A wireframe helps you create a great user experience for the user when building a digital product — simply put, a wireframe is a blueprint for your website, application, or software.
A wireframe can be as simple or complicated as you want. Wireframes can be created with paper and a pencil, though you can also use software tools to assist your efforts.
The purpose of spending time on a wireframe is to map out user interface (UI) elements as you plan to display them, seeing how they relate according to proximity and function, as well as how they help a user achieve whatever goal brought them to your design.
Creating a wireframe helps you to focus on what’s important in terms of your design’s foundation. It empowers you to be flexible in moving things around before you’re committed to specific design elements — when changes may result in bigger headaches.
Give your product the strong design foundation it needs by finding the best fit wireframe tool for your team.
Best Wireframe Tools
While each of the following wireframe tools has unique features and specific use cases, they all share the common goal of empowering people to plan more complicated designs.
Here’s what you need to know about each of the top options on the market:
Adobe XD is Adobe's UX design app. It allows you to see your product in the prototype stage and can do everything from wireframing to basic prototyping. Its interface has a minimalist feel in comparison to other Adobe tools and new-user onboarding is relatively straightforward.
This tool lets you create a wireframe, mockup, and prototype within the same project file. There’s no need to integrate multiple tools or export after every iteration.
Adobe XD is free for one shareable prototype and up to 2GB of storage. Adobe’s Single App plan starts at $9.99/month and includes unlimited prototypes and 100GB of cloud storage space.
InVision Studio is quickly gaining popularity in the design community. Before it was released in 2018, UI designers using the InVision prototyping tool had to use a third-party wireframe tool. Now both tasks can be done with the InVision suite.
The free version of InVision Studio allows up to three active users and three documents, and works best for individuals and small design teams. For $7.95/month (on the annual plan), the Pro plan includes unlimited documents and archiving for up to 15 collaborators.
Sketch was first released in 2010 and has made a name for itself as a lightweight vector design tool. While it's a fairly basic tool for modern UI and icon vector design, it integrates with other design tools and promotes the building of integration plugins.
Sketch costs $99/year for an individual license. If you don't renew your subscription, you can continue to use the tool, but you won’t receive software updates or be able to save files to the cloud.
Figma is known for real-time collaboration. It's a robust, cloud-based tool that rivals Sketch, Adobe XD, Studio, and others on this list of wireframe tools. Although comparatively inexpensive, its features were designed to work efficiently whether you're working alone or as part of a design team.
Figma's free offering can be used for three projects and two editors, and you'll get unlimited cloud storage with it. The Professional plan includes unlimited projects and goes for $12 per user per month, billed annually.
Canva helps non-designers create simple, high-quality graphics — and you can also use it to create wireframes. It features drag-and-drop illustrations, photos, charts, and other ready-made templates and shapes for quick mockups.
Canva is free for limited use. For full functionality, the Pro plan is $9.95 per user per month, billed annually.
Proto.io is popular for its prototyping and wireframing capabilities, and it’s especially useful for user experience (UX) testing. You can gather data from users before sending your final design to developers, which helps everyone make informed design decisions.
Proto.io is cloud-based and allows multiple users to access the same document simultaneously, making collaboration not only possible but easy.
Proto.io offers a free limited account for one user. The lowest-tier paid plan is the Freelancer plan, which allows for one user and five active projects, for $24/month, billed annually. Larger teams should opt for the Startup plan ($40/month for two users and 10 active projects) or the Agency plan ($80/month for five users and 15 active projects).
Moqups is a web-based tool that allows you to build wireframes, mockups, and prototypes within the same environment. You can make designs such as wireframes, diagrams, flowcharts, sitemaps, mockups, graphs, and charts.
It has a built-in library with thousands of design elements and it’s easy to organize your projects with search and drag-and-drop features. It also permits integrations and facilitates collaboration with tools such as Dropbox, Google Drive, and Slack.
Moqups offers a free plan with 1 project and 5MB of storage. Upgrading to the Pro plan for $16/month (billed annually) gets you unlimited projects for a single user.
Balsamiq helps developers, designers, and creatives visualize their ideas quickly with low-fidelity wireframes. Instead of focusing on finer details that are characteristic of higher-fidelity sketches, Balsamiq’s interface sticks to the basics — its interface and elements imitate a hand-drawn style to emphasize content and structure over other aspects, making it handy for the beginning stages of a build.
Pricing starts at $90/year for two simultaneous projects. Larger organizations can pay $490/year for up to 20 projects. All plans allow unlimited users, and Balsamiq also offers a 30-day free trial.
UXPin is a powerful prototyping and wireframing tool. With it, you can construct maps from a library of user interface components that you can combine into UX patterns, run tests on your wireframes and collect feedback from subjects, and collaborate with teammates in real-time.
Many of UXPin’s elements incorporate advanced interactivity, so you can more actively simulate the user experience as you build out your interface.
UXPin is priced on three tiers: Basic for $19 per editor per month, Advanced for $29 per editor per month, and Professional for $69 per editor per month. All plans allow unlimited prototypes and viewers, and each increasing tier enables more advanced features like conditional logic, variables, and design systems (style guidelines for your whole team).
Cacoo is a wireframing and diagram tool built for collaboration. You can easily select and place elements from desktop, iOS, and Android libraries, and team members can track and comment on live changes to their wireframes. While a purely web-based tool, Cacoo lets users export to PNG, SVG, PDF, and PPT formats. It also integrates with applications like Microsoft Teams, Dropbox, and Adobe Creative Cloud.
Cacoo is $5 per user per month. There’s also a free version that allows unlimited users but lacks much of the useful functionality of the paid tool.
Those in need of detailed mockups can try Fluid UI, a high-fidelity prototyping tool. Fluid UI offers a library of over 2000 desktop and mobile elements for fine-grained designs, and you can upload your own graphics too. Also of note are the transition options between mockup screens, which add a bit of extra visual flair to presentations. Finally, the built-in collaboration tools will help your team flesh out your website efficiently.
Fluid UI is priced on three tiers. The Solo tier ($99/year) includes up to five projects, unlimited viewers, and one editor. The Pro tier ($229/year) is also for one user but allows up to 10 projects. The highest option, Team ($499/year), permits up to five users and unlimited projects.
Free Wireframe Tools
The tools mentioned above are all paid — at least if you plan to have more than one or a few projects.
However, there are some great wireframe tool alternatives you don't have to pay a cent to use. If you’re primarily interested in wireframing functionality over other possible complementary features, here are some options:
Gliffy is an online diagramming tool that’s free with an option to upgrade to the fully-featured version for $7.99/month. The free version is a capable tool for making mockups — it has elements for flowcharts, containers, and forms, plus other interaction elements. Users can upload their own images as well.
MockFlow is an online wireframe and sitemap builder. It allows you to plan out your site on a whiteboard-like interface, with low and high-fidelity options. It's free, with full functionality starting at $15/month.
Another solid online mockup creator, Jumpchart’s free version allows for one project with up to 10 pages and two users. Jumpchart is more focused on sitemap structure than individual page design, and can help you see the big-picture of your site before honing in on the details.
Wireframe.cc provides an ultra-minimal interface that is very straightforward to use — it’s about as close as you can get to a literal paper-and-pen prototype.
For extra functionality, premium versions run from $16 to $99 per month. The free version is likely too basic for long-term use, but it's a good resource for cash-strapped teams to get started on designs before upgrading to a paid tool.
The Best Wireframe Tools for Your 2020 Designs
There are plenty of wireframe tools for designers to seamlessly transition their projects from one stage to the next. Choosing the right tool is an important step in the design process.
If you pick the wrong wireframe tool, you risk wasting time down the line when you realize that it doesn't truly fit your needs. From there, you’ll waste even more time considering other solutions and bringing your team up to speed when you find a replacement.
So take your time evaluating what's on the market. Avoid choosing a program just because it’s popular with another team.
And when considering "free" tools, remember that most options offer a set of basic features and ask you to upgrade to a paid plan to access the best functionality. Freemium tools are great to get you started, but you'll inevitably abandon them or give in to upgrading to a paid plan — so consider spending money on the perfect solution from the get-go that will grow with you.
Originally published Oct 16, 2020 1:45:00 PM, updated October 16 2020