Wireframes, mockups, and prototypes are often synonymously used in relation to UX and UI design, but people often confuse these terms. They don’t know when each one applies in the design process and how they contribute to a better design in both the development and user experience.
What are Wireframes?
The goal of wireframing is to focus on the functionality and structure without being distracted by visual design and content. Think of wireframes as the skeletal blueprint of your application. Wireframes are a quick and cost-effective way to identify usability issues in the early stages of the design process. It is basically the layout of a website or application that demonstrates the key functional elements. It provides a clear picture of what you are building which helps make development easier and faster.
Wireframing is one of the first few steps when designing an application. It allows you to map out the features and flow of the pages, to get feedback, and to catch potential issues early on. It helps save time on revisions during the later stages of development. It is more cost effective and efficient to make changes on a wireframe than on a high-fidelity mockup with lots of design elements.
Wireframes can be done with just a pen and paper or low-fidelity images. The team or designer uses a sketch to show the basic structure and layout of a page by using shapes to represent interface elements.
What are Mockups?
After explaining your ideas and structuring your application through a wireframe, the next step is to create a mockup. Mockups are more high fidelity than wireframes. These focus on design and the visual look and feel of the application. If wireframes are skeletal blueprints to outline the structure of the application, mockups are the rendered models that give users a visualization of the actual product.
Mockups are good for communicating, discussing, collaborating, and iterating projects with your client and team members at a later design stage. With richer design details, it becomes easier for your team to discuss more specific details. It also helps clients and stakeholders to understand and visualize the expected outcome of the product.
Mockups focus on the visual details such as colors, graphics, layout and typography. These bridge the gap between wireframes and prototypes. There are several tools that can be used for creating mockups. Sketch, Photoshop, XD, and InVision Studio are some of the popular tools for creating rich mockups.
What are Prototypes?
In a manner of speaking, a prototype is a fully interactive mockup with rich UI styling and full interactive capabilities. Unlike mockups, which are mainly static representations of the product, prototypes allow for user interaction. It enables users to use and navigate the app just as it would be in the finished product.
Prototypes allow stakeholders to interact with the product and to effectively test for potential problems and check whether it meets their standards. Prototypes are ideal for getting usability testing feedback and for finding potential errors in the user interface before moving to the actual development phase of the application.
Adobe XD and InVision Studio are some of the powerful tools you can utilize to design rich and interactive prototypes.
Wireframes, Mockups, and Prototypes play key roles in the design and development of any application. These design processes help you structure, design, test, and reiterate your application, allowing you to spot errors and possible problems before even getting into the development stage, saving you a lot of valuable time and effort.
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