How to get value from wireframes

Dustin Senos ✌️
7 min readJun 30, 2016

Eleven years ago, I joined a small design agency. I was 20, and it was my first full-time design job. I spent the first few years at the agency focused on visual design. Can I make this texture more realistic? Would this website look better if the light-source was from a different angle? How could I get my buttons to be even glossier? It was common to hear a client pitch an idea, followed by myself asking a few questions, opening Photoshop and starting to design. Days later I would present the client with one or two visual directions, get feedback, make revisions, and start coding the site in xhtml. The best designers at the agency made the best looking websites.

As my career progressed, I learnt that showing the client a wireframe before I started on a visual design could save us both time. Wireframes, however, felt awkward. Their intent was to facilitate a space for ‘quick revisions’ before the client and I ‘decided on a direction’ and started the ‘design process.’ They were supposedly quicker to create than visual designs, and thus, quicker to change. However, wireframes sketched on paper were considered too unpolished to present to a client, so I would spend time creating digital wireframes. After presenting the wireframes, rarely did I find that they inspired any meaningful conversation. In fact, seeing the digital wireframes almost never led us to change direction.

Looking back, I didn’t find wireframes valuable because I used them to solve the wrong problem. They were used as a checkbox to move a project from ‘exploratory’ into ‘ready for design’—to prevent a client from changing their mind at a later date. What I didn’t realize then, is that at their best wireframes create a mechanism to break out of obvious design paradigms. They enable you to better defend the direction(s) you chose to pursue, and help you slow down to point in the right direction before you speed down the wrong road.

The Process of a Junior Designer:

Image Credit: Julie Zhuo

The above illustration is from Julie Zhou’s article, Junior Designers vs. Senior Designers. It captures…

Dustin Senos ✌️

always learning. now @ The Browser Company of New York, Inc. former head of design @medium, engineer @disney. builder of @ooohours × @getwallcat × @littleipsum.