Are Wireframes Obsolete?


Are wireframes obsolete? For years they’ve been used to help web design and development teams reach shared solutions and gain efficiencies on big projects.

But with the shift toward rapid prototyping tools like Bootstrap, Framer, and others, are they really needed anymore?

Who Needs Wireframes?

Earlier this week one of my colleagues also questioned the value of wireframes. Are they obsolete?

That same day I read this article on Medium firmly denying the need for wireframes ever again.

The death of wireframes has percolated through the internet for a few years now in favor of rapid prototyping.

Whether or not using wireframes makes sense depends on the specific project and the desired outcome. Yes, small scrappy startup teams can easily piece together a patchwork of screens inspired by established apps and mock them up in an online tool.

But that doesn’t mean it’s the right solution. It’s just a starting point.

It may get them to their MVP in a few days, but possibly at the expense of an unpleasant customer experience. To prevent that from happening, someone has to carefully think through each interaction from beginning to end.

Someone has to know the purpose, audience and end goal of the website or app. That’s why UX professionals are highly valued by the startup community.

On the other hand, large corporations with lots of stakeholders can’t move that fast no matter how many agile books they read. In this case, high-fidelity wireframes serve two purposes. One is for client presentation. The other is to serve as a conceptual blueprint for design and dev teams.

Do You Know What You’re Building Yet?

Rapid prototyping works great if you know the full scope of a project. Wireframes help you figure out what that scope should be in the first place. Whether hand-drawn on a whiteboard, paper or created in software, wireframes are basically dressed up rough sketches.

When content and functionality need clear definition, wireframes help teams flesh that out. They fill the gap between abstract concepts and concrete, real-world designs.

Wireframes provide the initial structure and roadmap of a website or app. They enable teams to quickly change direction and/or explore multiple design solutions before heading in a specific direction.

They can also be used iteratively as lo-fi prototypes. As long as you don’t get married to them they can be as flexible as needed.

But Wireframes Are Boring

Because wireframes require a bit of imagination and creative license, they aren’t easy for most business people to comprehend. Business people want quick, concrete solutions they can easily see and understand.

So most stakeholders struggle with wireframes. They would rather “skip right to pretty”, thinking the visual design will provide the necessary understanding and context when a design is still in the abstract exploration stages.

Unfortunately, rushing into visual design without first thinking through the mechanics often results in miscommunications and project delays due to re-work.

What they don’t realize is that going right to visual design takes the focus off initial content and functionality and moves it to dozens, possibly hundreds of micro design decisions such as the color and shape of buttons, font choices, line spacing, padding, shadows, accessibility, etc.

While visual design absolutely provides the best context for a digital product, it’s not the best planning tool.

Do You Really Want That In The Kitchen?

Think of the architect’s humble blueprint. Would you build a new house without first hiring an architect to help you sketch out your vision? How would you know what types of building materials were needed, what kind of form and function the house would need straight from your imagination?

Would it make sense to hire a contractor and engage everyone involved in that effort if you had no way to communicate it?

That’s why I think there will always be a need for some sort of wireframes in digital design. They are a trusted, proven method for teams to think on paper or software and plan out effective design solutions.

Over To You

But enough about what I think. What do you think? Please let me know your thoughts in the comments.

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