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What is the relation between wireframing and prototyping?

relation between wireframing and prototyping

In today’s world, we have many tools which help in building prototypes. These prototypes can have various fidelity levels at different steps. A lot of wireframing and prototyping tools are available to us as designers. The best design is iterative, as there is always room for improvement. Design Validation is a critical step in the whole design process.

Testing at every step lets you figure out the issues immediately, and this is extremely helpful in preventing the wastage of effort. If you can identify the problem early, it will be simpler and less expensive to fix it. There are tools like Balsamiq, which let you make very basic wireframes, to tools like Sketch, Adobe XD which allowed you to make the pixel perfect end product.

Are Prototypes, Wireframes, and Mockups the same?

The answer is No. But instead of giving you a long explanation, how about I let this table highlight the essence of each method in the design process –

 WIREFRAME MOCKUPPROTOTYPE
FidelityLow-fidelityMid- to high-fidelity mockupHigh-fidelity
Main traitsSchematicStaticInteractive
FocusConceptualisationVisual designFunctional design
Used forBuilding app architecture and logic; documentation; initial visualizationBranding; experimenting with design  User testing; building confidence prior to coding
Wireframe Prototype ToolsAxure or SketchSketchSketch + Invision or Flinto
Time1+ weeks1+ weeksSeveral weeks or months

A wireframe is a visual guide that represents the skeletal framework of a website. It depicts the page layout or arrangement of the website’s content, including interface elements and navigational systems, and how they work together. We can create a wireframe by arranging elements to accomplish business objectives and creative ideas best. Wireframes show the logic of a website or an app. They present the product at its inception stage and consist of boxes or circles, lines and text.

example of wireframe

Example of wireframe

Wireframing Process is an initial step in your design process, and arguably it’s one of the most important ones and is the first step between wireframing and prototyping. Even though the wireframing process looks simple, it has a significant impact on the outcome of the final product. It’s the time when your ideas start to take shape. This blog post helps you understand the right (and wrong) ways to do wireframing and prototyping. The tips mentioned in this article will help you build better wireframes for your web and mobile experiences.

A mockup isa kind of high-fidelity static design diagram, that demonstrate information frames and statically present content and functions. It is the second step between wireframing and prototyping – a graphic representation that looks like a finished product, but it is not interactive and clickable. It helps to provide a picture of how a finished product can be and helps in reviewing visually. With a mockup, you shape the look of your app. A mockup may include buttons, text bars, content layout, colours and graphics, typography, spacing around components, navigation graphics and other visual elements.

Prototypes are advanced mid to high fidelity wireframes with more visual details and interaction. It is the third and final step between wireframing and prototyping. After all, prototypes are the live model of a design you made, like a physical prototype of a remote control made up of a cardboard box. A prototype should be as similar to the final product as possible to model the user experience. Therefore, a prototype should –

  • Connect all elements in an interactive flow,
  • Be a basis for new insights,
  • Encourage further development and be a testing and learning tool.

 Example of wireframing, mockups and prototyping

Example of wireframing, mockups and prototyping.

Benefits of Wireframing

  1. Faster to create as compared to high-fid mocks because of less focus on details.
  2. Easier to iterate and modify based on feedback
  3. More comfortable for users to review, suggest.
  4. More comfortable for a designer to put out in the world
  5. Focuses on significant details rather than minute details

A lot of digital tools also provide UI kits for wireframing and prototyping, where the designer’s job is only to drag and drop the elements from the menu. It saves a lot of effort into drawing and redrawing each element every time. Some people also create clickable prototypes within the wireframes itself, which allows for a better understanding of the user flow and navigation.

Types of Wireframes

Low fidelity wireframes

After the paper prototyping, the next in line is Wireframing. After the base foundation of the product is laid out on paper, it is time to start progressing to a digital medium. A digital medium offers more flexibility and fidelity. Wireframes are the more detailed prototypes on paper. They are kind of the skeleton for your product. Mostly monochromatic using only boxes and lines.

Generally, you can create digital wireframes using tools like Adobe XD, Balsamiq Wireframe, MockFlow etc. The best part is, you do not have to consider details like colours, fonts, aesthetics of visual elements and interactions in wireframes. With less attention to the particulars, a designer has his focus on essential things like functionality, workflow, information architecture, etc. 

High-fidelity wireframes

After creating low fidelity, the next step is high-fidelity wireframes that refer to more details and simple interactions.

Designers use it to convey the ideas; clearly, you can add more UI details and simple interactions to the low-fidelity wireframes with a professional wireframe tool, creating high-fidelity wireframes.

Clickable wireframe

Amongst the other types of wireframing and prototyping, these are the incredibly accurate prototypes with all the interactive and visual details. These prototypes are generally made perfect to a single pixel, where the designers use exact colours, fonts and other interactive elements. Clickable wireframe allows some improvement in the design with real interactions. The user can have an immersive experience of using the product with such interactions. The user can walk through the entire product using a clickable wireframe.

The clickable wireframe also allows the developers to understand each interaction in the product. Some of the most common tools for creating clickable prototypes are Invision, Sketch, AxureRP, Figma, Adobe XD etc.

Benefits of prototyping

Between wireframing and prototyping, on an elementary level, digital prototyping let us create a visual representation of the idea in mind, and on final stages it lets us create near-real clickable prototypes which mimic the behaviour of the product before development.

  1. These prototypes let us put our assumptions and ideas to test and allow us to tailor-fit the product at each step of creation itself.
  2. Clickable prototypes also let us test the information architecture, visual hierarchy and interactions.
  3. It bridges the gap between designers and developers and lets them prepare for the development work.
  4. As clickable prototyping could be an immersive experience, it becomes easier to test it with real users in real like scenarios. Also, you can examine the product in a very straightforward way.
  5. Digital Prototyping allows stakeholders to view and understand the look and feel of the product, which can further aid in creating business proposals for sponsors and investors.

Types of prototypes

Amongst wireframing and prototyping, we classify prototypes into three basic categories, which we base on the level of details and effort put into them –

  1. Rapid/Paper prototyping
  2. Low-fidelity wireframes
  3. High fidelity prototyping or clickable mockups
  4. Interactive Prototyping & Simulations

As we go from lower to higher on the fidelity scale, we can start giving a comprehensive view of all kinds of details like visual and interactive etc.

Rapid/Paper Prototyping

In the beginning, when the idea is the crudest, the very first ideas are laid out on paper. Paper is the cheapest tool for wireframing and prototyping; one has all kinds of freedom using paper and a pencil. Another advantage of using paper for wireframing and prototyping is it allows collaboration. You can then start the very first level of testing using your paper prototype.

The more you draw, the better you get at communication and creativity. Paper also doesn’t come with a weight of huge expectations. Users feel free and unburdened while reviewing a paper prototype. It also invites suggestions and idea from everyone. Along with all these qualities, the paper also is the fastest medium. A paper prototyping kit is simplest amongst all of wireframing and prototyping to make and quickest to use.

Clickable Prototyping

The next step in wireframing and prototyping would be to produce clickable prototypes. You can do this for Lo-Fi wireframe as well, but it seems to have more impact when you begin clicking through wireframes that look like the final polished app.

Clickable wireframe and prototype example

Clickable wireframe/prototype example

The clickable prototyping allows users, designers and developers to understand how the app will flow between screens, which buttons do what, etc. It’s a great way to get further insights and opinions from users as they can step-through the app without you having to invest a large amount of time and resources in creating a functioning prototype to do the same thing.

Native prototyping

In wireframing and prototyping, native prototyping is also known as coding. When you place a prototype natively, it is required to build and test design ideas on real devices. It requires strong technical proficiency. This type of prototyping is essential when a product requires data that is hard to emulate using design software (for example, if you’re building a mobile app that needs real GPS data).

Coding of apple website

Coding of apple website


Wireframe prototype examples

Search results for eCommerce website in wireframing and prototyping

Search results for eCommerce website

Designer: Michał Nowakowski

 Platform: Web

 Fidelity: High

In this example of wireframing and prototyping, the wireframe listed below features a few essential areas — filters, relevant products, and sorting. It’s easy to understand how the filtering will work just by looking at this wireframe.

Loan app screens

Loan app screens

Designer: Ryszard Cz

Platform: Mobile (iOS/Android)

Fidelity: Medium

In this example of wireframing and prototyping, you can see that simplicity and transparency of information are two critical characteristics of good design for people who are thinking about investing their money. It’s easy to see that crucial information in-app wireframe examples has visual priority. Each screen is helping the user to find all the required information at a glance.

Decision-making app

Decision-making app

Designer: Inna Havryk

Platform: Mobile (iOS)

Fidelity: Medium

In this example of wireframing and prototyping, you can see that the decision-making app helps users solve challenging questions. The wireframes are provided in a format of user flow, and this format communicates the concept to the product team and stakeholders. The layout is minimalistic but contains all essential information and UI elements.

Conclusion

 In this blog post of wireframing and prototyping, wireframes help bring usability to the forefront and strongly utilise them to illustrate the layout of pages and the functionality of the elements on the page. Whereas mockups help in a mockup provides at least part of the functionality of a system and enables testing of a design. And a prototype is a demo of what a product is going to look like when it goes live. The characteristics of wireframe, mockups and prototype processes complement each other, making it one of the reasons why many designers follow all the three process for designing, rather than favouring one over the other. That was one of the main reasons behind this blog post of wireframing and prototyping.

Wireframe prototype tools like Adobe XD, Sketch, Figma have now occupied a central place in the user experience designers’ toolbox. These tools act as a bridge between the ideas captured on the paper prototyping stage and the finished build; they are enabling designers to transform how user experience designers work.

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    1 Comment

  1. I constantly spent my half an hour to read this website’s content everyday along with a mug of coffee.

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