May 27, 2015

Content is King. Rule with Website Wireframes.

Starting a website project can be an exciting – albeit daunting – task. With so many moving parts and technological unknowns, it’s hard to know where to begin and what to prioritize. That’s why website wireframes are a useful tool in the website design process.

First and foremost, it’s important to understand that your content is king. Before beginning your project, keep in mind that your website, for all its frills and functionality, is a vehicle for your content. That content needs to be delivered to your target audiences effectively in order to be successful. Wireframes play a fundamental role in your website’s success by organizing your content.

What is a Wireframe?

A website wireframe is the basic structure of an individual web page, and its purpose is to establish the hierarchy of each page’s content while also identifying specific functionality.

Wireframes help craft, communicate and define the user experience (UX). Since wireframes are visual, it’s easy to recognize how the strategy and content direction align within the layouts, while still being flexible enough to adjust as brainstorming continues. Perhaps most importantly, wireframes help keep the focus on content hierarchy and layout without allowing any branding and visual design elements to interfere. Simply put, a wireframe serves a similar purpose as a blueprint for a house; the more detailed you can get, the better.

Benefits of Website Wireframes.

The value website wireframes provide to a project are powerful. Below highlights some of the key benefits that can come from the wireframing process, along with some tips for consideration along the way.

Understanding Your Audience

Wireframes help combine both the desired user behavior of your target audiences with your overall company goals. Effective wireframes are rooted in target audience research – their preferences, their interests, how they behave online, etc.

Tip: Information around your audiences is uncovered during the strategy and discovery stages. It’s important not to skip over this critical research, because the details identified in these phases help inform the rest of the project. Your agency should have a clearly defined strategy phase that outlines deliverables, process, etc., for uncovering this information.

Easily Work Through Ideas

Wireframes are a good way to collect early feedback on your website’s structure and content hierarchy. As the project progresses, making major changes becomes increasingly more of an effort, which can consume precious project hours. It’s far easier to adjust elements within a wireframe than to adjust entire detailed sections of a design or change functionality within development. By working through and exploring various ideas in the website wireframe phase, it mitigates the risk of time-consuming changes later in the process.

Tip: Make sure you spend enough time reviewing the wireframes so that you can make informed, thoughtful decisions. It’s best to carve out specific times within your day to ensure that everyone is available and can get on the same page. Then consolidate your feedback into one comprehensive document to avoid confusion during revisions.

Establish a Strong Content Hierarchy

Website wireframes help establish the relationships of headings, sub-headings, body copy, supporting media elements, etc. throughout each template. This content blueprint can provide support while you’re executing and maintaining your content plan. As an added benefit, wireframes also support the development team in aligning the efforts of the front-end markup structure with the architecture of the back-end.

Tip: It’s important to work with real content so that the UI/UX strategist can accurately prioritize your information, user flow and overall page structure. Using “lorem ipsum” filler copy can only go so far before many (often costly) assumptions have to be made. Your agency should be able to support you in compiling and guiding your content roadmap.

Define the Responsive Nature of the Site

Mobile responsive website wireframes help clearly define how major module systems breakdown within mobile resolutions or breakout in larger layouts like desktop. Good wireframes will also include menu systems, which are usually the more complicated systems for implementation. Properly annotated wireframes show how these systems adjust between viewports while explaining how they function and the logic that will drive them.

Tip: Given Google’s recent mobile-responsive algorithm update, which places higher importance on mobile-responsive webpages in mobile search engine rankings, a website’s mobile responsiveness is more important now than ever. Make sure your agency offers mobile responsive web design and development!

Set Expectations and Gain Approvals while Staying Flexible

It’s important that the right people are included at the right times, especially as major decisions around the content, layout, behavior and CMS are made. Day-to-day decision-makers might vary from the stakeholders, so establish a clear understanding of who will be included in the website process, and when it’s necessary to involve them. Knowing when to bring in particular groups is paramount to staying on track, timeline and budget.

Tip: Wireframes can be a good time to involve stakeholders to ensure that everyone is on the same page with the intended approach. A great agency will alert you of those critical milestones to help ensure the appropriate people are included and that the project stays on track.

Establish Patterns for an Object Oriented Design & Development Approach

Layouts, templates, elements, modules, content hierarchy, etc., should all have extractable patterns that are established in and throughout the wireframes. These patterns provide direction for the design, development and QA efforts, and can make the web process more efficient

Tip: Your agency should push your team outside of its comfort zone while still reassuring that your goals, content and users are accounted for. If it feels uncomfortable, it probably is! If it feels safe, it’s probably been overdone before. Don’t be afraid to be unique; to stand out from your competitors you have to do what others aren’t.

One Document to Rule Them All

In short, website wireframes play an integral role in your website’s success. They make you think through your content, functionality requirements, target audiences and website goals. They force you to make key decisions that will inform design and development. They give you a blueprint from which to build your site.

Website wireframes will save you time and money in the long run, and provide a tangible document that you and your team can reference.

Want to chat more about wireframes or interested in starting the web design process? Contact us to learn more!

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