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What is a Wireframe and Why is One Useful?

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For every website there’s a wireframe. That’s our belief. Exactly what a wireframe is, however, is something that has been debated for quite some time by website professionals. It varies depending on the companies that produce them, as well as the clients they produce them for. The size and complexity of the project will also impact on what requirements there are for a wireframe.

What is a wireframe for?

Layout

A wireframe is a tool that shows the layout of the pages, and the components within those pages, on a website. A common misconception is that this becomes the ‘design’ of the website. The reality is that a wireframe should be completely devoid of design and style.

Functionality

Many companies, including ourselves, use wireframing as a way to help clients visualise not just how their pages will be laid out, but also how they will function. Components such as navigation, sign-up forms and carousels are all displayed, often with annotations giving further detail as to what they do, or what actions they perform when interacted with. What happens when a user scrolls, navigates, clicks on various buttons? The more detail the better.

Every website has various actions that it would like its visitors to make. These could be to sign up to a mailing list, make a purchase or simply get in touch via an email or phone conversation. A wireframe gives you the power to manipulate and prioritise different aspects of the website so as best to achieve your desired goals.

What shouldn’t I use a wireframe for?

Design

At this early stage of a website project there is little point in creating a complete website design. Elements such as colour scheme, imagery and animations are all gloss that can be added once the layout and functionality has been agreed. In fact, it can be counter-productive. Sometimes including colour and images can create a distraction from the underlying layout and functionality the website requires. In addition to this, any changes to the latter mean a whole new design will be required, creating additional work and delay to the project.

Why is a wireframe useful?

Quick

Compared to a complete website design, a wireframe can be very quick to create. Seemingly large amendments to layout or functionality can be altered with relative ease, allowing you to fine-tune the website without having too much impact on the timeframe.

Cost effective

This time saving doesn’t just ensure that the website is completed in time for the client’s potential big product launch, it also helps to reduce the cost of the work.

A reference point

Whether you are the developer, designer, project manager or client, the wireframe can act as a reference point. At any stage of the website process if there is any confusion about a piece of functionality, or whether something was included in the project, then the wireframe will be your first point of call. It helps to keep everyone on the same page, and for anything more than a small project this is an invaluable tool in avoiding any possible disputes.

Summary

A wireframe can be a very powerful tool that will aid in almost every new website project. It can help to save time and money. If used wisely through the process of discussion and careful decision making, it can turn what may be a good website into a great one.


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