Let’s back up and talk about what a wireframe is first. For those looking to build a website of any size or shape, wireframes are the foundation on which to begin building. Wireframing usually comes after the site architecture has been determined by a sitemap or flowchart of the website’s pages and before the creative design phase.
What is a wireframe?
Wireframes are simple black and white layouts that outline the specific size and placement of page elements, site features, conversion areas and navigation for your website.
They are devoid of color, font choices, logos or any real design elements that take away from purely focusing on a site’s structure.
We often say that they are much like a blueprint to a home, where you can easily see the structural placement of your plumbing, electrical and other structural components without any interior design treatments.
Here is an example of what a wireframe looks like:
Overlooking this step to get to the look and feel is a huge mistake that would prove disastrous for any website or any contractor building a home. To reinforce the importance of this phase in a web process, I have outlined seven fundamental reasons why you need to wireframe.
1. Wireframes display site architecture visually
A sitemap can be a bit abstract, especially ones that are quite large. Taking the sitemap to wireframe starts the first concrete visual process for a project. Wireframes turn the abstract nature of a flowchart into something real and tangible without distractions. This step ensures that all parties are on the same page.
2. Wireframes allow for clarification of website features
In many instances, clients may not understand what you mean when you say “hero image,” “google map integration,” “product filtering,” “light boxes,” and hundreds of other types of features. Wireframing specific project features on a website provides clear communication to a client about how these features will function, where they will live on the particular page, and how useful they might be.
Sometimes you may decide to take out a feature once you see the wireframe because it just doesn’t work with what your goals are for the site. Observing the components without any creative influence allows a client to focus on other equally important aspects of the project and clarifies any expectations about how to execute features.
3. Wireframes push usability to the forefront
This step is one of the most critical points of the entire wireframing process. Creating wireframes pushes usability to the front in showcasing page layouts at their core.
It forces everyone to look objectively at a website’s ease of use, conversion paths, naming of links, navigation placement, and feature placement. Wireframes can point out flaws in your site architecture or how a specific feature may work. And this is a great tool.
4. Wireframes identify ease of updates
For clients who purchase a content managed website, this point is especially vital. A wireframe will immediately identify how well your site will handle content growth.
For example, if you only have ten products offered right now, but in six months you may have 100, you will want your website to accommodate this growth without impact to the website design, site architecture or usability. Wireframes will identify these crucial areas of content expansion.
5. Wireframes help make the design process iterative
Instead of trying to combine the functionality with the layout and creative with the branding aspects of the website in one step, wireframes ensure that these elements get taken in one at a time. This method allows clients (and other team members) to provide feedback earlier in the process.
Skipping wireframes delays this feedback and increases the costs of making changes because reworking must happen on full design mockups, not just simplified wireframes
6. Wireframes save time on the entire project Wireframing spares time in a multitude of ways Your designs are more calculated. Your development team understands what they are building. Content creation becomes much clearer. You avoid hacks later on in the process. Everyone from the web team, the agency and client are all on the same page about what the website is supposed to do and how it should function.
7. Experience shows it works
Building a website is a process. Wireframing is one of those parts of the web process that you should not skip, just as you wouldn’t construct a house without a blueprint, or live in it without decoration. Each step has an essential place in a larger process.
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