Originally published February 2007
Web Site Wireframe
(aka Wire Frame, Page Architecture, Low Fidelity Mock-Up, Page Schematic)
What are wireframes?
Web site wireframes are blue prints that define a Web page’s content and functionality. They do not convey design – e.g. colors, graphics, or fonts.
How are wireframes used ?
Wireframes – combined with Site Maps -are the bread and butter tools of information architects. Web site wireframes are useful for conveying the general page structure and content requirements for individual Web pages. Typically wireframes are developed by an information architect, requirements analyst, or designer. In many Web groups these are all the same person.
Using detailed wireframes will frequently flush out new requirements and questions that nobody has thought about yet. They also help to keep a paper trail of functional and design decisions that are made. I sometimes use wireframes to get people thinking and generate requirements. Getting signoff on a set of detailed wireframes can save a lot of time and money. Forcing managers and clients to actually think about the site’s functionality at a page level will avoid changes later on. Otherwise programmers can end up making endless changes and tweaks to their code.
Wireframes can end up evolving into the default requirements document for a system. I sometimes end up adding a sitemap to the beginning of the wireframe document. I then add notations and requirements on specific pages. Sample Wireframe 2 below is an example of this.
How are wireframes created?
Wireframes – like most information architecture diagrams – can be created using a variety of software programs. I generally use Visio because of its powerful stencil feature. Visio stencils allow you to save libraries of commonly used shapes and elements. I have custom stencils created that allow me to easily drag and drop wireframe elements onto the screen. This really speeds up the process of creating wireframes.
I have also seen wireframes created using Excel, Word, and Power Point. So the choice is yours.
Wireframes need to achieve a balance between being too detailed and too general. A wireframe that is too precise may leave little creative room for the designer. A wireframe that is too loosely defined can be misinterpreted by designers and developers. The wireframe format used should be dependent upon the audience.
Information Architects and designers sometimes end up creating the initial HTML layouts that are then turned over to a developer for “real” programming. This often makes sense, because in some cases it’s the IA or designer with the best command of HTML layout and design. HTML may be used to create basic wireframe templates that can be used for usability testing or to get client feedback. In other cases the HTML is created in order to keep tight control on the design, rather than leaving it up to the programmer.
Sample Wireframes (pdf)
Sample Wireframes 2 (pdf)
Sample Wireframes 3 (pdf)