What are Wireframes, and How to Create Them?


April 1, 2012

By: Drew Meyers

Posted in: Website Creation Process

What is a wireframe? A wireframe is the starting point to designing a new website, and involves a rough layout of all the various components to be included on a website. According to wikipedia:

A website wireframe, also known as a page schematic or screen blueprint, is a visual guide that represents the skeletal framework of a website.[1] The wireframe depicts the page layout or arrangement of the website’s content, including interface elements and navigational systems, and how they work together.[2] The wireframe usually lacks typographic style, color, or graphics, since the main focus lies in functionality, behavior, and priority of content.[3] In other words, it focuses on “what a screen does, not what it looks like.”[4] Wireframes can be pencil drawings or sketches on a whiteboard, or produced by means of a broad array of free or commercial software applications.

Wireframes focus on

  • The kinds of information displayed
  • The range of functions available
  • The relative priorities of the information and functions
  • The rules for displaying certain kinds of information
  • The effect of different scenarios on the display[5]

The website wireframe connects the underlying conceptual structure, or information architecture, to the surface, or visual design of the website.[2] Wireframes help establish functionality, and the relationships between different screen templates of a website. An iterative process, creating wireframes is an effective way to make rapid prototypes of pages, while measuring the practicality of a design concept. Wireframing typically begins between “high-level structural work—like flowcharts or site maps—and screen designs.”[3] Within the process of building a website, wireframing is where thinking becomes tangible.[6]

Most websites are strategized with a wireframe prior to doing any design work. Why? Simple. It’s a lot more work to redo an entire Photoshop or Fireworks image if you decide to change your site layout than it is to move a few boxes around and change some text within a wireframe prior to doing ANY actual design work. There are some designers who build sites without wireframing, but that’s usually for their own websites rather than client sites.

How exactly do you create wireframes?

The program I use is call Balsamiq. It includes a simple drag and drop interface with a wide range of preset options. I always start the website design process by wireframing the home page. There’s no exact answer to “how do you wireframe”, it’s just a matter of grabbing a wireframing program and playing around. Or, of course, you can wireframe with pen and paper — but making modifications are a lot harder that way.


About the Author

Drew is founder of ESM Exec Designs and is a travel addict running Oh Hey World. In his free time, Drew enjoys reading, traveling the world, spending time with passionate people, and is active member of the microfinance community.