Wireframing is an important step for all design work. A wireframe gives an overview of the structure, functionality, layout, information flow, and possible user behavior when interacting with a product.
Most commonly developed by user experience (UX) designers (although wireframes usually involve clients and developers as well), the process creates a tangible point of truth that all team members can evaluate and give feedback on.
During the initial stages of the product development process, designers use the wireframe to explore the project, test the scope, match the business’s needs, and collaborate.
Fidelity refers to the level of detail on a wireframe. There are low-, medium-, and high-fidelity wireframes. The type you use depends on the needs of a given project.
Since a wireframe is a simple representation of the finished product, it requires minimal styling, graphics, and color. With this in mind, it can be hand-drawn or created digitally.
However, even though it’s not meant to be polished, there are many necessary details a wireframe could (and should) contain. Thus, the project’s specific needs determine the kind of wireframe you create and the tools used.
When should you use low-fidelity wireframes?
If high-fidelity means more detail, then why would you even consider creating a low-fidelity wireframe? Using low-fidelity wireframes is a good idea if you’re just starting a new design, have a large number of wireframe designs to create, or want to work quickly to complete a project.
1. You’re at the very beginning of the design process.
Low-fidelity wireframes are essentially sketches. Oftentimes they are literally hand-drawn sketches done with ink and paper. If you take that into account, it makes a lot of sense to consider a low-fidelity wireframe as your rough draft.
It may not be the final wireframe you create, but it is a great place to start.
2. You have a lot of wireframes to create.
If your project has a huge scope of work, you probably don’t have a lot of spare time to spend on detailing every wireframe you’ll need to create. Start with low-fidelity wireframes for most pages, and then add only to wireframes that need more clarity.
3. You need to complete a project quickly.
If you have a lot of wireframes to create, you’ll need to work quickly to keep a project moving along. But, you may have other reasons to create wireframes on the fly. If inspiration strikes, you may want to sketch out what you’re thinking about in the moment, rather than trying to remember it later.
When should you use medium-fidelity wireframes?
Using medium-fidelity wireframes is a good idea if you’re creating a wireframe map or are working through multiple design steps before designing a more fully-functional prototype.
1. You’re putting together a wireframe map.
A wireframe map combines a visual sitemap with wireframes for each page. These are created to be comprehensive roadmaps for the development process. In this situation, there will need to be quite a few wireframes created, but low-fidelity wireframes will not offer enough detail and clarity to be followed.
It’s best to create medium-fidelity wireframes, which can be done relatively quickly, but will still be easy to understand when others are following the wireframe map later on.
2. It's the next step in a comprehensive design process.
If your project has the time and budget, medium-fidelity wireframes are the next iteration after low-fidelity wireframes are established. Adding a bit more to your wireframes may help with fleshing out your design ideas.
When should you use high-fidelity wireframes?
Using high-fidelity wireframes is a good idea if you’re closer to the end of the design process, want to test more involved user interactions, have budget and time, are working on a personal project, and in instances where there’s an outside party you’re trying to impress.
1. At the end of the design process.
High-fidelity wireframes shouldn’t be created until you know exactly what your design needs to look like, based on multiple drafts at lower fidelity.
The changes made to high-fidelity wireframes should be visually minor (adding colors, photos, and branding), and the functionality should come to the forefront of the design conversation.
2. You need to test complex user interactions.
High-fidelity wireframes make it easier to communicate the various qualities of the product. More detail allows for more accurate judgment of the user interface (UI) elements. Rather than simply showing the product’s form, they illustrate its function so you can spot strengths and weaknesses.
3. You have the budget.
High-fidelity wireframes tend to consume a lot of design time and will be more expensive to produce. If you’re working with a designer and have the budget, this shouldn’t be an issue — so long as you’ve gained the approvals necessary to move forward.
4. You’re working with a partner you want to impress.
Taking the time to create a high-fidelity wireframe will demonstrate your professionalism, as you help a partner (like a potential investor) clearly understand where the project is going.
A high-fidelity wireframe also gives this third-party a better visualization of the final product. It shows them that you’ve adequately addressed all the nuance required to create both a functional and on-brand design while also helping you to explain how it will work.
However, avoid making a high-fidelity wireframe the first wireframe you present. As mentioned above, a medium-fidelity wireframe will be less limiting and time-consuming as a first pass with a partner you want to impress. But, wowing them with a high-fidelity wireframe earlier rather than later can certainly work to your benefit.
5. You have the time.
High-fidelity wireframes are worth the time and cost necessary for production because they can help you make a better final product. They ensure that you are able to get everything you want and need in a final product.
Besides that, getting to a high-fidelity wireframe typically means it’s incorporated input from various users with varied expertise. That means a lot of eyes have been able to check for errors and find solutions.
However, high-fidelity wireframes are time-consuming (between design meetings and the actual process for creating them) and may not be feasible for projects that have short timelines and shorter budgets.
6. You’re working on your own personal project.
Of course, it’s important to invest your full abilities into work done on behalf of an employer. However, most people are willing to put in a lot more unpaid effort on a personal project.
And the extra time you input can be crucial to the success of your project if you will be using your wireframe to attract interest from investors. If you want to convince someone else to give you funds to move forward in the development process, you will need a visual (if not a functional prototype) that can fully illustrate your product’s potential.
Besides that, you can skip the collaborative drafting phase if you don’t need to convey your vision to anyone else. However, an outside eye is usually a good idea for any creative process.
Here are a few wireframe examples that demonstrate their role in the design process:
High-fidelity wireframes incorporate color, photos, and branding in this final design stage.
Back To You
If you’re working on a digital design project for your website, you’ll need to make a wireframe. In fact, you’ll need to make several.
Use your sense of yourself and any feedback you receive throughout the design process to determine how detailed your wireframe should be. Wherever possible, start with a low-fidelity wireframe and graduate to more detailed, high-fidelity wireframes as you work collaboratively to design your final masterpiece.
Originally published May 22, 2020 10:55:45 AM, updated May 22 2020