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Wireframes: past, present & future

Wireframing is a very blurry notion that has been changing over time. In this post, we’ll see what it meant 10 years ago, what it means today and where it’s going.

A thing from the past: wireframing for specification purposes only

A few years back, a wireframe was mainly a document cataloging a long list of page elements—pretty dull to read! Its main objective was to detail a website or a piece of software. These kind of documents were kind of useful for developers, but that’s about it. Final users couldn’t get a clear idea of how the final website or app would look or feel. Of course, we’re talking about the pre-historic stage of Information Architecture and User Experience design.

A new trend: wireframing to improve user experience

Wireframes thus switched from a purely functional role to a more visual one. This kind of wireframe can be used to convey not only the general architecture of information but also the overall user experience. In the past, you would create several detailed wireframes, in order to offer different options to the client. Since then, the wireframe has changed to be less static and more fluid. Wireframes now tend to be less detailed and much more descriptive through time.

The Agile approach

With the new Agile methodology, wireframes have switched from focusing on dull specification documents to a more functional, usable prototype, with more focus on users. “Is this right design for users?”, “how can we improve the user interface?”: these types of dialogue have become essential to changing and improving the wireframe. Newer styles of wirefeames also tend to be focused not only on specifications but also increasingly on the user experience. HTML prototypes can be used to carry out user testing, and not just as a showreel for clients and stakeholders.

Everybody say ‘Wireframe’!

Wireframes and prototypes are now a lot more user-centered. Thus, they shouldn’t be constrained to roles such as IA (information Architect) or UX designers. Wireframes belong to everybody. From designers to final users, to stakeholders: everybody should be able to create, test and comment on them.

From wireframing to quick prototyping tools

Wireframes and prototypes are being increasingly used throughout the production process to instantly experience changes operated. Paper wireframing will hence be increasingly combined with more functional prototypes to follow the design and development process through to the end of the process.

Pablo Gonzalez

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