To effectively manage a project with very little mistakes, you must make it a priority to plan. Diving into the development process with not a single clue as to what elements go where or how certain aspects of a websites interface differ from one another is dooming yourself to hard-earned headaches.
For as long as humans have been able to hold a pen and a paper in hand, we have been prototyping and although different from now, “wireframing“. This dates back to thousands of years ago when architects and artists began converting their artwork into an actual physical presence.
This is to outline that we are no strangers to the planning, prototyping, and executing process. Essentially wireframing is the number one step you need to perform once you decide to make a website.
What are Wireframes, Really?
A wireframe in essence, is a visual representation, guide, and basic element structure of a websites interface design. Wireframes are usually the product of an idea that’s later reproduced on paper (or screen) so that they can preserve and maintain the consistency of visual similarities throughout a websites design. Not only that, but wireframing allows us to save valuable time and money. Deciding to create a website without planning, many times results in a very poorly functional interface. This will ultimately drive users away from your website, and tarnish the quality of your brand.
Below we’ve compiled great web-based applications to create mock-ups and wireframes. And even though these applications allow us to streamline our development process, it can sometimes be a much more effective technique to begin with a pencil and paper. Before computers, softwares, and websites, we were already developing designs by prototyping on paper. When I began designing mechanical and electrical parts for one of my previous employers, I was introduced early to planning and later designing them through a computer. Meanwhile some of my colleagues that had been doing the same job process before computers existed kept sketching out their projects on paper, and rarely referenced their computers. This didn’t mean that they couldn’t design on a computer better than I could, it just meant they preferenced the pencil and paper.
A large portion of designers prefer and begin their wireframing process on paper, for the most part, you can see the benefit in this because it is quick, straightforward, and best of all, free. While web-based applications can be relatively hard to interact with, may lead to a lot of wasted time, and may also reduce efficiency. There are pros and cons to either of the above, and many times a decision to utilize one or the other, is based on preference.
Tools and More Tools
Hot Gloo is an easy to interact with Flash web-based wireframing application. You can fully develop a websites prototype with ease, and functions such as drag and drop, preset elements, grids, layers, snap to grids and much more contributes to how easy it is to use. Once you sign-up you will also receive a custom Hot Gloo URL so that you’re able to share your mockups with anyone such as clients and colleagues. Apart from the URL the free account comes with the capability of sustaining one worker and a co-worker, anything over that is $14/month.
Mockingbird is a popular tool for creating mockups and wireframes. It allows you to easily create, preview, link to one another, and share all of your mockups with whomever you choose. Mockingbird comes with beautiful features that include snap to grid, drag and drop functionality, unlimited page linking and much more tools that’ll make your development process run smoothly.
This next tool is actually a very useful Firefox add-on that lets us make detailed diagrams and amazing user interfaces. The Pencil Project add-on comes with a variety of features such as multi-page documents, on-screen text editing, rich text support, background pages, the export of HTML, PNG and Openoffice formats.
PhotoShare provides an easy to use and collaborative tool that allows the creation of dynamic projects requiring prototypes and wireframes. Doesn’t matter the size of your project, seems like PhotoShare is able to accommodate most of your needs. The user interface is subtle, doesn’t seem to be way too over crowded, and it gives you ample space to work.
Balsamiq is an interactive wireframing tool that feels just like if you were drawing with a pen and paper, only a the web. Difference is with this tool you’ll have full control of elements allowing you to easily move or rearrange them. Avoiding massive pencil erasing marks on your paper that can cause confusion, this nifty tool will get the job done.
FlairBuilder allows for rapid deployment of wireframes through the use of a cross-platform that houses various functions and useful features within a palette. This tool has what they call “built-in” comfort as you navigate through palettes and components swiftly. Their interface is drag and drop driven, has quick and easy preview options, and gives you a large space to design.
Cacoo is a great to work with online drawing tool that lets you develop various diagrams such as network charts, wireframes, and site maps. You can allow multiple users to access your prototypes and make changes or just simply view your progress, thus it ultimately makes a well collaborative tool as well. You can share your wireframes by email or by copy and pasting a code snippet and embedding them in webpages for everyone to see.
Serena: Prototype Composer
Prototype Composer makes it possible to see how an application will look and function before any code is ever written. Instead of endless text documents, Prototype Composer makes it easy for business users and business analysts to collaborate on requirements by building simple, high-fidelity prototypes that simulate a working application.
MockFlow comes with an extensive online library of templates and presets that allow you to freely use them and improve the visual quality of your wireframes. MockFlow is free to use, however it’s premium version costs $59 per year (roughly $4.91/month) for an unlimited package that offers unlimited mock ups, collaborations, 500MB of storage, 30 revisions, export to PDF/PPT, real-time editing, team chat and more.
fluidIA is an emerging agile design tool for prototyping rich user interfaces. The big idea behind this experiment is whether we as interaction designers, IA’s, UX professionals and developers can create our own prototyping tool in an open way. fluidIA also provides speed, agility, amazing collaboration, and a rich interaction between the designer and the user interface.
Lumzy lets you create various prototypes of a website or an application that will function by adding events through your Lumzy control panel. This is a great tool that allows you to add interaction to a mockup, you will also get a hand drawn feel sketch as well. Create your mockups, share them with clients, edit with dynamic tools, and take advantage of the file versioning features as well.
GUI Studio Design
GUI Design Studio is a specialised software design tool for anyone involved in application user interface design, including User Experience Designers, Business Analysts, Developers, Project Managers and Consultants.
iPlotz lets you create wireframes that are clickable and you can navigate through. You essentially create/re-create the experience of a real-live website or application. Once you’re wireframe is complete, you have the option of sending out invitations so that others can come and critique your design.
OmniGraffle can help you make eye-popping graphic documents quickly by keeping lines connected to shapes even when they’re moved, providing powerful styling tools, importing and exporting Microsoft Visio files, and magically organizing diagrams with just one click. Whether you need a quick sketch or an epic technical figure, OmniGraffle keeps it gorgeously understandable.
MockupScreens is an interactive tool that lets you sketch screen mockups, showcase them, create a feedback system, and get the best results possible. Quickly visualize functions, embed them into your prototypes, and get a generalized or detailed idea of what your website or application will look like and how it will interact all before you even begin to code.
Your Turn To Talk
How do you create mock-ups and wireframes? I’m sure many of you start with a pen and paper, sketching ideas, but what tool(s) do you use? Please take a minute to let us know in the comments section below!