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What is a Website Wireframe?

A website wireframe is a two-dimensional blueprint that displays placeholders (usually black and white shapes) that represent the potential design and functionality of the completed site. It’s an essential part of the design workflow when creating a website.

Website Wireframe Definition

A website wireframe is a two-dimensional blueprint that displays placeholders (usually black and white shapes) that represent the potential design and functionality of the completed site. It’s an essential part of the design workflow when creating a website.

The shapes used in a wireframe are often very simple, giving an overview of how the site’s core elements, like menu items, images, buttons, etc., will come together. 

Website wireframes allow designers and website owners to understand the user experience and get a sense of the bare aesthetics of the site. This creates a foundation to build upon when designing the functionality and structure of the website. 

Website wireframes also take into account the different user interfaces of a website, namely, the huge differences between the web design on a desktop and other digital devices like mobile.

Wireframing the layout of visual and textual elements is a valuable design technique as it is much easier to make changes when the elements are formatted in a basic structure rather than already in the final stages of design. 

The web wireframe design generally doesn’t feature the styling, color, graphics, or fonts used in websites but rather focuses on how space will be used and elements will be allocated.

It is a first-stage design process, and when done effectively, it will make the website design flow more efficient, cost-effective, and clear. We’ll go into the benefits of a website wireframe, potential challenges of creating one, and even give you examples and templates to use later in this guide.

What is the Purpose of a Website Wireframe?

The purpose of a website wireframe is simple: to present the design of the website in a basic layout. Wireframing gives the designer, content creator, coder, and the ultimate decision-maker (usually the company/brand owner) a sense of how the completed website will look and function.

When you use website wireframe diagrams to create an intuitive and effective interface structure, it benefits the rest of the design process. Designing the bare bones of the site with a wireframe will save from having to work on complex code and then editing it multiple times as the design is finalized and there are changes/additions to the site. 

When you’ve established the basic design elements on a website with a wireframe, you can use this visual design to notice what features may be missing. It helps to enhance the website’s final usability early on in the design process. By having bare bones to work from as a foundation, a designer can more effectively decide how to prioritize space and allocate the website’s key elements.

Website wireframes also serve the purpose of saving time and resources in the web design process, as it can be costly and time-consuming to adjust, remove, or add elements once website coding has been done. 

The Purpose of Website Wireframes: Key Takeaways

  • Wireframes give the content creators and owners a visual overview of how the site will look and function. 
  • Using wireframes in web design will trigger additional decisions on elements that may be missing and not noticed until now – which helps further decision making.
  • Wireframing increases the chance of the final website being intuitive, easy-to-use, and visually pleasing.
  • A web wireframe will save content creators (especially website engineers) time but not have to make adjustments later.

Benefits of Website Wireframing

A web designer has a lot to think about: how the layout will look, how content will be allocated, the page-level design, the functionality and intuitive usability of the interface, and more.

When you prioritize wireframing early in the design workflow, you’ll enjoy the following benefits:

  • Visual layout overview
  • Save resources in the design process
  • Test usability and refine website navigation
  • Internal design team communication
  • Receive feedback sooner
  • Easy information architecture.

Visual layout overview

This one is simple – taking the website design idea from initial concept notes to a visual design is the first step to bringing these ideas to fruition. Having this visual overview makes the entire design workflow clearer later on. 

Save resources in the design process

The iteration of the concept is much less time-consuming when you can edit the basic wireframe and not have to dive into complex coding adjustments. Not only does it take time for engineers to modify complex coding, but that time costs stakeholders money. Wireframing presents a more cost-effective way to edit the site before anything is locked in with coding.

Test usability and refine website navigation

When you have the ease of creating multiple design prototypes with a wireframe you can test different functions, information hierarchy and web flows easily. 

With more detailed high-fidelity mockups, it’s much more difficult to test multiple iterations side-by-side. Why? It’s simply more work to create these iterations and address functionality issues by having to start from scratch each time. 

With wireframes, testing for such usability issues is fast, and making those changes is easy. Finding an issue in the wireframe phase and not the high-fidelity phase is definitely more ideal.

Internal design team communication

Wireframes are a huge asset to the design team members’ internal communication. They set a foundation for the design team to work from. The visual representation helps the team to collaborate on the navigation, structure, and information hierarchy. 

Additionally, content creators – like writers – can see the wireframe to assess how much space should be allocated for certain text elements and communicate this to the designer.

Receive feedback sooner

Getting approval for the design elements early on in the process is key. The stakeholders of the company (or brand owners) are responsible for the final decisions. By showing them the wireframes in the first stages of the site design, their feedback will provide more clarity on where to take the remaining design elements (like color, style, additional functions, etc). 

The client won’t be approving stylistic elements like typography and logo usage in the wireframing stage. Rather, stakeholders will approve the allocation of blocks of information and features. That allows the wireframe designer to move onto the next stage and make decisions about the more complex visual design elements.

Easy information architecture

Information architecture includes the hierarchy of elements to have a clear content strategy. This means that the design displays the most important information blocks where they need to be, and space is allocated for the lower priority stylistic elements.

A Wireframe will help you prioritize the site’s information hierarchy. Web designers should ask decision-makers what their overall goals are. What are the ideal actions a site visitor would take on each page?

From there, the architecture of the site can be designed around the most important information aligned with those goals. 

Benefits of Website Wireframing: Key Takeaways

  • Have a visual overview of the layout of the content
  • Time and money is saved in the design process
  • Usability can be tested and issues are easily corrected
  • Easily refine the navigation flow of the site
  • Used to communicate the website development within the design team
  • Receive feedback from stakeholders early in the design process
  • Enhance the page’s information architecture (how the site info is organized and why).

Types of Website Wireframes

In general, there are four main types of wireframes. These range from black-and-white/grayscale blueprints to complex high-fidelity website simulations. 

Basic: These renderings are low-fidelity wireframes, with black and white elements and a minimal layout.

Annotated: Adding onto the basic wireframes, they include a little more detail about how the site will function. The annotations will come in the form of short notes describing the associated elements (next to the content blocks or at the bottom).

User-flowWhen more information is needed to understand how a user will navigate the site, user-flow wireframes show interactive elements either with full functionality, in a slideshow, or in a static yet detailed view.

Interactive high-fidelity: This is a form of UI design where you can move through the site and perform actions like clicking or tapping between the wireframe pages. This comes before live prototyping, giving a little extra feel for how the elements will function. To create interactive wireframes, software for prototyping, presentations, or other graphic prototyping tools are used.

Low-fidelity versus high-fidelity wireframes

The design terminology of fidelity relates to the level of detail that will determine how close the wireframe is to the completed live website. 

Low-fidelity (lo-fi) wireframes display a rough layout that gives an idea of where the elements will be on screen. They don’t often include any other detail. Lo-fi wireframes are especially useful when it comes to testing multiple concepts or when there is a tight design time frame.

High-fidelity (hi-fi) wireframes, on the other hand, will vary in how detailed they are, depending on the site and the decisions of the design team. Hi-fi wireframes can often use real images and content (like text, logos, etc.) They might also feature some real interactions and animations. 

The best practice is to implement hi-fi wireframes later in the design process. Generally, when the design is considered high-fidelity, it goes beyond the wireframe stage to actually become a mockup or a prototype.

Difference between Mockups, Prototypes, and Wireframes

A wireframe can often be confused with mockups and prototypes. However, these different design terms are used for a reason. The key differences relate to which stage the designer is moving through the development process. 

Wireframe

Let’s start with wireframes. As we’ve already discussed, they use simple shapes to give a static low-fidelity visual depiction of the website. 

The placeholders don’t take into account the color scheme as they are usually grayscale shapes that represent the use of space and information hierarchy. Wireframes commonly use lorem Ipsum placeholder text and either a blank box or another simple shape to represent images, icons, and buttons. 

The wireframe helps to establish the spacing and layout of elements, and once these are decided upon, the next stage is to move to mockups. 

Website mockup

A mockup focuses more on how the digital screen will display the elements rather than just the structure. Mockups generally are still static in their design, without yet implementing interactive elements. Mockups have greater detail to their design, so they’re usually described as mid-to-high fidelity. 

A mockup looks closer to the completed site with styles, icons, imagery, headers, and fonts. The actual content that will be on the live site is also added in this phase. UX designers take a wireframe and begin to create mockups to prepare for the final stage of the design. Mockups are also used when presenting the design to stakeholders. 

Website prototype

This is the final phase of web design, sometimes referred to as the early model of the live site. Prototypes are interactive, giving a simulated experience of how the site will function. This allows the user to scroll, swipe, click buttons and dropdowns and even play animation/video content. 

Prototyping is a UI design tool. The benefits of prototyping include usability testing the site for functionality and flow, looking at elements like picture size, heading consistency, and where buttons lead.

Mockups vs. Prototypes vs. Wireframes: Key Takeaways

A simple wireframe is the first stage of the process – it is basic, grayscale, and used as the design blueprint to assess page layouts.

A mockup comes after the wireframe, adding in more info but staying as a static visual representation of the site.

A prototype is a higher fidelity interface design that is closest to the finished site, allowing almost all functionality to be tested before the live site is released.

Challenges of Designing a Website Wireframe

What should be avoided when creating wireframes? What common challenges come up in the wireframing design process?

Since wireframing is meant to be a speedy process, a common challenge of designing a website wireframe is when the designer tries to do every page of the site. Ideally, to save time and energy, designers can simply wireframe the key site pages involved in the high-level user flow.

Another challenge is how to prioritize the information architecture. Designers have trouble with this if they haven’t taken time to work on the content organization before they start the wireframe design. 

When there is a lack of communication with the content creators, designers can be misled in their spatial organization of elements like placeholder text. Content creators should work with the designers in the wireframing process, even if placeholder lorem ipsum text is being used. Simply giving an idea of the word count for each text section will help.

Since wireframes must be completed for different screen sizes, some designers may focus on the large screen only and not spend enough time adjusting the elements for mobile view. 

That’s a mistake since most people are now viewing web pages on mobile rather than desktop. To make this mobile or small device design process easier, take the mobile-first mindset and use frames of the actual screen sizes in the wireframes. 

Finally, one challenge that designers and decision-makers may face is simply not understanding the wireframe. The elements are very simplistic, and therefore, when annotations aren’t used, it can lead to misunderstanding. 

If the elements are not clearly explained with notes, then that might make for more work later on to fix the issues that stakeholders notice when there are more details in the prototype.

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Best Website Wireframe Tools

There are many different wireframing tools out there, including these most common tools:

  • Simple pen & paper

You read that right; many designers will start wireframing with paper and pen. Simply sketching the ideas onto paper or a whiteboard is beginning the lo-fi wireframing process. These can be great as the very first action before taking the sketch digitally.

This software is a vector-based UX/UI design tool. Designers can also create prototypes and other digital screen designs with Adobe XD.

This browser-based UI design software is great for collaborative designs with developers, designers, content creators. It’s best for team-based design.

Like Adobe XD, this is another vector-based tool for digital interfaces like apps, mobile apps, websites, wireframes, and more. Note: it’s only compatible with Macs.

How to Design a Website Wireframe

To understand this whole process more deeply, here’s a basic wireframe template that gives you key steps to follow when creating your first wireframe.

The actual wireframing process will differ from designer to designer, and also depends on the type of website and complexity of the final product. However, here’s a basic website wireframe template in a three-step process.

Step #1: Foundational wireframe sketching

First, get clear on the pages that you will create a wireframe for and the main content elements that will be included. 

You’ll work with the higher-level decision-makers who have accessed the user needs through their user research that has been done prior to the design process. This will help you to understand the correct informational hierarchy before you begin to sketch.

Start with the most basic sketch of the layout you can do. You can begin with pen and paper, and then move that sketch to a digital format, though still visually resembling a hand-drawn sketch.

You won’t add any color, content, or other design detail. Keep the elements as simple placeholder shapes, but do add annotations/notes to ensure the placeholders are labeled.

For each state of the screen, create a different artboard or slide.

Adjust these pages to different screen sizes – for every wireframe you do on a full desktop size; you need to do a few more for other devices. 

Step #2: Convert the wireframe into a mockup

The next step is to add more details to the static layout to transform the wireframe into a mockup.

Keep the original wireframe copy for future references or additional revisions.

Duplicate the wireframe and begin to edit with the following details:

  • Imagery (icons, pictures, illustrations)
  • Text (including the font)
  • Buttons (size, color, style)
  • Visual design elements (including the color scheme & other stylistic decisions)
  • Adjust spatial elements (alignment, margins, minimum height & width)

Step #3: Continue with detailed prototyping

This is where the wireframe has now become a high-fidelity interactive prototype of the live site. 

You’ll be adding all interactive elements here to take the pages from static to interactive. 

Just as you did in the previous step, save the original mockups so that editing is made easy with multiple copies. 

Add the UX/UI features to the site like scrolls, clicks, sliders, dropdowns, and more.

Test the usability with internal team members, assessing what needs to be adjusted/added/removed. Look for the ease of use and how to enhance the speed/functionality.

Ensure that this is done for all device screen sizes. 

Take the prototypes to the client for final approval before going live!

How to Present a Website Wireframe to a Client

When it’s time to present your completed wireframe, mockup, or prototype to clients and stakeholders, there are a few things to remember to help you communicate clearly and give the best presentation of the vision.

If you’re presenting a wireframe that is quite lo-fi, it can be a little more tricky for clients to understand. This is where the following tips will help.

  • Use PDFs. This is an easily accessible format that allows stakeholders to view the files without having to be online or have any fancy software. They can look at it before your presentation to already get a sense of what you’re showing them.
  • Explain (in simple terms) each placeholder. Even if you have annotations, it’s important to go through and explain in simple language what each placeholder is. Instead of using design terminology, keep it super simple, i.e., “this is where the introduction paragraph will be.”
  • Be clear that the placeholders are by no means representative of the visual style. Some misunderstandings occur here in presentations to clients as they might not even understand the concept of a wireframe. We suggest defining a wireframe at the very beginning of the presentation.

Visual Wireframe Examples

Coming soon! We are scouring the web to share some of the best website wireframe examples we find.

Download Our FREE Website Wireframe Template

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By David Martin

I'm obsessed with building websites. I love planning, designing, developing, and tweaking them until they're converting users into customers. This is where I share some of what I've learned over the past decade building websites on the Internet.

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