A guide to Wireframes, Mockups and Prototypes

Today upon seeing the textbook of my 9 year old daughter, i realized that a product development cycle resembles the birth cycle of a butterfly. The process of evolution of a  product from an idea can be depicted through the beautiful process of the birth of a butterfly.

Most people think that Wireframe, Prototype and Mockups are one and the same, but this ideology is wrong, each of them serves a different purpose.

Applications demand design creation, the task is not simple and can’t be completed in a one time action, the process of designing an application is not completely technical, technology cannot work alone, designing also requires a sense of creative imagination and conceptualization skills along with technical skills, appealing visuals for an application is achieved in various iterations.

According to the current trend, designing of an application takes 30% of the total time of Development Cycle. Since  people involve so much time in designing, it is a crucial part of App Development. Wireframes, Mockups and Prototypes make the process of designing accurate and precisive, all of them serve a critical role in the designing process.

They are used to represent the requirements of clients graphically for efficient visual communication between clients (website/product owners), developers and designers. One doesn’t need any technical skill or knowledge to create them.

In the Application designing, the first step is Wireframe creation, it is then followed by making Mockups and Prototypes. Development is a later stage.

Here are some key differentiating factors between Wireframes, Mockups and Prototypes :

Wireframes : The organization of each component of a web page is shown in a visual representation form with the help of Wireframes.
They represent the look of the webpages. They are static in  nature and serve the purpose of guiding in the development cycle. Software Requirement Specification documents are inclomplete without Wireframes.

More emphasis is given on functional features as compared to visual elements while creating wireframes. Problem Solving is given more importance rather than  the look, what does the product have to offer to it’s users and how will it perform in different scenarios are the parameters on which a wireframe is based.

Wireframes are nothing but a collection of gray boxes that represent the structure and the concept of the product, it shows the prioritization of the content and the logical approach followed by the product for work.

Mockups : Mockup designs are created before the final launching of a design, they are used to review the final design before launch.

Mockup design creation is an important step for a designer because they prevent requests of change after designing is complete.

Mockup design creation employs usage of appealing colors, fonts, themes, logos, buttons etc. the graphics are more alive.

They are static in nature, what differentiates them from Wireframes is the page layout shows the final look of the product that how the web pages or the mobile app will actually look.

Prototypes : Prototypes are related more to User Experience, they are used when the designing domain transits stage from User Interface to user Experience.

Users are able to perform operations on the application, they get a demo of how the functionalities will work in actual application. They are able to interact with the designed application interface. Users record their experience with the application and are able to give feedback for the application.

They are dynamic in nature, they respond to the actions of the users, effective communication takes place between the user and the application, the user interaction helps to find problems at early stages of development. The designers use prototypes to test their design and find bugs.

Prototypes are click-responsive in nature, users interact with the application by clicking and get back a reponse, interactivity is what makes prototype different from Wireframes and Mockups.

Wireframes, Mockups and Prototypes are all components of Quality Software Development. There are some Software Development Firms that use quality approach towards App and Web Product Development, they keep their clients involved in all stages of development, also User Interface and User Experience are their topmost priorities.

The author is an experienced digital media professional having experience of more than 25 years in leadership roles at several leading internet and media companies in India.

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