A Step-by-step Guide to Mobile App Wireframing in Design
What is mobile app wireframing and why is it important? Learn everything you need to know about the process and create useful wireframes for your projects.
From the moment UI/UX designers start working on a project, there are a number of ideas in their heads and those floating around in the design team. The path to reaching the actual design includes many discussions, suggestions, brainstorming sessions, and iterative techniques. Whether the designers are working on physical products or digital services, such as mobile applications, the process stays pretty much the same.
One of the important steps in the design process, particularly when dealing with an app idea, is wireframing. Mobile wireframing is considered an essential step when developing any application. It is in this step that designers start visualizing their ideas and start making them presentable as well as interactive for their target audience. Once an idea is visualized, it now gets a new life, is more open to feedback, and can be improved based on the needs of the target audience. The professionals in any mobile app design agency put great emphasis on wireframing, ensuring that this step gets the due attention. For UI/UX designers, it is critical to understand the basic concepts of mobile app design wireframing to add value to their projects.
In this article, we introduce the concept of wireframing for mobile applications. Given the importance of this essential step in the design process, what follows is a thorough discussion on the topic. This article introduces wireframing in mobile app design, followed by the types of mobile app design wireframes, and concludes with a guide on how to build an app wireframe.
Defining wireframe in mobile app design
Wireframes, according to Usability.gov, are two-dimensional illustrations of a design. These illustrations focus on the positioning and presentation of content, whether textual or visual, on the screen. Wireframes can be as simple as a few hand-drawn shapes on a piece of paper and as sophisticated as prototypes created using specialized tools. Just like any other design project, wireframing is an essential part of the design process for mobile app development.
What is wireframing for mobile apps?
Mobile application wireframing is a process that designers use to visualize their ideas. A wireframe is a simple depiction of how the design is supposed to look and work. Different types of wireframes can be created at various stages of the design process.
It is important to have clarity about the purpose and nature of a wireframe before initiating the process. A wireframe, being one of the first few phases of any design, does not need to be highly complicated. It is also not necessary for the wireframe to be perfect in all respects. In fact, the first version of any wireframe does not even require the use of any specific tools or software programs. Therefore, wireframes should not be treated as the final product of any design project.
The design of any product or service is an iterative process and wireframes are no different. UI/UX designers need a visual representation of their ideas not only to see them clearly but also to get good feedback from the users. Mobile app wireframes serve this purpose by bringing ideas out of the minds and onto the paper. Designers create several types of wireframes depending on the stage of the design process. All of these, however, play an equally important role in the creation of a successful product or service design.
Mobile application wireframing importance
It will not be wrong to say that creating a mobile wireframe is one of the first steps in the app development process when the designers get to see their ideas in a physical form. Wireframes lay the foundation of any design by transforming into simple clickable prototypes and interactive designs at a later stage. There are several ways in which the wireframing process adds value to the overall design process. Wireframes not only help in understanding the app in a better way but also ensure that the design meets the needs of the target audience.
Why is wireframing important in mobile apps?
Wireframing is important for mobile applications as it helps in shaping ideas. The process, being not overly complicated and time-consuming, aids in getting quick and better feedback along with creating user-centered designs.
Some of the reasons why mobile app wireframes become essential in the design of any mobile application are discussed below.
Visualizing the design ideas
One of the most important steps in the design of any mobile application is to visualize the ideas. This can be achieved with the help of carefully created wireframes. By using simple design patterns and basic shapes, designers can get their message across to the users, fellow designers, and even stakeholders in an effective manner. It is important to understand that the goal of a wireframe, especially in the initial stages, is not to create a highly responsive prototype. Instead, the aim is to be able to actually see the design idea on a piece of paper — something that can be reviewed, critiqued, and improved along the way.
Understanding the app
A good design can never be created without understanding the purpose and objectives of the project itself. The best way to understand a mobile application is to interact with it in some shape or form. This is where a wireframe can be of immense value. Mobile app wireframes help in getting a better understanding of a mobile app, including its key features and limitations. Wireframes also highlight some of the important concerns, such as the way a design could work on different devices with varying screen sizes. Things like this would otherwise get overlooked, leaving a significant impact on the overall design.
Creating user-centered designs
Users are at the heart of any UI/UX design project. One of the best practices of mobile app design is to understand and meet the needs of the target audience. This can only be achieved if the target user flow coincides with the design of the application. Mobile app wireframes help in outlining this user flow and ensuring that the users are at the center of the entire design process. Additionally, by creating interactive wireframes, designers can get quick feedback from the target users, making them a part of the process. Therefore, wireframes are an excellent way to create user-centered designs.
Getting quick feedback
As mentioned above, mobile app wireframing can help in getting quick and quality feedback from the users. The creation of a wireframe does not require any specialized techniques or tools. Therefore, it takes less time than creating sophisticated and complex prototypes. Additionally, since the wireframes do not have any complicated features, it is easy to quickly introduce a design idea to the users and get their feedback at the very initial stage.
Avoiding bigger mistakes
Mobile app wireframes help the designers and design teams from making serious mistakes. By creating a presentable and interactive version in the initial stages of the design process, it gets easier to visualize where the design is going and what can be expected at the end. If, for instance, things are not going well, the design can be altered in a hassle-free manner. On the other hand, if wireframes are not created and the ideas are only reflected upon after the first prototype is out, some big mistakes might become an integral part of the design. This can impact the overall quality of the app in the future.
Saving time and money
Since wireframes are created at the very beginning of any design process, the stakes are not too high. Additionally, the time and resources spent up until this point do not amount to a scary figure, so it is possible to make drastic changes, if necessary. Even if the design needs to go in an entirely different direction, the stakeholders do not risk a lot of money when the wireframes are being created and evaluated. From the perspective of the design team, it saves their time and effort in a way that they can get quick and timely feedback which can then be incorporated into the design.
Types of mobile app design wireframes
Creating mobile app wireframes can be thought of as a sequential process. Like any other aspect of the design process, things start off in an abstract and basic manner which is then improved by iterations. The final version is more interactive and attractive. However, this final version of any design is not possible without going over a series of steps. Based on the level of sophistication, mobile app wireframes are of three types.
What are the types of mobile app design wireframes?
UX designers create three types of mobile app wireframes:
- Low-fidelity wireframe
- Mid-fidelity wireframe
- High-fidelity wireframe
As the names indicate, these three types of wireframes show a progression in the design process.
Low-fidelity wireframes are nothing more than very basic drawings on a piece of paper. The idea behind these prototypes is to sketch the layout of the mobile application on paper and visualize the hierarchy of different elements. Low-fidelity wireframes do not have any design elements such as navigation bars or buttons. Additionally, these wireframes also do not include the actual text content that the users will see or interact with. The entire purpose of this wireframe is to spend minimum time and effort but have some concrete form of the design idea in front of the users, stakeholders, and the design team.
Mid-fidelity wireframes take the design a step further by introducing some design elements such as buttons, navigation bars, and menus on the paper. This wireframe presents an improved picture of the design by creating an accurate visual hierarchy and allotting specific space to design elements. Some of the important elements introduced in the mid-fidelity wireframe include the spacing between design elements, placeholder buttons, and text boxes with dummy text for the content to be added. This wireframe also does not include exact images and the accurate content to be added to the design but it gets much closer to that.
A high-fidelity wireframe, as the name suggests, is the most interactive and sophisticated version produced in the wireframing process. In such a wireframe, designers try to include as many design elements as possible to make it interactive and attractive at the same time. The placeholder text and images on the screens get replaced by actual content and media elements, to give the design a realistic feel. Some designers use specialized software to create these wireframes, taking them closer to the first interactive prototypes for any product or service. Given the interactive nature of a high-fidelity app wireframe, it is easy for users to understand the nature of the design and use it in a more real-world scenario.
A simple guide for creating your app wireframes
Now that you know what wireframes are for mobile apps and how many types of wireframes designers create when working on a project, it is time to answer an important question: How to make a wireframe for mobile app development? If you look at any wireframe template, you’ll see that the design and interface elements are pretty basic with not a lot of interactivity. This is because wireframing is a quick and simple process where designers present the entire idea in an understandable form without being over-ambitious. However, this does not mean that there is no method involved in creating mobile app wireframes.
What are the steps to create a mobile app design wireframe?
Follow the steps below to create a mobile app design wireframe.
- Define your goals
- Map out the user journey
- Understand your limitations
- Pick the right tools
- Start with simple shapes
- Introduce design elements
- Insert appropriate content
- Create all the required screens
- Connect the screens
- Test the wireframe
The following steps will guide you through the creation of a successful mobile app wireframe. Irrespective of your journey in the field of UI/UX design, you can use these steps as a checklist to improve the quality of your projects.
1. Define your goals
The first step in creating a wireframe is to understand and define the goals for your mobile application. It is important that the goals are clear, unambiguous, and realistic. This step guides the entire wireframing process and involves a lot of discussion within the UX design team and with other related departments and stakeholders. Clearly defined goals help in setting the expectations from the wireframe and the mobile application in general.
2. Map out the user journey
After defining the goals, the next step is to look at the app from the users’ perspective. It is essential to create a tangible user flow that can map out the entire user experience. User flows, along with the goals and objectives of the app, ensure that the design process is focused and user-centered at the same time. UX mapping is one of the best ways to create an app’s user flow and extract valuable information in the process.
3. Understand your limitations
When creating digital products and services, one of the most important concerns is the type of devices that the audience can use to interact with the design. This is where designers need to pay close attention and understand their limitations, such as the sizes of mobile screens and the way design elements appear on a mobile frame. Other limitations, such as the availability of time and resources, also come into play.
4. Pick the right tools
There are several tools that can be used to create effective wireframes for mobile applications. Adobe XD, for example, is considered one of the best wireframe tools. Similarly, when working on high-fidelity wireframes, a digital prototyping tool such as Figma can be very useful. It is important to pick the right tools when starting the wireframing process. All the tools come with certain costs and/or limitations and the designers should be aware of these before creating the wireframes.
5. Start with simple shapes
Once all the essential information about the wireframing process is gathered, the next step is to start with a very simple, low-fidelity wireframe for the mobile application. At this point, try to create your wireframe using basic shapes instead of complicated UI elements. The focus here is to create a visual representation of the idea in your mind. Once you have a presentable picture in the form of frames or mobile screens, the first version of your wireframe can be considered done.
6. Introduce design elements
After creating your wireframe with simple shapes, now is the time to introduce some familiar UI elements, such as buttons, navigation bars, and search bars in your wireframe. This is where you create a mid-fidelity wireframe that gives a better picture of the visual hierarchy in your design. Remember, even at this point, you do not have to worry about inserting interactive elements into your wireframe.
7. Insert appropriate content
After populating your wireframe with the design elements, you can now think about the actual design, which is an interactive version that your users can play with. This is when you insert appropriate textual and visual elements into your design. Think about the color of the banner and the text on a button that can make your design useful as well as attractive.
8. Create all the required screens
Repeat steps 5 to 7 for all the screens in your design. This means that you have to create the low-, mid-, and high-fidelity wireframes for all the phone screens that your design needs. All the screens must be consistent with the overall goals of the app and the needs of the target audience. Similarly, the content on all the screens should also follow the design patterns as per the original idea.
9. Connect the screens
Once you have created all the required screens, you can now think about the user flows and how they can be incorporated into the design. Using the information gathered from the UX maps in step 2, you can now design navigation patterns for the users to make the most out of your design. This is the step where you bring all the wireframe elements together and create the entire experience of the mobile application.
10. Test the wireframe
Once the flow between different screens of the wireframe is finalized, you can now test the design with real users. User testing can give you a lot of valuable information, making your designs more focused on the needs of the target audience. It is important to conduct user research in a real-world context so the feedback gives you a good idea about the performance of your design in a realistic environment.
In any design project, the creation of wireframes is something that cannot be neglected. The importance of wireframes gets more pronounced when working on the design of a digital product, such as a mobile or web app. Mobile app wireframes serve as the first step toward the creation of interactive prototypes that can be handed over to the users. These prototypes are essential for conducting user research at an early stage of the design process and, thus, molding the design patterns to meet the needs of the audience.
This article covers the basic concept of the mobile app wireframing process and provides a step-by-step that you can follow in all your app design projects. The steps discussed in this article can be applied to the creation of any mobile app wireframe. These can also be adapted for the design of web applications where, in most cases, major differences lie in the screen sizes and the types of devices being used by the target audience.
Mobile app wireframes add great value to the overall design of any product or service. These not only make the design user-centered but also ensure that the task of designers gets easier. It is essential for designers to learn how to build quality wireframes, thus making their designs successful.