The UX Designer's Guide to Wireframing

Tips to start creating more effective wireframes during the UX design process.

Maria Myre
Maria Myre
Sep 21, 2023
Min Read

Whether you're a seasoned UX designer or just embarking on your journey, mastering the art of wireframing is a crucial step toward creating impactful digital experiences.

A well-crafted wireframe allows you to explore—and test—a variety of design solutions with minimal effort. 

But that begs the question: what are you supposed to include in your wireframe? How can you create them quickly and efficiently…while including enough substance so that you gain valuable insights from testing? 

Let’s take a look…

What is a Wireframe?

A wireframe is a simplified version of an app or webpage. Usually created in black-and-what or grayscale, a wireframe shows the placement of each design element, without any additional UI elements like color palettes, icons, images, or typography.

what is a wireframe

What Are the Benefits of Creating a Wireframe?

Although it can feel like an “extra” (and unnecessary) deliverable in the design process, wireframes give you the opportunity to gain early feedback on things like layout, navigation, and content hierarchy.

Wireframes also let stakeholders give honest feedback on the layout, add suggestions, and plan how the product will integrate with other products or web pages. 

Finally, wireframes save time and money in the early stages of the UX design process, allowing designers to communicate concepts quickly and effectively. 

When Should You Create a Wireframe? 

Wireframes are a great way to quickly iterate on early product or feature ideas, so that everyone is on the same page before you put the hours into crafting a pixel-perfect UI. 

Decisions and changes are more easily made at this stage before designers and software engineers put the time into fully designing and implementing the final product. The team can add ideas and make sure the concept will promote the organization’s objectives. As a bonus: you can even gather user feedback based on a wireframe and improve the concept before making a prototype.

How to Create an Effective Wireframe

Using a repeatable, standardized process helps to ensure that each wireframe effectively helps you achieve your organization’s objectives. The key steps here include: 

1. Answer Important Questions

At its core, a wireframe is the “outline” of your visual design project. As you prepare, make sure you know what questions or pain points your design needs to solve: 

  • Who is your target audience for this project? 
  • Are there several customer or user personas, and what are their attributes? 
  • What are their main needs and goals?
  • How does this product meet those needs? 
  • What are the top actions users will go through when interacting with your product? 

You may need to collaborate with your team to ensure you have asked the right questions and answered them well.

2. Brainstorm and Sketch Quickly

The information from Step 1 can be used to inspire a series of simple wireframe solutions that you think will meet the users’ needs and expectations.

It can be helpful to quickly make several different concepts without stopping to correct them, rather than just focusing on creating one single perfect solution.

This exercise is not about perfection: it’s about exploration, so that you have a variety of rough concepts you can use as building blocks for later work. 

3. Don’t Go Into Detail

The power of a wireframe lies in the fact that UI design elements are accounted for in your design, albeit in a simplified way. A picture might be represented as a simple box with an “X” marked from corner to corner. A search bar or menu might be a small rectangle with placeholder text (like “menu item 1, menu item 2, etc.”). 

Fill in design elements that may be required to make them functional and useful. Keep these wireframes simple (low-fidelity in other words)—shades of gray, two-dimensional, use placeholders for text and boxes for images.

In your wireframe, you’ll want to include elements such as:

  • Placeholder text
  • Search bars
  • Logos
  • Social sharing buttons
  • Headers and footers
  • Navigation menus
  • Contact information

4. Be Precise with Sizing

If you’re creating your wireframe in a design tool like Figma, it’s worth taking the time to think through the design grid that you’ll be using, and size your interface elements accordingly. 

Not only will it help to keep your design file tidy, but it will also help you to get to the heart of UI questions or requests from stakeholders.

5. Combine and Develop Ideas

Take time to think through and evaluate the initial concepts and highlight the elements that seem the most promising. From here, you can meld the best ideas together into a wireframe (or more,  as needed) that you feel confident pitching to stakeholders. 

6. Present Your Designs

Once you’ve narrowed down your ideas, you might need to obtain buy-in for the next step of the process. Bring your best designs to the stakeholders for this project and be prepared to present the questions and answers you started with, along with the goals and challenges you set out to work on. 

During your presentation, you can add notes about specific parts of the wireframe, pointing out elements and briefly explaining what they are for and why they will meet users’ needs. 

Try to think ahead to what developers, managers, UI designers, and others will ask and need.

7. Work on Logistics

Talk to people like software engineers, UX researchers, and others to find out if it is feasible to create your design by the deadline and if it meets the project’s goals and objectives, while also solving the user’s problems.

When possible, perform user testing and record interactions of your test users using a prototype of the design. Improve the final wireframe based on their feedback before sending it to the UI designers and developers to get it fully designed and implemented. 

Wireframing Tools You Can Use

If you’re planning on completing your design work in Figma, then it’s likely that you’ll want to create the wireframe in that tool, as well. 

However, depending on your work environment and personal preferences, you can create a hand-drawn wireframe on a piece of paper, a whiteboard, or the digital whiteboard of your choice. 

Levels of Detail in Wireframes

At different stages of a product’s design, the team can create wireframes with varying levels of detail. The levels are typically referred to as:

Low-Fidelity Wireframes 

Low-fidelity wireframes are very rough sketches that are not drawn to scale. They are not meant to look polished; they are simply used to start discussing the product, strategize on user flow, and make decisions. They are also very easy to change by merely sketching over them. 

Mid-Fidelity Wireframes 

Mid-fidelity wireframes are created with more detail but don’t include finished typography or images. Greyscale and text weights can separate design elements and show how prominent each will look. 

High-Fidelity Wireframes: 

In the late stages of product design, high-fidelity wireframes show real images and include text and color. However, most designers forgo the term “wireframes” when talking about this part of the design process, preferring to focus on the “prototyping” aspect.

5 Common Wireframe Mistakes to Avoid

When integrated in your UX design process, wireframing is a really powerful way to test and iterate quickly to arrive at the best path forward. 

However, there are a few common mistakes that designers tend to make when wireframing:

1. Neglecting User Needs and Goals

  • Mistake: Focusing solely on layout and visual design, while neglecting user requirements.
  • Solution: Start by understanding user needs and goals through research and user personas. Ensure your wireframes align with these insights. (The visual design part can come later!)

2. Overcomplicating the Design

  • Mistake: Creating wireframes that are overly complex and resemble high-fidelity designs.
  • Solution: Keep wireframes simple, emphasizing layout, content placement, and functionality rather than detailed visuals. This allows you to iterate quickly and efficiently.

3. Forgetting About Mobile Responsiveness

  • Mistake: Designing wireframes exclusively for one screen size or platform, which causes the need for additional testing later on.
  • Solution: Consider responsive design principles and create wireframes that adapt to various devices and screen sizes.

4. Lack of Consistency:

  • Mistake: Inconsistencies in the wireframe can lead to confusion during testing, and lead to problems further down the design process.
  • Solution: Where possible, establish and maintain consistency in elements like button styles, typography, and spacing.

5. Ignoring User Flow Considerations:

  • Mistake: Failing to map out the user's journey through the interface, and focusing on single, standalone screen designs instead.
  • Solution: Ensure wireframes depict a clear and intuitive user flow, considering navigation and interactions.

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Launch a career in ux design with our top-rated program

Top Designers Use Data.

Gain confidence using product data to design better, justify design decisions, and win stakeholders. 6-week course for experienced UX designers.