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To wireframe or not to wireframe...

Now-a-days, it has become almost compulsory to present a wireframe to your client. But at its early age, a wireframe was given to clients to put things in perspective, not just because you had to. Here we’ll look at what you should consider before starting a wireframe.

The relevance of wireframe

Whether they’re grey boxes sketched quickly or detailed drawings with real content, wireframes were imposed as a compulsory step to every project. They provide guidance for designer… that’s why they are called wireframe.

Some regard wireframes as mere blueprints for the page layouts… this is, at the least, an understatement. Despite their drafty look, wireframes are followed by most designers and developers all along the development process.

When wireframe

Despite their real relevance, wireframes are not always the right way to tackle design. For sites or apps that focus strongly on design like image brand, a wireframe are not very useful as they lack of images and content. However, in some other contexts, wireframes can bring valuable insights before starting a design, like for:

- forms
- general layouts
- news sites
- when you lack of content

In most cases, wireframes are approved by clients as they lack visual context like non-content graphic elements and that’s what clients are eagerly waiting for. In such cases, sketchy-looking wireframes gives a good idea of the final app.

When not to wireframe

However, a wireframe can’t communicate important design components. Grey boxes and lorem ipsum content can’t convey how design’s contrast influence content, the visual impact of brand design or the visual weight of graphics elements and the visual path created by colours, contrasts and components.

But because the purpose of a wireframe is so much intricate with design, it’s sometimes best to start with the design. In some cases, the client might not fully grasp the point of a wireframe, or simply doesn’t agree on the objectives you have set… and bad starts are never a good sign for a project. In these cases, it’s thus best to first agree upon a clear direction for the design and then start wireframing specific layouts.

When the time comes to create the final design, what seemed logical at first might not fit the final output. Changes often have to be made as textures and images can influence relationships between elements.

“Substance is the form” and vice-versa

And as time goes by, the further design moves away from functional requirements, the less effective becomes the wireframe. Inversely, a wireframe can also look dull and little attractive to a client when the actual design is actually very effective and impacting.

The argument saying that wireframes put enough materials so that designers and developers can start, often forgets that information hierarchy also relies on typo and textural elements. Moreover, if the wireframe was done by an IA and not a designer, the final design might not follow the same path. And if the client already agreed and signed a wireframe, this could mean trouble.

Wireframes for information or promotion purposes lose their effectiveness, especially when it comes to questions of branding and images. You need the full design to assess the successful quality of the output.

At the beginning of every project, the need to wireframe and to what extend should be thoroughly assessed in order to best serve the client’s needs and objectives.

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