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Designing for the web 2.0: from wireframe to prototype

A wireframe is a rather ambiguous notion in web design. When preparing the design of an IT project, several concepts comes to mind like wireframe, design, sketches, prototypes. But at a time of exploding devices and new technologies like the web 2.0, it’s important to define all these notions and put them back into their current perspective.

With a handful of new devices and technologies launching everymonth, wireframes, design and prototype are slowly coming together. We’ll consider how they are all merging all along the creative process.

Wireframe & design

A wireframe is usually seen as a starting point for designing a future app or website. It usually consists of a rough sketch, usually hand-drawn, of the user interface. Its main purpose is to throw out ideas and design “directions”. Hence, it has to be “fluid” and disposable to be changed quickly. A wireframes is a team work by definition. Everyone has to be invited to provoke ideas and directions. It primarily focuses on communicating concepts and structure. Thus it doesn’t include details as these are left to design.

Designing interactive apps

Design and prototypes usually go hand in hand. After they have gone through different ideas and concepts, designers usually start designing their future website. But with the coming of the web 2.0 and the growing importance of functionalities, the design has to be functional and tested among users and on different devices (desktop, web, mobiles…) in order to be validated. Testing their design before implementing it is one of the reasons why more and more IT companies have started using functional prototypes.

Prototyping its interactions & dynamism

If the main objective of a wireframe is to explore and suggest, a prototype will be more triggered towards validation. Moreover, with the coming of the web 2.0 and new devices like mobiles and PC, the focus was put on dynamism and interaction design. Today, apps have now to be crossplatform, taking into account a wide range of devices (mobiles, pocket PCs, tablets…). That’s why prototypes first came into being as IT professionals realised that making changes to a final product was a lot longer and expensive than changing a quick and inexpensive functional prototype. Very close from the final application, functional prototypes are made to carry out user testing. From design to functionalities, Business rules and requirements, an application prototype has to include them all in order to get the validation and start the development process.

Unifying processes to gain in agility

But as competition between apps is growing, their success depends on both the design and user experience. Both have to be carefully orchestrated. Companies increasingly tend to merge these processes to get a more agile process. Some teams even use prototypes for both designing and developing purposes so that they can carry out user tests and quickly operate and visualize the changes that will have to be made on the final app.

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