When to use wireframes and when not to

over 5 years ago from , Designer for e-commerce

Hi guys,

I'm a UX/UI designer for a e-commerce bureau in the Netherlands. I, personally, do quick raw sketches in my sketchbook to put my thougths/ideas on a canvas and after that start working them out in Sketch. I was thought how to do wireframes when still studying design, but have the feeling that for most projects showing them to clients doesn't really add much value. I find that when filling in wireframes with real content and the company branding, they sometimes don't work that good anymore. But some clients tend to really stick to the wireframes and don't want to let go off them afterwards. I also have the feeling that working out designs in Sketch has become so much better and faster, that it sometimes take less time than working out a detailed wireframe.

The main question: when do you guys use wireframes and how many of you still use them at all?

I would be interested in what field of design you work in and what kind of projects you do (:



  • Michael GoldkampMichael Goldkamp, over 5 years ago

    You need to set the expectations for what you are trying to achieve with the wireframes. Whenever I am showing wireframes to a new stakeholder, I tell them what type of feedback I am looking for. Most of the time for wireframes I am trying to have a discussing on the user flow, organization and basic content of a project. Does this flow achieve what we are trying to accomplish? Is it technically feasible? Does this new feature help our customer? Are we providing the right content?

    During this phase I am not trying to discuss color, typography, graphics or animations. It is a waste of time for everyone when you need to discuss foundational information and teammates are distracted by look and feel.

    5 points
  • Kyle CaseKyle Case, over 5 years ago

    If you work at an agency or very bureaucratic corporate environment and need "sign off" on specific details of a design, wireframes are probably necessary. If you're just trying to get things done and iterate- just do some sketching and then make it high fidelity in Sketch. Wireframes are a communication tool, not a mandatory design step. If you feel that a wireframe can help fill a communication gap, then use them.

    3 points
  • Nathan Thomas, over 5 years ago

    I wire almost every project that does not already exist. The main reason is to focus myself and the product owner on content and architecture. If I'm working in hi-fidelity then I find myself getting in the weeds about visual design decisions. The visual part of design is a separate conversation from content and UX and can be overwhelming for everyone when trying to address both simultaneously.

    The wireframe step in my workflow also gives me some wiggle room to make bigger design or UX changes (which happens often). There's nothing worse than being locked in early on a poor decision that could have been avoided had I spent more time thinking things through. Hope this makes sense.

    Take all the above from the perspective of an agency designer where budgets are always a constraint. I just recently left a software development consultancy after 4 years as a UX team of one. I'm now seeking an opportunity to join a product company.

    2 points
    • , over 5 years ago

      Hi Nathan, thanks for your story! Most projects include a couple of pages that already exist (i.e. a category overview page or a product detail page), so I guess wireframing isn't always necessary and depends on the situation at hand (:

      1 point
  • Matt C, over 5 years ago

    I personally think there's a big difference between sketching (even counting Balsamiq) and wireframing.

    Sketching is useful to establish what content exists where in the flow as well as the basic IA.

    Wireframes add space and specific layout to the equation. Roughly how big each thing is and where exactly it's going to go on the page/in the flow.

    I personally thinking sketching still has value and is worth showing to clients. Wireframing, however, is not worth the effort considering how fast and easy it is to do high fidelity design nowadays using Sketch or Figma. Just my $.02 though.

    2 points
    • Timothy Turner, over 5 years ago

      I'm not sure I understand your distinction between wireframing and sketching. Are you suggesting that sketching doesn't roughly add space and layout to what you're showing? I wonder if flowcharts might be more worthwhile if you're looking to avoid layout in order to evaluate simple workflows and basic IA.

      I do agree that there isn't much need for sketching and wireframing because of the ease of creating high fidelity designs.

      0 points
      • Matt C, over 5 years ago

        It's definitely possible I'm just below average when it comes to sketching. But I can iterate through say internal navigation components for example 100x faster in Axure or Figma than I could hand-drawing them. Especially if you're talking "pixel perfect" design.

        But again, totally willing to admit there's folks out there just way better at hand drawing interfaces than I am.

        0 points
  • Nathan NNathan N, over 5 years ago

    I've been almost exclusively working with lo-fi wireframes for the past two years. Lo-fidelity wireframes, in a program such as Balsamiq, are ideal for, say, legacy applications. It allows you to get started quickly and create layouts/flows in an abstract manner that developers understand. I only do hi-fidelity designs for new products without a lot of baggage and for marketing.

    2 points
  • Andrew C, over 5 years ago

    If you're a sole contributor (or on a small design team) that doesn't do much user testing wireframes are probably a waste of time.

    You're supposed to be testing out your hypothesis and assumptions at the wireframe stage. Low investment or attachmen (though Sketch Libraries made even high fidelity pretty low investment too). I can't think of a reason why someone would try to convey colour hierarchy at the wireframe stage unless they were just choosing a design solely based on their ideas/personas and no user interaction—and fair enough. But. I like to co-design wireframes with customers directly (Lean UX) and the results seem to make v1 of a feature much more useful.

    1 point
  • , over 5 years ago

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts guys. What makes my situation a bit different (I think) is that the most projects that we do are redesigns of existing webshops. Most of these are either pretty standard B2B platforms or retailers. I find that these shops tend to have pretty straightforward flows and similar pages; home > category list > product > checkout. This flow is pretty much the same for every project.

    Another thing is that we don't do that much usertesting (I know, I know), because we don't really have a way to facilitate it and most clients don't want to pay for it. Last; it happens more than often that the client doesn't actually have a clue about who their target-audience is and what their wants/needs/goals are. Any tips on how to get this going are very welcome!

    0 points
  • Helen . Helen . , over 5 years ago

    Freelance UI/UX Designer here currently working a 1 year contract at a Telco.

    Freelance-wise : Personally, I used to think the same way a long time ago but have since then, disciplined myself to take on the approach of always including that into whatever client project I am working on. As long as your wireframes are "rough" enough to give them an idea of how things flow and the general idea of content, it shouldn't get them too attached to it. The idea of wireframes is to help with quick iteration and brainstorming without putting in too much time and effort into the visual side.

    For my personal projects that I actually sketch on paper and whiteboard, I can always refer to it to do the design and iterate from there, unless I plan to display the behind the scenes progress shots of wireframing on my website portfolio. One example of project that I didn't actually do wireframing but hi-res concepting is for my project here:


    In this project, I mapped out user journey and flow with the developer and accounted for features but because the design was straightforward enough, I could just jump right into designing, while making iterations quickly.

    0 points
    • , over 5 years ago

      I must say that I tend to do it a bit more these days, but more for myself and my small team of designers to look at than to show the client. Nice work! Can you provide a bit of background on how the project started and how you went through the proces with the client?

      0 points
      • Helen . Helen . , over 5 years ago

        Sure, the project actually started off as a personal project so there's no "client". It was inspired by a conversation of mine with a client who's an interior designer and we were at her place. She mentioned it was hard for her to be able to grab colors from around her and she'd love to be able to share those colors for future projects. A few weeks after, I was meeting another designer friend of mine when we were talking about the interior decor and paint of the wall and that scenario came up again. Led me to want to work on a color tool that can inspire all kinds of creatives to easily grab colors and create color palettes from there to be shared with others.

        0 points