How to Use Wireframes for Web Design

Building a website or app is much like building any other thing; a house, a machine, a car or an IKEA shelf. All of these things need and have a skeleton frame to work with, either as a blueprint or a set of instructions. In the same manner, websites and apps are built with wireframes.

Building a simple site can sometimes forego the use of a wireframe. Especially when it’s a DIY situation and the site is being built with an easy builder like WIX or Squarespace. But don’t be fooled, behind all those easy building blocks is a premade wireframe created specifically for people without previous web design skills.

For a large website with lots of content and a need for good seamless navigation, it will most definitely need a detailed wireframe. A professional web developer or designer will use a wireframe even for a smaller website.

In the world of UX and UI, you will often hear about – and use – wireframes. After the initial sketch, a wireframe is a next step towards a successful UX and UI design of any website or app.

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What is a website wireframe exactly?

A wireframe is a graphic, visual structure of any website at the structural level. The images are represented as rectangles with two intersecting lines, content is visualized as lines and buttons are smaller shapes with a simple icon.

The purpose of a wireframe is not only to visualize how each page will look individually but also how a user will navigate between the pages. Wireframes, like blueprints for buildings, carry detailed instructions about how things are put together.

Using a wireframe can save tons of time when it comes to client-designer – developer communication. Showing a client the wireframe of their website before it’s even built will bring up questions and solutions before they become full-fledged problems. They help establish a design language early on so that when the real website is life, changes and tweaks are easier to take care of.

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Wireframes have different stages of development 

The first wireframes for a website are purely structural, there are no images or branded content. Everything is visualized with place holders. Navigation is sketched on the different sections. Some developers like to build the initial wireframe on a large wall or board with printed wireframe templates. There are plenty of kits which developers can use to create this large scale visualization. This hands-on approach depends on the style of the developer and designer. Other designers and developers use special programs and software like Sketch or Mockflow to build their wireframes.

After the initial wireframe has gone through revisions, it’s time to start inserting content. The second stage starts to include specific elements like headings, section titles, button texts, images, and minimal content. This is when the site starts to be brought to life by both the UX and UI designers. 

The third stage is when the wireframe becomes a prototype of the site. This step has some of the visuals and content that the site will have but not all. This stage will help the client, designer, and copywriter decide on the quantity of content needed. For example, text boxes will have a specific size, and the content needs to fit into that size. Images will have to be resized to fit their placeholder value, etc.

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Where website developers and designers get wireframes

Just how there are different types of developers and designers, there are different types of wireframes. From pre-built wireframe templates which can be downloaded, to fully online wireframe building apps. Some website and UX development programs have wireframes included in the kit.

Wireframe kits are available for different programs or as printable A4 sheets of paper. There are even playing card size wireframe building kits for developers to build a site on the go during a meeting, for example.

Some wireframe templates and kits are changeable, some aren’t. There are wireframes for websites and there are also wireframes for apps. There are wireframes for desktop and mobile versions of the same websites. Designers can even find child themes which come with their own wireframe kit for fast building of any site.

Programs like Sketch and Adobe XD have strong wireframing capabilities which seamlessly continue onto mockups and prototyping. Teams can collaborate while building a website or app by leaving comments and other easy communication tools. UX and UI designers have it easier than ever when it comes to amazing programs for site building that isn’t only easy but also lots of fun.

Over to You

Have you ever created a wireframe or do you build sites without them? If you’re interested in learning why not take some courses or follow the step by step guide from Sketch. They have documentation even for total beginners. Happy wireframing!

By Orana Velarde