Why are they called wireframes? An etymology

As a UXer, I’m used to fielding the question, “What’s user experience?” To describe my job, I don’t say, “I conduct research with end users and then design wireframes.” Well, I used to, but I got plenty of head tilts. “What are wireframes?”

Instead, now I say “I design website blueprints” or “I figure out how the information on the page is organized,” because “wireframes” isn’t a user-friendly word.

Where did “wireframes” even come from? The term started here, actually:

https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/8/87/%D8%A7%D9%84%D9%86%D9%85%D9%88%D8%B0%D8%AC_%D8%A7%D9%84%D8%B3%D9%84%D9%83%D9%8A.jpg

Architects and other professionals who needed to show off a 3-D model through a 2-D medium used a bare-bones, blueprint-style “wireframe” — calling it that because the line art looked like wires.

As computer-generated 3-D models became the norm, CAD programs kept using the term for a low-fidelity representation of a 3-D product. Here’s an example of a CAD wireframe.

http://s7.computerhistory.org/is/image/CHM/500004414-03-01?$re-zoomed$

Pretty, huh? I wish my wires were so artistic.

That leads us to today’s “wireframes,” as used in the user experience world. From Infragistics’s definition: “They commonly depict functional layout: including interface elements and navigational systems. The wireframe usually lacks typographic style, color, or graphics, since the main focus is on functionality, behavior, and priority of content.”

So basically, we borrowed the phrase from other disciplines because that’s what technology does (see also: folders, files, desktop, dashboard, move to trash…)