Mastering the Art of Wireframing: Essential Tips and Technique

Wireframing can shape usability, engagement, conversions, and more

|Stefanie Kreuzer, Stefanie Kreuzer Updated 04.04.2024
wireframing best practices

Wireframing is the first step in designing the structure of a website, and it serves many purposes; to describe how information is presented on a page, to determine a website’s structure and how it functions, and to shape the flow of the user journey. Whether you’re interested in an entirely new project or refining an old one, wireframing provides a firmly user-oriented foundation for your site.

It’s easy to get wireframing and prototyping mixed up. Wireframing is the step before prototyping (which we’ll cover in the part 2 of this series), and it does not focus on any elements of visual design beyond the layout. When it comes to wireframes, think of a blueprint. 

b13 wireframing can improve your website’s level of engagement, your conversion rate, and overall level of customer satisfaction. Get in touch with b13 to improve your usability through wireframing.

Wireframing Process at b13

Wireframing lets you test and validate initial ideas before spending effort developing them into high-fidelity designs or prototypes.

Before jumping in and creating, get into the right headspace for wireframing. Use these best practices to guide your work.

  • Clarify the purpose: The wireframe’s goals should be crystal clear, to you and your stakeholders. 
  • Test early and often: Understand which ideas work ASAP so that you won’t waste time and effort.
  • Plan for the future: Make your wireframe scalable and flexible for growth. Consider future content types, display sizes, responsiveness, and shareability.

At b13, we follow a proven process that gets the best results for our clients. First we gather information to get really clear about the purpose of what we’re trying to achieve. Then we design the information architecture (IA) to suit the user flow. Finally, we add content elements to the wireframe to show pathways for user tasks.

While we focus on the foundational aspects of wireframing here, it’s important to recognize the specific role different types of wireframes play in the design process. Mid-fidelity wireframes, for instance, offer a unique blend of clarity and detail, making them invaluable in bridging the gap between basic structure and detailed design. To understand the unique role of mid-fidelity wireframes in the design process and how they can enhance your project, explore our detailed article on 'Mid-Fidelity Wireframes: Bridging the Gap in Your Design Process'

Gathering information and defining goals

The first step to wireframing at b13 is straightforward: information gathering. 

  • Talk with clients to understand the ultimate goal of the website or project. Steffi Kreuzer, a UX conceptor and designer at b13, says, “The first stage is me understanding what our customers want, and them clarifying what they need. It can also go the other way around; I tell the client what they need to achieve what they want.”
  • Conduct an inventory of existing information, such as existing processes, user personas, and user flows.
  • Perform expert-based research with the rest of the b13 team to fill in any knowledge gaps.

“After I've got all this information, I know what the goal of the website is and what the end users' needs are.”

Translate the collected data into information architecture

Once the necessary data has been collected and the goal of the project is defined, b13 clarifies the information architecture. This critical step informs the sitemap, the user flow, and ensures site navigation is clear, comprehensible, and intuitive. 

Information architecture is understanding the placement of each piece of information on the website. It is the first step before anything digitally is done. It’s asking questions like ‘Is it more important if I find this information with one click, or is it okay to find it with three clicks?’ Taking hierarchical tree of this related information, it can be used to build a sitemap, the navigation, and to understand the user flow on the website.

Adding content elements to the user flow

The next stage of wireframing is defining the page types and content elements and incorporating them as part of the overall user flow. Deciding on types of content elements and their placement is an important part of wireframing, because they help guide a user’s level of engagement, such as if they are pausing on a page to read a paragraph, click a button, watch a video, or fill out a form.

The tools that can be employed at this stage include for example an atomic style guide and a content element spacing system. 

“My atomic style guide is where I define everything, and I put it into a content library as my single source of truth. That way, when I make updates, I only have to change it there and eliminate subsequent faults.” 

This process is wrapped up by considering the various user flows of the website. User flows show how customers get from point A to point B to point C, whether they’re purchasing something, creating a new account, or upgrading an old one. By asking yourself “Where are the key points where customers exit from this process? What would be the best way to make them feel safe if they want to double check their password, or if they want to have a preview of their cart while they’re shopping?”, you consider alternative paths and wayfindings.

The process of integrating content elements into the user flow is a critical step in wireframing, underscoring the importance of a well-thought-out user flow design. To gain deeper insights into how integrating user flows can elevate your wireframing strategy and contribute to a more effective and user-centric design, we highly recommend our comprehensive guide, 'Excelling in User Flow Design: A Comprehensive Guide to Best Practices in UX'. This guide will provide you with a broader perspective on user flow design and its impact on the overall user experience.

The final step: balancing the needs of users, decision makers, and developers

Putting the finishing touches on the wireframes before prototyping can be tricky. It involves striking the right balance between everyone who will be looking at the wireframe — users, decision makers, and developers. Each audience tends to care about different aspects of the wireframe, although the client, of course, has the final word.

The key with decision-makers, who often care most about the final outcome and are eager to get there, is communication. It’s important to let decision-makers know the “why” behind decisions and to emphasize that a webpage “looking pretty” is not enough. That's not what makes customers stay on your site. Focusing on how the wireframing deliberately makes space for future growth and for new features to be added, helps avoiding common pitfalls later on in the design process.

For developers, the focus is different. Before handing off the wireframe to developers, give your work a once-over. Developers are very detail- and information-oriented and care very much about a well-defined and clean wireframes.

Lay a long-term foundation for increased customer satisfaction

Wireframing is not just about a pleasing visual presentation of information on your site. By considering your customer’s point-of-view from the start, wireframing lays a strong foundation to improve your website’s levels of engagement, conversions, and customer satisfaction for the long-term.

Stay tuned for our next post in this b13 design series as we move on to prototyping. Contact b13 to get your project off to a great start with user-researched wireframes.

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FAQ Section

What is the difference between wireframing and prototyping?

It’s easy to get wireframing and prototyping mixed up.  

Wireframing comes first and is a low-fidelity representation of a website or app's layout and structure. It focuses on function. Prototyping comes after wireframing and is a high-fidelity, interactive model of a website or app's user interface. 

Wireframing helps you plan and explore design options, and prototyping helps test and validate the user experience.

How does wireframing contribute to a better user experience?

Wireframing improves user experience by focusing on functionality, identifying usability issues early, and stepping-through a clear user flow. When a website or app is designed with the user's needs in mind (rather than just the visual appearance), designers can address any issues before the design is finalized, ensuring that the user experience is intuitive and streamlined.

What are some popular wireframing tools and techniques?

You can go old-school and use pen and paper or a whiteboard to sketch a wireframe. You can also use various software tools depending on your budget and your team’s workflow. 

Some of the most popular wireframing applications are Figma, Balsamiq, Adobe XD, and Miro

Is it okay to use placeholder text in a wireframe?

Placeholder text (or Lorem Ipsum) can be useful for low fidelity wireframes, especially if the client wants to revise the existing content or if you simply don't have any content yet. 

Generally it's good practice to incorporate real content as soon as you can. Real content is useful to show how elements will behave in certain scenarios which might not be revealed by placeholder or generic content. For example, very long body text, multi-line breaks in headlines, and whether or not there is an image in a teaser. 

“Filling page elements with fake content during design can lead to empty, unneeded spaces later. ‘Lorem ipsum’ must die.”—Susan Farrell, Which comes first? Layout or content?

How do you incorporate feedback into wireframes?

Wireframing is an iterative process, and it's essential to gather, analyze and act on feedback. Most wireframing software tools have a feature for adding comments and suggestions. 

  • Collect feedback from stakeholders and analyze it from common themes. Look for patterns to understand if there is a root cause or a culprit in the design. 
  • Prioritize feedback based on the impact to the user experience, rather than the seniority of the stakeholder. 
  • Make changes to the wireframes. You might need to assign version numbers to track iterations.
  • Communicate with stakeholders about revisions, particularly if you’ve implemented their feedback, and test the new designs.