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User testing & wireframes: a stormy affair

“Is my new website be as sketchy as the wireframe?” I’m sure you’ve heard this comment when presenting a wireframe to a client?

A wireframe often confuses people, especially during usability tests with users who don’t know anything about the app in question. Here we´ll talk about a new agile methodology involving wireframe and user testing, putting all people involved on the same page.

User testing versus wireframes

Usability tests are important to learn about the overall user experience from regular users. Unfortunately, most of them are not quite sure how they should answer a wireframe. Often, they don´t see what they’re supoosed to do, and some don´t even know they´re actually testing a webpage. This lack of background adds cognitive hitches of understanding to test. At the end of a project, this confusion is translated by very few relevant answers.

Although full of good-will, Users testing wireframes are often unsophisticated users. They all agree to test and answer questions the best they can. This cognitive gap is due to blurry definitions on what they should or should not be focusing on. “Look at the forms but don´t pay attention to images.” “forget about the design, tell me what you think of the layout” “check the font size but not font itself.” Anyone would get mixed up with such questions.

Design and visual impressions like colors, fonts and images are key to using a site, and these details are important to any usability test. Users won’t be able to use a page properly if they don’t see links or can’t read what you expect them to. Information architects, however, tend to stay away from these features so that they don´t step on designers’ shoes. After all, “a wireframe is not a final design draft ”.

Or is it? The role of an UX designer or information architect should be mainly geared towards clarity, to get the message across.

Originally a “wireframe” was a quickly rendered 3D model showing the model’s structure while engineers were still working on it. They were much faster to work with than the full rendering. Interestingly enough, they are not used anymore since now-a-days prototyping tools and techniques are fast… that gives us a hint!

Wireframes or final design?

Information architects don’t design final webpages, instead, they build wireframes instead, here is why:
- A wireframe is faster to build and work on
- Wireframes force viewers to focus on the general content and not on the visual design.

As you can see, all these objectives are geared for the project-team, not the user. Wireframes aren’t built for the final audiences and this is why most usersdon´t get wireframes.

From wireframe to interactive prototypes

IT professionals are now mixing wireframes with more functional prototypes. These interactive prototypes are so close from the final application, in their design and interactivity, that it became a lot easier to carry on relevant user tests. These HTML prototypes can even integrate analytical tools like Google Analytics to carry out remote user tests. This use of wireframe and prototypes is changing the way IT project are carried out as it´s now possible to know what´s the best app for what users before having started development.

Projects can benefit a lot from this more agile methodology as it avoids long, time-consuming changes and cut rework drastically.

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