Website mockups give the first clear picture of how a website will look for you and your fellow stakeholders and is a vital step that all web designers should understand. From jotting ideas down on notepads to low-level sketches up through user testing and programming, the entire process can feel daunting, especially if it’s your first time.
On the flip side, it's exciting to see a website come to life, going from an idea in one designer’s mind to a fleshed-out online presence. In the website design process, a mockup is when that final product truly begins to take shape.
In this guide, we’ll explain what a mockup is, when you make them, and how they’re made. Then, we’ll recommend some tools you can use to draft your mockups and turn your notepad pages into stunning web pages.
What is a website mockup?
A website mockup is a static visual model of what a web page, website, or web application will look like in its final form. A mockup is designed to resemble the final product, but it is not yet functional (i.e., you can’t interact with it).
When do you create website mockups?
A website mockup includes main layouts, branding, colors, fonts, and content like text and images. Mockups are static and It simulates the final website but doesn't include animations, pop-ups, or working links, which are added later in the prototyping phase.
Website mockups are a crucial part of the website creation process. They come after the ideation/research wireframing phase and serve as fleshed-out designs that include content, branding, and styling. Mockups allow designers to receive feedback from stakeholders and iterate on their designs before moving on to prototypes.
They are important because they help visualize and finalize the key design aspects of a website, such as text, images, buttons, layout, color schemes, and branding elements. Mockups can be easily altered and shared with stakeholders, keeping everyone aligned on the final product.
Mockups are the next phase after wireframes, when low-fidelity sketches become fleshed-out website designs. A mockup takes the fundamental layouts from a wireframe and adds content, branding, and styling. It’s also here that designers will receive feedback from stakeholders and iterate on their mockup designs before continuing to prototypes.
Like wireframes, mockups can have different levels of fidelity. Below, we have a low-fidelity mockup on the left and a high-fidelity mockup on the right:
In prototyping, the mockup is converted into a high-fidelity, interactive demonstration of the website. While not the final coded website, a prototype simulates a website’s look and behavior as closely as possible. Designers use prototypes for user testing to receive valuable feedback about the site’s usability.
Once the prototype is approved, the website’s design is finally handed over to a development team that programs the website and prepares it for launch.
Why are website mockups important?
Mockups are a key phase in the design process. For little cost, they let you visualize and finalize the key design aspects of a website, including:
- Text, images, and other media content
- Buttons, CTAs, forms, and other prominent page elements
- Page layout
- Visual hierarchy
- Color schemes
- Branding elements
- Visual accessibility, including color contrast
- Visual consistency across pages
Mockups are easily adjustable and allow for testing and comparing alternate versions. They can be shared with stakeholders for feedback and changes can be made freely. Designers can also test different versions on users to gather feedback.
Additionally, mockups keep internal teams aligned on the final product. A good mockup conveys the design team’s vision for a website to product managers and developers. When it comes time to code the website, mockups serve as a visual reference for developers and clarify any ambiguity in the design specs.
All in all, website mockups are the bridge between the low-fidelity ideation stages and the high-fidelity demo stages of the process — they give everyone an understanding of how the website will actually look when loaded in a browser.
How to Create a Website Mockup
When moving into the mockup phase of your website creation process, you’ll ideally have a clear idea of your website’s audience and purpose, and some wireframes to reference when creating your mockup. If so, you can skip to step two. Otherwise, let’s start from the top.
1. Create a wireframe.
Create low-fidelity wireframes to determine the layout and structure of your web pages without getting caught up in the details. Check out our beginner's guide to website wireframes for more information.
Create wireframes using pen and paper, print-outs, or dedicated software. Focus on clear drawings that distinguish between page elements like text, images, navigation, CTAs, and key elements.
You can create mobile wireframes to plan the layout of your mobile site early in the process. This avoids the need to adapt a completed desktop design to mobile and ensures a consistent look between the desktop and mobile versions at launch.
2. Add visuals to your wireframe.
Start creating mockups using your wireframe as a foundation. Incorporate key design aspects such as:
- Page elements
- Color scheme
Take your time adding design features one-by-one and iterate until you have a client-ready deliverable.
3. Collect feedback, test, and redesign.
Website mockups are essential for conducting user testing and gathering feedback on design. They allow you to gauge the usability of the website and make necessary adjustments. Mockups can be shared with team members, clients, and stakeholders for feedback and can be easily modified. It's important to remember that mockups are not the final product and can be easily changed.
4. Turn your mockup into a prototype.
Once the website mockup is approved, it can be turned into a prototype, an interactive model that simulates the user experience. This allows for usability testing and improvements before handing the designs off to developers.
Website Mockup Tools
Your website design team relies on software tools throughout the entire design process, and the choice of tools depends on factors such as budget, team preferences, and the level of detail in wireframes and mockups. There are two main categories of design tools: end-to-end tools that allow you to create wireframes and prototypes in one tool for convenience and consistency, and tools specifically for mockup creation.
There are tools specifically for mockup creation, which allow you to draft wireframes and then transfer them to the mockup tool. Some tools focus on both wireframes and mockups, while others focus on mockups and prototypes. Additionally, graphic design software tools can be used for high-fidelity mockups that provide realism, especially for unconventional website designs. It is important to ensure that the mockups created can ultimately be coded into a proper website.
Here are some tools you should consider for your mockup phase and beyond:
- Adobe XD: The first of the Adobe products listed here, Adobe XD is an end-to-end UX design application for Windows and macOS. Adobe XD handles design tasks for wireframes, mockups, prototyping, and developer handoff, and leans heavily into pre-build components and third-party libraries to help build out designs efficiently.
- Figma: Figma is another end-to-end design tool for a wide range of website-building and application-building cases. It’s a freemium web-based tool, allowing teams to collaborate simultaneously on a file and access cloud files from one place. It also offers a wealth of features and design resources to aid your process, and you can get some decent mileage from it for free.
- Adobe Illustrator: Illustrator is a popular graphic design tool and the industry standard for vector graphics. Illustrator is excellent for wireframing and mockups, and is relatively easy to learn.
- Sketch: This Mac-only design tool packs a user-friendly, end-to-end design experience in one. It offers robust collaboration features to support your entire team, plus an impressible library of third-party extensions and component libraries.
- InVision Studio: Try this option if you’re creating higher-fidelity mockups. More oriented toward prototyping, InVision Studio makes the transition from mockup to prototype more manageable. InVision Studio is free but was designed to be used with InVision design collaboration software.
- Adobe Photoshop: We bet you’ve heard of this one — Photoshop is a staple among graphic designers and can also be used to draft mockups. If your mockups are lower-fidelity, we’d recommend using Adobe Illustrator or XD instead. But, for more detailed or unconventional designs, it doesn’t get much more powerful than Photoshop.
Website Mockups: Bring Your Site to Life
Starting a new website comes with a lot of uncertainty. There are many ideas and concepts discussed in the abstract, and no real visuals to show for them. The mockup phase is when things begin to fall into place — it’s the first time you create something that really looks like your product, which can be highly useful and motivating.
This is why you want to keep website mockups as part of your process, and to do them right. While wireframes act as the blueprint and prototypes make user testing possible, website mockups unite these phases. They make the value of your designs clear to your internal team and to your clients, and open the door for feedback to perfect it.