Take a closer look at the concept of wireframing and why it should be part of the design process of any and every digital tech product.
By Simon McCade
Gone are the days of validating a new product idea by sketching it out on the back of a beermat. Users of this day and age are much more demanding than that.
Nevertheless, we still see too many tech founders and developers skipping that critical practice of wireframing and jumping straight into interface design.
This is all well and good if you want to get a product in front of people before you’ve even put your pencil down, but the number of user requirements that can get neglected with this approach can be extremely detrimental to its overall success.
Let’s take a closer look at the concept of wireframing and why it should be part of your product design process:
What exactly is wireframing in UI design?
A wireframe is the proverbial architectural blueprint of a tech product. It affords you the opportunity to define the basic structure of the product and organise the hierarchy of its user interface (UI).
The basic purpose of wireframing is to depict the overall functionality of the product itself, so it will show things like navigation, data visualisation, buttons and general layout. It’s an incredibly effective way of visualising the manner in which the interface elements will appear on the most important screens to your users.
This way, you can define the fundamental structure of your tech product in order to get early sign-off from stakeholders and other colleagues that confirm you’re heading in the right direction before you start the creating the visual design.
The danger of avoiding wireframes as an early-stage tech company
It happens time and time and time again.
Tech founders and development teams skip the wireframing phase in favour of getting to the point of launch as quickly as possible.
It’s easy to understand why. Limited resources for most tech companies mean that it’s often difficult to justify the time it takes to get wireframing right, so they jump straight into interface design.
This can cause a raft of revisions that you just don’t need further down the line – it not only creates the possibility of extra work, but obviously extra time and money, too. What's more is that it inevitably creates an inferior product that is too complicated and unsatisfying for people to use.
The reason we wireframe is to define the structure of the tech product so that we can iterate and modify much more fluidly throughout the process. It encourages discussions about how the product works, how the screens connect and how the structure of the interface appears to the users, which means opinions can be aired as early as possible and structural changes can be made as smoothly as possible at almost any stage.
Low-fidelity wireframes can confirm the validity of your product ideas
In my experience, low-fidelity wireframes are the quickest route to defining the structure of a product to be able to put it into early-stage user-testing.
This is typically the way in which you can get early confirmation of the validity of the idea from the likes of stakeholders, so it’s a crucial step towards the realisation of your design vision.
It’s a smooth and straightforward process that’s easy to replicate in your tech company as it provides a platform for feedback at the right stage of the process. If it is treated like a continuous feedback loop, you will eventually get to the stage at which all stakeholders are fully onboard with the way in which you will be addressing the problems you are trying to solve for your users.
How to create wireframes that work
Creating your wireframe and developing the prototype
There are a few different approaches you can take to this process, but low-fidelity wireframes tend to be the most efficient way of getting it right without eating up a tonne of time whilst you’re at it.
It sometimes helps to physically draw your wireframes out in the first instance. You will, however, need to translate them into a digital format at some stage; I’ve created a selection of printable A4 frames for various devices and browsers to help get you started – you can browse them here.
Once you’re ready to convert them, there are many useful, simple tools you can call upon, too; take a look at my personal favourites, Balsamiq, Figma and MockFlow.
One of the great benefits of creating your wireframes in this manner is that it forces whoever is reviewing them to focus on the functionality rather than the aesthetics. If there is no visual design to the tech product at this stage, people can’t get caught up in that level of detail. This means you can concentrate on what matters at the right stage of the process.
The key focuses here should be on forming the structure and navigation of each screen, including the architecture and hierarchy of the content you’ll be displaying.
Once you’ve defined those elements, you can take it a step on by building a simple prototype that allows you to connect each screen for an interactive user experience.
At this stage, you don’t have to worry about the actual visual design, since the clickable elements of the prototype will do enough to simulate the experience for your users. This way, you won’t be reliant on their imaginations when it comes to specific flows through the product and you get more valuable feedback.
Prototyping your wireframes might well take a little more time, but it is always worth it further down the line.
Testing wireframes with users (and stakeholders)
The all-important first testing phase is a crucial one to getting it right. You need to include the right people and this doesn’t just mean your stakeholders because they might be breathing down your neck; it means your actual target audience.
Your potential end-users will provide the most honest and insightful feedback you can imagine because, of course, they don’t have a stake in your product. They are the ones you will want to onboard, so you need to make sure you show them how you can provide value and solve their problems right from the off.
When I put the products I design through testing, I take the kind of informal approach that guides stakeholders and users through the thought-processes behind each decision.
This means asking them to perform specific tasks that have been designed with the best possible user flow in mind. It means asking them for feedback and opinions either individually or by opening up the floor for a discussion.
It’s important to keep in mind that feedback on products like these can often be subjective, so they need to be taken away from such sessions and digested with any potential preconceptions they might have had in mind.
Once you accept that preconceptions will influence user feedback, you can take only the most valuable learnings from testing sessions
Digesting the feedback
Now comes the workable aspect of getting users involved at this early stage. You can delve into their feedback, whether it’s been provided in note form or you’re using a tool like Figma, and analyse each individual screen and how it was received by your users.
It’s then time to prioritise what is worthwhile discussing, what needs to be actioned and what can be ignored.
The wireframes can then be adapted with genuine user requirements in mind, but try not to cut the corner by stopping there; this user testing can be repeated as many times as is necessary to get it absolutely spot on as early as you can before the visual designs come into play.
It might seem a little laborious to begin with, but the amount of time, money and effort you could save down the line will be a real blessing when you see real-world feedback from your actual users.
How I can help you wireframe
The benefits that wireframing can offer far outweigh the reasons for not including it as part of your product design process, but it is understandable that it isn’t always easy to find the time or experience to cover it.
Even if you can find the time, it might often be a struggle to simplify your product and increase conversions as part of your long-term plan for a sustainable product.
That’s why I’m here to help if you are looking to design or redesign your tech product with the expertise required to meet and exceed your users’ expectations.
Get in touch today and we can arrange a consultation to discuss your needs in a way that suits you.