A wireframe is like a blueprint for your website or application. It expresses a visual guide and skeletal makeup of what you are looking to build. In web development, a wireframe is the first step you take, an antecedent of a prototype. In this article, we'll cover the benefits of creating a wireframe, and the best tools for creating a wireframe in 2021.
In our other blog on prototypes, we walked through what a prototype was and some of the best tools out there. If you are eager to learn about wireframes and prototypes, then you should for sure read our prototype article next. While it covers some of the same content, it goes more in depth in to the next steps of the design/development process.
Why Create a Wireframe?
Some of you may be thinking, what is the point of putting together a wireframe? At a high level, it is to provide you guidance. It isn't meant to be anything sexy, and really should only be seen by people you are gathering feedback from. A wireframe puts you in a position to quickly draft up what the site may look like, so you can then start working on more details.
If you are building a house, you wouldn't start with the model, you start with the blueprints. As the architect, you first draft up a 2-dimensional drawing of the floors, the walls, etc. You are mapping out on paper what everything is going to look like and important details such as, if a power outlet is needed, how many bathrooms to build, etc. The same principle holds for web development.
The blueprints aren't the entire solution, but they help guide you in the right direction. You will wireframe out each page of what you are looking to build, and can include details such as place holder text, logic as to where clicks take you, what content goes where (video, picture), etc. Your wireframe is your training wheel, use it to your advantage.
How Do I Create a Wireframe?
Some people use tools online to wireframe, others like to freehand it. We'll break down some of the common routes people look towards when it comes to building a wireframe. In this breakdown, we'll only outline the best tools that are either free or offer a decent free plan.
Figma is at the top of the list as it also made our list for the best prototyping tools. With its diverse offerings and easy to use UI, Figma is a go-to choice for any wireframe efforts. Their free version has become a little less generous with a recent pricing update, but it still offers more than enough flexibility to get started.
Balsamiq also has prototyping tools, as Balsamiq Studio has a vast number of services one can take advantage of. While it also offers an easy to use interface, Balsamiq Wireframes is only free for 30 days, and then you have to purchase the paid tier.
As an open source wireframe tool, Pencil Project lands number three on the list due to its offerings. Pencil Project is downloadable for both Mac and Windows, and is also 100% free, at all times. While Pencil Project isn't the most collaborator friendly tool out there, it is a great spot to start if you are on your own and taking your first strides in wireframes.
One of the more minimalistic tools out there, Wireframe.cc is a go to tool for those who need to whip up a wireframe real quick. With a user interface that is designed to mimic the feel of pen and paper, Wireframe.cc is easy to pick up and get something done quick, without having to go through a learning curve. The basic version is also free!
Pencil and Paper
And last but not least, we have a pencil and piece of paper. No, this isn't an online tool, it is simply the age-old medium for design. With a pencil and paper, you can truly wireframe out whatever you need. That is the beauty of wireframes, they don't need color, fancy graphics, or even transitions.
The whole purpose of a wireframe is to be simple and skeletal, so as long as you can figure out how to draw relatively straight lines, a pencil and paper can be a fantastic route for you. The main benefit with using pencil and paper is you won't get bogged down with the minor details like colors and exact shapes. The downside is you can't collaborate easily since it isn't digital or cloud-based like the other tools listed.
The beauty of wireframes is that there really isn't a bad choice you can go. I 1000% recommend that you stick with a free version, at least to start. Your focus is simplicity and speed, so you can iterate and grow.