What Is Wireframing? Everything You Need to Know

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What is wireframing in design and why is it useful for building websites or apps?

In web design, wireframing is like a blueprint for a website. UX/UI wireframing is also used to help build software and mobile apps

Essentially, a website wireframe is a rough sketch/visual guide that establishes the structure and flow of a site (or app), but in skeletal form.

They aren’t super detailed, but there’s still complexity to them. Think about writing an outline for an essay: you include all the most important points but don’t flesh out the details until later.

Wireframe on paper

In this post, we’re breaking down what wireframing is, why it’s important, the different types and stages of wireframing, and who should learn it.

We’ll also share some of the best wireframing tools and courses to kickstart your learning if you think UI/UX wireframing right for you!

What Is Wireframing in Web Design/UI/UX?

Before we get into the process of wireframing, what is a wireframe for a website/app?

In simple terms, it’s a 2D outline/blueprint/skeleton of a website or application. It’s usually drawn by hand or created with illustration or wireframing software.

Creating a wireframe helps to establish the user interface (UI), core functionality, flows, and interactive features of the website or app.

wireframe on paper

Wireframing is an important part of product development, UX, and website design because it’s a way to plan how to arrange and prioritize features.

A website wireframe typically includes only the most essential elements of the interface, such as navigation bars, content areas, and buttons.

🧠 Wireframing is done before any other design/coding/development work is done. It’s essentially a way to brainstorm ways of displaying content, creating interactions, etc.

As this Redditor describes it:

“Think of it as a blueprint for a building—no architect in his right mind would start picking marble countertops before figuring out the room layout. Even if your client never sees it, it helps immensely to have a solid layout plan before you begin layering on the more interesting visual design aspects.”

App and website wireframes are generally very simple and low-fidelity. They’re usually black and white instead of color, have placeholder images, and use Lorem Ipsum for text.

Lo-fi and mid-fi wireframing allow you to see big-picture problems clearly and make quick changes early.

Wireframe vs mockup

These might sound like similar concepts, so what’s a mockup vs wireframe? Usually, both of these will be involved in the design process.

Essentially, mockups are higher-fidelity than wireframes, meaning they are more detailed and closer to what the end result will look like.

Mockups often include specific colors, typography, and images to provide a more realistic representation of the final product. They focus more on the visual look and feel than on functionality.

Wireframing vs prototyping

Wireframing and prototyping are also related: UI wireframing is the first stage of the design process, and prototyping is one of the last.

Prototypes are even higher-fidelity, combining wireframes with mockups to create an interactive simulation of the website/app. They can range from simple click-through models to more complex interactive simulations.

Prototyping allows designers to test and refine the functionality, user flow, and overall user experience of the interface.

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What Do Wireframes Include?

Since wireframes are so basic, they typically do not include styling, color, images, real copy, or graphics.

So what do they actually include? 👇

An app/website wireframe often shows various screens and include elements like: 

  • Page layouts
  • Search bars/fields
  • Navigation elements
  • Breadcrumbs
  • Logo placement
  • Share buttons
  • Contact info sections
  • Footers
  • Buttons
  • Text fields
  • Drop-downs
  • Log-in/sign-up forms
  • Image placeholders
  • Etc.

Think about all the things that enable you to actually use a website or app, and you have all the right elements for successful wireframe examples!

wireframe on ipad

3 Stages of Wireframing: Low, Mid, and High-Fidelity

There isn’t just one type of wireframing. We can identify about three unique stages of wireframing, which get more detailed as they go.

Let’s look at each category of wireframe examples.

✏️ Low-fidelity wireframing: 

  • First stage of the wireframing process
  • Purpose is to define user flow, including hierarchy and structure
  • Usually rough hand-drawn sketches with pen & paper or a whiteboard

💻 Mid-fidelity wireframing:

  • These wireframes typically add a bit more detail to low-fidelity wireframes
  • This is where functionality is established; the wireframe will include various UI elements for functionality 
  • Typically black-and-white digital illustrations, instead of hand-drawn sketches

📱 High-fidelity wireframing:

  • These types of wireframes are the most detailed, building upon the previous types even more
  • At this stage, you’ll be establishing usability and some design elements
  • Like mid-fidelity, these are digitally created with wireframing software

After high-fidelity wireframes, the next stage would be mockups, then prototypes, and lastly the final product!

Where Does Wireframing Fall Within the Product Development Process?

Wireframing is most commonly done by UX/UI designers in the early stages of a project.

Creating a wireframe is commonly done during the exploratory phase of the product lifecycle, while teams are brainstorming and coming up with ideas on how they want a website or app to function.

Wireframe on a tablet

After more user research and insights are collected (and stakeholders sign off), designers then work on creating more detailed mockups and prototypes based on the skeleton wireframe.

Then, coders work on the back-end and front-end to actually build functioning products.

➡️ Learn more about how web developers work with UX designers in this post.

According to this Redditor, wireframing is an important first step because it allows designers to explore all kinds of solutions before selecting just one:

“Personally I love exploring the solution space with wireframes, especially on a whiteboard. It’s my favorite part of the whole design process! When I know enough about a problem I try to come up with as many unique solutions as possible by sketching wireframes, and I almost always find unexpected solutions that make the end user experience more rewarding. This is also the most creative part of my job as a product designer.”

Who Should Learn Wireframing?

Since it’s also called UX wireframing or UI wireframing, you’ve probably guessed that the career that uses wireframing the most is UX/UI design.

Since wireframing for website design is also important, web designers should have this skill too. 

person working on wireframe

There are other roles that may use wireframing skills as well.

Product managers, product designers, and front-end web developers are all jobs that can benefit from knowing some wireframing best practices and tools, at least at a basic level. 

It can also be helpful to understand how to wireframe for personal projects, especially if you want to build your own app/website from the ground up.

6 Best Tools for Wireframing

If you want to use the best wireframing tools, start by looking at what the other professionals are using!

Below are some popular UI wireframing tools:

Disclosure: I’m a proud affiliate for some of the resources mentioned in this article. If you buy a product through my links on this page, I may get a small commission for referring you. Thanks!

  1. Pencil/pen & paper: Many wireframing examples start with simple sketches on paper. Many UX/UI designers even have their favorite pens for wireframing. This Redditor says “I swear by the Pentel Sign Pen 🖊 for getting sketches, wireframes down on paper.” Buy it from Amazon here. 
  2. Balsamiq: A low-fidelity wireframing tool that reproduces the experience of sketching on a notepad or whiteboard, but using a computer. Learn more.
  3. Excalidraw: A virtual collaborative whiteboard tool that lets you easily sketch diagrams that have a hand-drawn feel to them. They’ve also got a lot of templates to help build objects. This Redditor says it’s “By far the greatest tool I’ve used for creating and sharing low fidelity wireframes.”
  4. Figma: You can do simple wireframing in Figma, as well as creating higher-fidelity mockups and prototypes. This means you can iterate on wireframes within the same program which is important for some people. 
  5. Sketch: Similar to Figma in that you can go from super basic wireframes to more advanced mockups with this tool. Only for MacOS.
  6. Adobe XD: Can be used for wireframing but is more commonly a prototyping tool. 

If you’re looking for free online wireframing tools, some of the wireframing software above comes with a free trial. Try it first and decide if you want to pay for it later.

5 Courses to Start Learning Wireframing Tools & Skills

Ready to start learning wireframing for website design, UX, and more?

Here are five courses to teach you all about web design wireframing, UX wireframing, how to use some of the best wireframing tools from above, wireframing best practices, and more.

1. Web Design: Wireframes to Prototypes on Coursera

This course covers how to use early UX research in order to create real user interfaces, from wireframes and high-fidelity mockups to actual clickable prototypes.

Best if you want to learn about the whole process—not just wireframes themselves, but also how they evolve and iterate.

2. UX Design Creating Wireframes on Pluralsight

In this course, you’ll go from having a basic understanding of wireframes to learning some of the most important concepts in wireframing.

This course uses Adobe XD as its main wireframing tool. Perfect if you want to dive into all the details of wireframing as a beginner.

3. Beginners Guide to Wireframes – A Mini Course on Udemy

In this course, you’ll learn wireframing for website design from scratch using Balsamiq. It includes a project where you wireframe the Google Chrome website and make it completely interactive.

4. Figma UI UX Design Essentials on Skillshare

This course is a great intro to the entire world of UX/UI design, and covers how to begin wireframing in Figma. It also goes into user interfaces, prototypes, how to implement colors/style, and more!

5. Introduction to UI and UX Design on Codecademy

Learn how to create simple wireframes using Figma, as well as some of the theory and methodologies behind UI and UX design.

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Should I Learn Wireframing?

You should consider learning wireframing if you want to become a UX/UI designer, product manager/designer, or web designer/developer. This is an important skill to have for those careers.

You may also want to learn wireframing if you plan on creating your own app or website. The process of creating a wireframe teaches you how to plan and think critically about the usability of your app/website, and can help you avoid mistakes early on before they become a big deal.

🌟 The best thing about wireframing is that it isn’t that hard to learn!

It gets a little harder if you want to move on to creating detailed mockups and prototypes, but simple wireframes are something you can do with pen and paper if you know how.

It never hurts to have one more skill in your arsenal—so go ahead and give it a shot!