Barbed wireframes – a creative’s take on the IA’s best friend

I love wireframes. A logical, sensible solution to ensuring that websites are developed to be as user-focused as possible, and the enemy of project creep. They are both where the site development journey begins and the user experience starts. Why wouldn’t anyone love these seemingly innocuous sketches or detailed blueprints?

During a recent client project the humble wireframe caused a degree of angst. Names have been avoided to protect the innocent, and with a degree of artistic licence the comments are broadly representative of the interaction (add expletives to taste):

The designer:

‘I want to try putting these modules here’

The IA (and project lead):

‘You can’t’

The designer:

‘Why not?’

The IA:

‘Because the client has signed the wireframes off’

The designer:

‘But it would make more sense here’

The IA:

‘But the client has signed the wireframes off’

The designer:

‘I got that, but the module still appears, has a similar visual weighting as it does in the wireframe, it would just make more sense from a users perspective to be here’

The IA:

‘If we change the wireframe for this page, we’ll need to get it signed off again, plus we have no more budget for this phase’

Courteous exchange dissolves rapidly, a little blood is shed…

So who’s right? And what was the eventual outcome? In reverse order, we tried a few routes at the design stage, all of which remained true to the wireframe and the desired information hierarchy, but demonstrated a degree of flex when it came to the actual page position and visual treatment. The final route chosen was actually a solution that everyone involved felt happy with.

Most importantly the client was delighted and blissfully unaware that we’d even had these internal clashes. As for who’s right, I think that’s the beauty of wireframes, they fire discussion and debate at the right time in the process. Methodologies are important for all sorts of reasons, but life is rarely black and white and the same applies to wireframes (even if they are devoid of additional colour).

In summary, use wireframes every time, but remember their purpose as a visual guide and be prepared to evolve. Effective website development is a phased process, but inevitably there is overlap with those phases, and for good reason.

The individuals concerned remain friends and the consensus is that the end result is the right one. Of course only time will really tell and we await the first analytics review.

What’s your take on the humble wireframe? Passionate or ambivalent, I’d love to hear your thoughts.

About Alastair

Founder and Creative Director

Ali co-founded mark-making* in 1995 after graduating from Lancaster University in Marketing & Visual Arts. Ali works closely with our clients to help bring clarity to their story, and oversees the wider mm* team to ensure it’s expressed effectively, with authenticity and coherence. Ali regularly speaks on the concept of Magnetic Brands, an approach to creating and building brands that embraces the power of being more human, in pursuit of both profit and positive impact. Ali leads mark-making’s work in helping ambitious organisations of all shapes and sizes build extraordinary and enduring appeal.