You can’t build a house without the proper tools. In a similar way, you can’t build a great digital product, without knowing which steps you have to take along the way. You may know where you want to go, but not how to get there. To turn your big idea into a profitable reality, you’ll have to involve designers and developers, architects and builders of digital products, and make sure you’re speaking the – proverbial, same language. Understanding what wireframes, mockups and prototypes are, will not only come in handy but be essential to the success of your project.
We’re not going to cover the entire digital design process in this article but will take a deep dive into discussing wireframes, prototypes and mockups in detail, giving you the chance to grasp the idea of what is used in specific situations and why. If you’d like to learn more about the design process, continue reading about UX and UI on our blog to gain deeper insight and understanding.
Creating Digital Products That Pay For Themselves
As our world becomes increasingly digital, it’s important for any company to transition into the online space and obtain their own website in order to market their products or services to the right audience and gain credibility. As digital marketing professionals, we are well aware of these facts. There is however still a huge sum of businesses that don’t find it necessary to invest in having a website and social media presence.
It seems that many small business owners assume that creating a website is too expensive and time-consuming or that they aren’t big enough as a business to need one. This is where we step in to help them see that a business is never too small to be found on the internet – A place where so many of their potential customers are online for so much of the time. More than 27 per cent of every year, to be exact.
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The Design Process: Don’t Mock Mockups
Building your online presence, you’ll have to understand the crucial design processes behind creating a website, app or other digital product. Whatever the end result may be, the path from ideation, to design, development and launch, looks quite similar every time. When working with a team of designers, developers, and marketers, a few terms will drop again and again, be it in emails or face-to-face interactions: wireframes, mockups and prototypes. In this article, we’ll discuss what they are, when they’re used and what they are good for.
Admittedly, it can indeed feel like learning a new language. But never fear, we’re here to help you navigate the web design jargon. With a little bit of new knowledge in your back pocket, you’ll be able to understand the design process much better in no time!
Wireframes, Mockups and Prototypes: The What, When And Why
Let’s have a look at the essence of each method in the design process and why working with wireframes, mockups and prototypes are vital to the success of your project.
What are wireframes?
A wireframe is the digital version of a pencil sketch. It displays the visual representation of a website or app layout interface in a very simplistic fashion and ensures that developers and clients get a clear idea of the project’s design and scope of work.
You can compare a wireframe to an architectural blueprint: An illustration that is supposed to give you a basic understanding of the project. As such, it is usually accompanied by written words, explaining how information is structured and which basic visuals will be involved in the UI interaction.
When to use wireframes?
Wireframes are used at the beginning of the design process, organizing the interface, outlining visual and typographic hierarchy on user interfaces and planning transitions and interactions.
- Fast and cost-effective to create
- Driving design conversations without pressure
- Flexible solutions leaving much room for experiments
- Help establish the scope of a project and not get lost in the details
Still confused about wireframes? We have taken a closer look at the visual blueprints of digital products and why wireframes are extremely useful tools in the design process.
Wireframe software our designers love:
What is it?
A mockup is the full-size representation of the actual visual design for a digital product. A well-created mockup represents not only the structure of information, but it also visualises the content and demonstrates the basic functionalities of the product. They are static representations of the final product, still leaving room for experiments with the design. They are great feedback-gatherers and a useful chapter of the project documentation.
When to use mockups?
While wireframes offer a very basic understanding of the project, mockups are much closer to the final version in appearance, unmasking visual components that don’t fit before you’re wasting money on coding them. In a way, mockups act as a bridge between the wireframes and prototypes and should not only be used to identify potential issues earlier in the design process but to increase the product quality by allowing a greater number of design alternatives to be investigated before a final design is chosen. Colour, contrast and visual hierarchies should be determined in the mockup stage and solidified in the development stage.
- Organization of details mirroring the final product
- High-fidelity character helps you make design decisions from the user’s point of view
- Helpful for exploring visual design decisions before the coding stage
- Making revisions in a mockup is easy compared to CSS or HTML
Mockup software our designers love
Our designers are incredibly familiar with the software they’re using. To stay in the loop, have a look at the top five graphic design tools they can’t live without.
What is it?
Prototypes are the display houses of digital UI design. A prototype, often confused with the mockup, is an interactive, high-fidelity representation of the final digital product. It simulates user interface interaction – and that is where the most obvious difference between prototypes and mockups lies. Prototypes allow the user to experience content and interactions with the interface and to test the main features in a way similar to the final product. Just like a display house, a prototype gives you the opportunity to explore the look and feel of the product instead of simply looking at the miniature model of the same.
Prototypes might not look exactly like the final product, but should be very close to the end result. They introduce more depth to the early design, allowing the designers to predict and solve usability problems before investing in the further development of a digital product.
When to use it?
Prototypes are used to their full potential in user testing. Such a simulation of the final interactions forms great material to check the usability of the interface before the development actually begins. Beware that prototyping is rather an expensive and time-consuming form of design communication. But done right and combined with extensive user testing, prototyping can pay for itself.
- Save time and money by detecting problems with the interface early on
- Prototypes help to get all members of the team involved in the design process
- A helpful tool facilitating communication between designers and developers
Prototyping software our designers love
Digital Product Design and Development – A Breakdown
To understand how wireframes, mockups and prototypes fit in the typical creative flow for a digital product, let’s have a look at what the process could look like, using the example of mobile app creation and website design and development.
Ideally, all three find a place in the design process. In the real world, the importance of each part is often underestimated. The truth is: Building your design from wireframe to mockup to prototype, will save you money and time in the long run. Changing things around, in the beginning, is no issue, but noticing problems with the usability of an interface just as your app or website is supposed to launch, can affect the entire project negatively and cut a deep hole in your budget.
As you can see, there are no big secrets to creating beautiful and efficient digital products. All key components of the design process play their part in the development and can’t be ignored.
By now you understand what wireframes, mockups and prototypes are and how they fit into the design process. As we work our way through the design and development stages of digital products, it’s important to embrace all steps along the way. Picking the right tool for each job will ensure that what’s designed meets your needs and exceeds your expectations.
If you have any questions that have been left unanswered, feel free to contact one of our expert UI and UX designers, or continue reading about all things web design and development!