Design terminology can often be confusing. And why will it not be, when we are referring its jargons to connote everywhere. Now, that doesn’t mean that the designers can mix it up; they got to know it all. They must be fully acquainted with the differences in the various stages of design process. How can you expect a designer to plan a usable product if he confuses a mockup with a wireframe? It’s like a carpenter mentioning to a hammer as a screwdriver. Wireframes and mockups are every designer’s creative tools and must be known up and down.

It is important to be familiar with the basics to understand the varying levels of fidelity in these steps. The goal is to oversimplify things, not to set fixed rules. Note:  No process is ‘best’ to classify, but yes surely there is a ‘right’ process that incorporates suitable practices. For now, first things first, let us go through the basics and learn what wireframes and mockups are, what they do, how they are useful and some methods to build each. Read on to explore more:-

High Fidelity Wireframes

Wireframes are like a skeletal layout of an interface devoid of aesthetic features. The blueprint depicts the structure of the website or app mainly to comply with usability and functionality and not just reveal final look. The first step in the design process itself involves creating wireframes and then putting time and effort in sorting all the layout, structure and organization queries to move on to the iterations stage concerning visual details. Actually, this is why wireframes are kept low fidelity so that the format and structure can be improvised repeatedly and finally solidified.

After this is done, you can work on other visual and technical details. Having said that, don’t exclude visuals from the wireframes totally as you need sufficient details to visualize the entire layout and relative space for the elements to be included in the design. This is the reason why wireframes consist of placeholders for final graphics in the shape of squares with Xs or bare-bone forms of the icons to be added later.

Designers and developers usually keep wireframes simple so as to avoid any distraction. The best part: wireframes are fast and easy to create as they only demonstrate website or app’s structure with few or no details, graphics or color.

Advantages

As explained earlier, wireframes solely focus on the big picture and the main layout.  The team can go through the broad questions first and then deal with the details later. The benefits of wireframes are same as ones in the scope of a layout of any product-enabling vigilant plans before moving on to the complex levels of product cycle. This reduces the risk of missing out on the important features and making big changes in the later stages as everything is properly checked at the initial level.

Being a deliverable, wireframes can be sent to the entire team so that they know the outline well. Team members can contribute by modifying or commenting on the document, thus making most of the teamwork right from the start.  Additionally, wireframes can even be shared with the stakeholders who want to track the results in the initial stages and make necessary changes before development to avoid complications.

Ways

Owing to the low-fidelity of wireframes, there are quick methods to build them as compared to the other stages of designing :

  • The Traditional way – This method involves sketching wireframes the old fashioned style. All you need is a pen and paper and just draw whatever is on your mind. Don’t let the details distract you. Wireframing is all about brainstorming ideas and it’s okay to leave the intricate aspects as it will lead to problems in sharing and will create unnecessary confusion amongst the team members. If you are on the lookout for systematic and organized sketching, then layered sketching is meant for you.
  • Graphic Design Method – If sketching through software like Photoshop or Sketch makes you feel like sketching on paper, and then use these software. But this demands complete knowledge of the program and on the flip side can even hinder the addition of interactions provided by some wireframing apps.
  • Presentation Style – If you are using wireframes to deliver a presentation, then the best way is to use software like PowerPoint or Keynote. Features like slide structure promotes the thinking of your design page by page, but at the same time hinders interactivity. Presentation software is well-known to us as most of us have used Powerpoint or Keynote for one purpose or another.
  • Design Software – These days various software are available specifically for wireframing. wireframing tools namely UXPin, Axure, Moqups , Justinmind Omnigraffle and many more. The benefit of this method is that such software include special features for wireframing like drag and drop for usability and smooth interactivity with the help of some clicks.The major limitation however is the cost which is much more than the other methods. Although some software like Balsamiq are free, still they lack the extraordinary features present in Axure, UXPin and Omnigraffle. A project is more governed on its needs and limits rather than its methods. Don’t get too much boggled with methods. What matters is that you have a dynamic idea for the project before you step on to the higher phases of product creation.

High Fidelity Mockups

Quite opposite to wireframes are mockups which are the models of the final website design and more or less give the exact appearance of the final version. As wireframes support structure, in the same way, mockups support visuals. It puts forward static displays of the final product, contrary to the wireframes which just give an overall feel of the website or app. By looking at the final display, you can make important decisions pertaining to color schemes, size, style and typography, thus giving you privilege to experiment with your choices and zero on the best as your final choice. Building mockups is the best way to communicate with your clients and explain them your mindset. Where wireframe is the skeleton for the UI, mockup is the skin as it completes the visual details that wireframe generally leaves behind. The visual displays placed in mockups can be mid or high-fidelity depending upon the level of your project and availability of time and resources.

Wireframes to UI Design Presentation

Wireframes to UI Design Presentation

Advantages

Some designers think that mockups are not really needed in the design process and are an optional part. Actually, this is where they go wrong. As wireframes focus especially on the structure to enforce important decisions, similarly mockups focus on visuals to take over the decision making task. One major gain here is that high fidelity mockups with their good quality visuals work well with the stakeholders. Wireframes game for imagination whereas mockups deal with the final product closely.

Ways

As mockups are visual-oriented, only few methods can be used to create them-

  • Wireframing/Prototyping Method – Much like wireframing, specialized software like UXPin and Axure with their fabulous UI element libraries can be used to craft high-fidelity mockups.
  • Graphic Design Software – This software is suitable for pixel-perfect mockup albeit there are certain limitations to it particularly at the time of coding. You will face trouble when your hard work won’t translate the way you want. However, there are tools like UXPin, Marvel and Invision which align with Photoshop and Sketch to enable smooth transitions from mockup to prototype.
  • Coded Style – If you are well versed with coding, then building your mockup in the final language is a good idea. This eliminates the problem of reworking on the non-transferable designs in the later stages. What you must consider is your efficiency in the design process via coding as compared to the specialized tools.

The Difference

While wireframes form the rudimentary structure in design to fit elements and pinpoint their location, mockups take a step ahead with the final appearance of the design, taking in type choices, style choices, color choices et al in view. Another difference is that a wireframe is a low-fidelity representation of design as against mockup which is middle to high fidelity representation.

Mockups reflect the visual side of the project in contrast to wireframes which look after the interface interactions. The client understands the framework and process of design through wireframe deliverable and mockups, being a distinct deliverable, looks into the visual style and tone of UI. Remember wireframes can never be used as mockups but mockups can be used as wireframes which in turn can have implications on the design and budget.

End Note

Be it wireframe, mockup or prototype, the main thing that matters is your understanding of their functions and the advantages they render to the design process as a whole. Can you customize the process in the way you want?  For that, you must know how every tool fits in the process of designing. Wireframes serve as a guide for taking effectual structural decisions.

However, if you are to make choices through static depiction of detailed graphics, go for mockups. Whichever tool you go with, it should address the needs of the project and suit your requirements. Ultimately it depends upon you how you arm your design with the help of these tools.

Summary
Article Name
Wireframes Vs Mockups - Design Tools Made Clearer
Description
Wireframes and mockups gives a good idea about the design in early stages of design process and understanding the difference between two is important.
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palprince@gmail.com'

Prince Pal

User Experience Designer | Company Branding Expert at Think360 Studio
For 12+ years I have designed, developed and marketed websites / apps startups in New York, California, Florida and in India. Always focused on great User Interface is key.

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