perspectives.

  • George

    Nice post. I completely agree – #2 pencil first, then once the underlying structure and some sense of the navigation is drawn out – move to a functional mockup system. The one that I’ve really fallen in love with is FlairBuilder – which just keeps getting better (and even imports Balsamiq files!).. Mockingbird looks very interesting as well.
    The whole process really helps solidifying the navigation, content needs at each stage, and the overall look and feel – prior to really writing a lot of code.

    One thing that would make the system complete is a way to move directly from functional mockup to a CMS… maybe the folks at Joomla or Drupal could figure this transition out.

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  • Kevin Mist

    I have never had much luck with the computer versions of the wireframe. I guess I am an old guy (relative to this business) but I still like using the number 2 pencil on a piece of notepaper for mine. I typically do each unique page although I will admit to having skipped this (and regretted it later)

    Nice post. Keep up the good work