Wireframes vs No Wireframes

16 Feb

I recently read an article in UX Magazine of all places, questioning the need for presenting wireframes to clients. This article seems to take the stance that wireframes are the blue-print for visual designs and can have negative repercussions when they are discussed with the client.

The author states that: [Wireframes] provide guidance for the rest of the design process …for the designer. They can, however, be problematic or useless for the client and in some cases they’re simply a waste of time…..Put another way, many designers generate and present wireframes to clients not because they know it’s a good idea in a specific case, but because they’ve seen or heard of others doing so and they therefore think they’re supposed to as well.

In my professional experience wireframes should not be treated as blueprints for designs. Project managers or project leads that treat wireframes like this will get uninspired, over engineered designs.

Wireframes are a granular way for developers to see the functionality and interactions that need to be developed. If they have any questions, they should be able to refer to an annotated wire frame to get their answer. Wireframes are crucial to designers, to educate us to what needs to be on the page but even more crucial to the developers that are building the page.

From a visual standpoint, wireframes are just a guide. As I design a site I ask myself questions, “Does this have to be a traditional tab or could it be a pill-slider? Could this text be represented by an icon? ”

The wireframes serve my purpose as a list of what has to be on the page and give me contextual hierarchy. The interpretation of what is on the page is (usually) left open to the designer. When it comes time to go through a review process, I try to show an early take on the design next to the related wireframe. This educates the client to that fact that there is still a design process remaining after the wireframes are finished. They can see, and approve, a wireframe and then see the evolution of that wire into design. They realize that wireframes are not visual design.

Educating your client about the process is cricual to getting successful results and a happy client. The article is interesting mostly because of the conversations that it sparked within the user comments: http://www.uxmag.com/design/where-wireframes-are-concerned.

One Response to “Wireframes vs No Wireframes”

  1. Andrea 23. Feb, 2010 at 10:41 am #

    Hi John,

    I stumbled across this post and find your take on wireframes very interesting – in a good way – more like educational. I’m always interested in how people incorporate wireframes and prototypes into their processes.

    Thinking back to my project management days, I can think of several clients who would have been completely lost if presented a wireframe – even with solid explanations – but I can also think of client projects that would have gone a lot more smoothly if we had presented them the wireframes to nail down functionality and structure before going into the evolution of design. Besides educating the client, I think it’s also a case-by-case basis.

    I do like the idea of using the wireframes internally and presenting both the wireframe and design next to each other so the client can understand the functionality and rationale behind the design. This is a method I have not yet heard of. Thanks for the new perspective!


Leave a Reply