Most developers treat the creation of wireframes as the very first step in the process of making mobile applications. In what follows, we will highlight the importance of these wireframes.
At the time of providing free app quotes, most mobile app development companies offer clients the option to share their own wireframes. Even if a client does not have a wireframe to share, developers create it on his/her behalf – before the actual coding process starts. Alternatively known as the ‘skeleton’ or ‘blueprint’, app wireframes are, in essence, low-fidelity visual representations of the overall flow of operations in a smartphone application. We will here outline the key benefits of working with wireframes while making a mobile app:
- Check the layout of the app screens – When prepared correctly, wireframes give an in-depth understanding to mobile app designers about what the overall UI and individual design layouts of each screen should be. This, in turn, helps them to chalk up custom design prototyping plans, and zero in upon the designing/animation elements that would make the app user-friendly. In a nutshell, a wireframe offers a starter’s view of the way in which the content would appear on the app screens.
- Understand how the app is going to work – Wireframes are often referred to as ‘outlines’ by professional Android and iPhone app developers – and not without reason. They serve as that vital link between a theoretical app idea, and the final form of the application. Carefully studying the visual sketches of the successive screens helps developers understand how an app idea is going to be deployed – and the coding is done accordingly. If a programmer has only a vague idea about the nature of mobile software (s)he would be creating, the work will never be up to the mark.
- Fosters teamwork and real-time communication – Barring a few exceptions (a standalone freelance app developer, maybe?), a mobile app development project is not handled by a single person. Generally, a team of developers, designers and testers work on the same app at a time – and when the relevant wireframe(s) are shared amongst them, each of them remain in the loop about how the app is being created. The communication between app developers and UI/UX designers is, in particular, vital – since problems on that count can lead to serious design errors. What’s more, wireframes also make the clients a part of the development team – since the sketches are shared with them, and feedback and suggestions are actively sought. Making a mobile app requires solid teamwork, and wireframes are necessary for that.
- Moving on to high-fidelity mockups become easier – As long as wireframes include all the key elements of apps, they need not be very detailed (i.e., low fidelity). However, before the final app prototype is created, developers/graphic designers as well as clients might want to view a high-level UI mockup of the application. Once the mockup is ready, the developers can collaborate with app clients to refine the application with additional features and enhancements. Displaying all proposed components of an app – right from buttons and images, to text content and hyperlinks – becomes a lot simpler on mockups, if an wireframe had been created in the first place.
- Facilitates understanding of in-app navigation – The wireframe of a mobile application effectively gives a pictorial representation of how end-users are going to use that app. The screen transition scheme (i.e., the ‘flow’ of the app) becomes clearer to the entire app development team working on the project. In addition, with the help of the wireframes, developers can test-run the navigation structure of their app, and make changes (if required). Experts from the field of app development emphasize on the importance of making in-app navigation intuitive, and wireframes are just the tools to ensure that.
- The cost advantage – Many do not realize this at first – but making the wireframe of an app has cost advantages too, both for mobile app companies as well as clients. All that it takes to create a wireframe is a pen and a piece of paper – to draw up the sketches and label the functions of the screens and the components therein. All the enhancements, changes and tweaks can be made on paper itself, before developers move on to creating the concerned iPhone/Android app. Now, compare this with the concept of starting to make the application rightaway, detecting design errors midway, and reworking the entire thing. A waste of time, and more importantly, an escalation of the overall costs.
- Incorporating change becomes easier – Ever felt the frustration of having the final build of an app being rejected by the client? Or finding bugs in the project, when the design is almost complete? Leading Android/iOS app development companies are wary of such problems – and working with wireframes is their preferred way to stay away from them. Wireframes are shared with clients on a continuous basis – so that when (s)he gives a feedback, that can be incorporated immediately. By the same token, since mobile app testing also happens on a real-time basis, the hassles of having to deal with bugs and malware AFTER the coding is complete do not crop up. A detailed wireframe makes the process of making apps a lot more flexible.
- The benefits of making multiple wireframes – As already stated above, drawing up an app wireframe is a matter of a few minutes. Mobile app developers generally create 3-4 alternative wireframes of a single application – with subtle changes. This opens up the possibility of testing the different sketches/functional flow of the app, and selecting the one which most testers (as well as, of course, the client) approves of. There needs to be tweaks in the visual hierarchy, navigation structure, name of the labels/tabs and other such differences between two or more wireframes. That would make the comparison and preliminary testing meaningful.
- Facilitates the inclusion of animations the right way – In a mobile app for kids, or any gaming application for that matter, animations are extremely important. While chalking up the wireframe for such an application, app developers and animators can take a call on the place(s)/screen(s) where the animations will be displayed, what should be the level of animation, and such other important decisions. Without the right kind of interactivity, an animated component can be useless – and in fact, can mess up the navigation structure of the entire app. Checking animations out on handwritten wireframes is a smarter idea.
- Incorporating visual branding elements – This is vital for mobile business apps. The visual branding elements (logos, pictures, taglines, hallmarks, etc.) of a company need to be consistent across their websites, print ads, e-newsletters, and mobile applications. On a wireframe, app developers can play around with the positioning of these branding elements, seek suggestions from the client, do some comparisons, and decide which design option would be the most effective for brand-building. Just like animations and other forms of app content, wireframes give app designers an idea regarding where the business branding elements should go on the app screens.
- Helps in meeting deadlines – This follows from the earlier points. Since the client has access to the app wireframes at every stage and can suggest changes/modifications/additions at any time – chances of rejection of the final prototype is minimal. The total number of build iterations also remain low. Most mobile app companies work on several iOS/Android projects simultaneously, and they cannot afford to spend unnecessary man-hours on a single project. In addition, making wholesale revisions after the app is complete can be a rather costly affair. An wireframe ensures that such issues are averted, and projects are completed well within the deadlines specified in the app quotes.
- Help in an app’s promotion – The wireframe of a mobile app is also an ideal channel to showcase the level of research and thinking that has gone behind its creation. During the app marketing campaign through online social media forums, a few of the initial wireframes can be shared with prospective users – to highlight the redesigning that had taken place from the initial build to the app in its final form. Instead of a detailed text description, a series of wireframes can nicely showcase the evolution of an idea into an app. They double up as powerful marketing and information-sharing tools.
A detailed wireframe allows developers to check out the proposed design layouts of an app from all perspectives. As a result, spotting potential problematic areas becomes a lot simpler – than what it would have been if the testing was done only after the completion of the app. Clients too view wireframes as the medium via which they can send along suggestions for changes (“Can you make that header tab slightly bigger, please?”) – and generally stay informed about how their app is being created. App wireframes are hardly ever very professional-looking (after all, they are hand sketches), but they can make the task of making a mobile app simpler and more systematic indeed.