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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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  • John Rockefeller

    Wireframing makes a lot of sense on large-scale projects. But if you’re coding something small, it’s typically better to do it Agile. BTW: There is a grammar mistake in this article. The “your” in the first paragraph should be “you’re.”

  • Andre

    Another wireframing tool I find very useful (used it on my last project) is . No flash required, pretty nifty.

  • Matt Zillhardt

    Excellent article. Its nice to see a clear defined reason behind wireframing that you can easily communicate with management. Most of the time management / clients want to see something right away and don’t understand the necessity of wireframes.

    • Ashley

      @Matt, thanks. that’s exactly what i wanted to communicate ;)

  • Samoo

    Nice article!
    Maybe some visual reference of wireframing examples will be useful: e.g.

    • Ashley

      @Samoo, yeah thanks for the link: looks perfect!

  • Gjergji Kokushta

    Nice article! Usually I just sketch the main page and any page with specific features but it seems it’s good thing to go and wire frame each pages. It gives you heads up of what you need to do and plan all you got to do. A few days ago I was introduced to – Create diagrams online Real time collaboration.

    Cacoo is a user friendly online drawing tool that allows you to create a variety of diagrams such as site maps, wire frames, UML and network charts.
    Cacoo can be used free of charge.

  • Learn Web Code

    Great post. I earn my keep as more of a coder, less as a designer. But the last few times I’ve designed a site, I told myself “this needs to be the last time you do this without turning to a paper/pen wireframing session first.” I especially liked the bit about even wireframing simple contact pages, etc… Wireframing is now my 2010 afterthought resolution.

  • Gjergji Kokushta

    Nice article. I usually go and sketch the main page but I never thought to go through each page. Thanks for the advice. I also recently was introduced to – free online tool for site maps, wire frames, network charts.

    • Ashley

      @Gjergji, thanks for sharing that site, looks great!

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