Wireframing or Prototyping: Which One to Use

While clients tend to tell developers to skip wireframing and prototyping, seasoned veterans tell newbies that they can skip wireframing and proceed with prototyping.

Experienced developers believe that interactive prototyping isn’t useful when presenting a project. For example, if the client requires an immediate solution and is on a tight budget, they wouldn’t want their developers spending time on prototypes.

How can these developers present anything to the client? They can present a wireframe. Unlike prototypes, they can draw or create wireframes quickly and easily. The only downside is that they will need to spend time explaining what the wireframes represent.

Prototyping brings a lot of benefits to the overall project. Prototypes allow you to be more faithful to your vision. They also make it easier for developers to test the project. And prototypes are an excellent guide for the builders.

But sometimes, there isn’t enough time or resources to do it. You can consider a wireframe and a prototype to be two types of a mockup. The only difference is the fidelity and quality of the representation of the final product.

Wireframes also have a range of fidelity on them. The precision of the wireframe mockup depends entirely on the method used to create it and the amount of time consumed.

For example, developers often consider hand-drawn wireframes to be low fidelity mockups while software-assisted wireframe designs are considered high fidelity mockups. When you exceed the quality of the mockup to the point that it becomes functional and interactable, it immediately turns into a prototype.

The mockup with the highest fidelity is often a fully functional prototype. Veterans often advise against using a prototype as the final project. Developers, after all, create prototypes with development speed and aesthetic in mind.

Using a prototype as the final project will require you to edit the code to make it efficient, maintainable, and readable. Going through all that will be a waste of time since developing a program from scratch will be much faster.

Also, application development often separates its teams into two: designers and builders. Designers oversee wireframing and prototyping. Builders do the writing and development parts of the project. Both often have different development styles and techniques. And forcing the designers’ prototype as the code foundation of the builders will slow down the development.

If you prefer a prototype instead of a wireframe when the budget’s tight and there are time constraints, you can use interactive mockup creating programs. Using those programs will cut the prototyping time by more than half.

The downside with these programs is you need to learn and master how to use them. You don’t need to use one to deliver your prototype, but you need to have it as soon as possible. And yes, they cost money. But you can consider it an excellent investment.

The bottom line here is if you and your client don’t have the time and budget, use wireframes. If you have the time and budget now, you should invest in prototyping software, so you will produce a faithful representation of the project.