Wireframes vs Prototypes : An In-Depth Look

Regardless of experience, designers can still easily mix up the terms “wireframe” and “prototype.” Misunderstanding the two – even among seasoned and veteran designers – still happens even though the differences between the two are clear-cut. If you are one of those designers, you need to know what a wireframe is first.

Developers consider a wireframe as a low fidelity version of the project. Low fidelity means that it doesn’t completely represent the appearance of the project once it’s done. Developers use a wireframe when they need to do the following:

  • Create the visual layout of the project
  • Establish its structure outline
  • Describe the user interface and its contents
  • Provide information about the function of each of the project’s layer

Everything starts with a wireframe. It’s similar to a report or thesis outline. It’s like the blueprint of a house or building. It is concise, specific, simple, and clear.

Seeing a wireframe can easily let you know what it is. From its root words “wire” and “frame,” wireframes consist of lines (wires) and boxes (frames). They are often devoid of any design elements and colors. Designers often print them in black, white, and gray.

A wireframe isn’t always created as low fidelity prints of the project. A developer and/or designer can add visual elements to it to convey more information, especially important details.

For example, the designer can place the pictures, which will be used for the project, in the wireframe. He/She can do that to add more identifiable information on the placement of the images instead of putting a box with text that indicates the name of the picture.

The purpose of wireframes is to create a cheap and fast mockup for the project. You can draw wireframes on paper, design it on an image-editing program, or create one using a wireframe application.

The speed and quality of creating a wireframe depends on the skills of the designer. If the designer is good at sketching, wireframes on paper is a good and fast choice. If the designer is good with imaging programs or with computers, using an imaging program or wireframe design software will be a better option than drawing on paper.

You can up the fidelity of a wireframe by making it interactive. Doing so will let you emphasize the importance of aesthetic design of your user interface. It will also let you know firsthand how users will interact with it and how your client will react.

To be honest, an interactive wireframe is a few steps away from a prototype. The main difference is that an interactive wireframe doesn’t contain any functions or features. You can interact, click, and type on it, but you can’t expect it to work like the finish product.

You can create an interactive wireframe using a wireframing program. Of course, the interactions you can do with the images and paper sketches of your wireframe will be limited, which make them less ideal for this type.

Do note that you should be aware and cautious of your wireframe’s audience and the level of fidelity it has. Low fidelity can make people confused and are often reserved to be shown to other developers. High fidelity wireframes are only to be shown if the client requires it since making a prototype will be a much better choice.