Design Process: Wireframe vs. Prototype

March 12, 2015In Web Design3 Minutes

Much of design requires the ability to collaborate. Whether it is with an internal team or client, having the tools to effectively present an idea and show the process to delivery is integral in gaining stakeholder approval and ultimately, the best end product. Wireframes and prototypes are great ways to work conceptually and contextually for a digital design product.

The path of designing a website or app is no different that any other creative process. Designers require a toolbox to aid in the communication and visual aspects of the project, and wireframing and prototyping are the main drivers for helping this process along.

Wireframing and prototyping have many similarities but act as lo-fi and hi-fi counterparts. Determining which method to adopt for a specific project will depend on the content, team cognition, and budget constraints.

wireframe and prototype sketch

Wireframing

Technically speaking, Wireframing has long been an important step in any screen design process. The action of planning and laying out how the user will process information will allow a greater definition of information hierarchy and result in a clearly optimized solution right from the start. Admittedly, wireframing is a low tech process but are quick, cheap and easy to produce.

Content, again, is the driver in this case. Wireframes act as a blueprint for the site before it becomes the colorful, type, and image-driven beauty that it will transform into. As with architecture, it’s important to ensure the stability of a structure before breaking ground. Many times, through this process, weak content and information will become highly visible resulting in tweaks that are more easily accommodated at this stage.

Wireframes, although not as aesthetically pleasing as their flashy counterpart, is hugely beneficial to the structure of the site as the designers and stakeholders can focus on the function, user pathways, information architecture, UX and usability aspects of a project.

Acting as a middle ground, a designer can use an interactive wireframe method for greater engagement and coherence in the design process

Prototyping

Because prototypes are a good representation of an end product, they can be an amazing tool when presenting an idea to a client or team for development and feedback. By simulating a true interaction between the interface and user, the use of a prototype proves incredibly inspiring (if the design is good) and useful in pushing  a project along.

The process of prototyping provides a realistic user environment, and the ability to test is a huge asset. The cost of prototyping is more at the outset than wire framing, however, early testing and optimization can save a great deal in ensuring the right path is taken.

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