When you say “Wireframe”, you actually mean “Sketch”

Old door handle, Crete, Greece 🇬🇷

They’re very different things.
I know, but there’s some confusion within the UX community regarding the definition, and purpose, of a Wireframe.

Take a look on Instagram for #wireframe. Ignore anything that’s entirely unrelated to what we’re talking about here, and you’re left with two types of posts:

  • things drawn by hand
  • things drawn on a computer

At 100 shapes, neither of these necessarily qualify as Wireframes. I want to explain why.

Why is this a big deal?
The common misconception is that Wireframes are pictures with detail missing; it doesn’t matter if that picture is drawn by hand or drawn digitally, if it’s not the final mock, you’re allowed to arbitrarily call it a Wireframe because it’s low-fi.

That is what you see on Instagram and Dribble, and it makes no sense to me.

Wireframes are specs — they define how something should be. As soon as you remove detail, you’re no longer specifying the design (e.g. create a Wireframe), you’re actually just drawing a Sketch.

If the picture you’re drawing is just an idea, we’d call them “sketches” at 100 shapes. The digital drawings you find on social media fall into exactly the same category; just that more time has been spent creating them (begging the question: why are you sketching using a computer? Can’t you do it quicker by hand?).

Ok. Why are you telling us this?

  1. It bugs the crap out of me.
  2. The design/UX community need a definition so that we can do what’s actually important and start educating our clients and students.

That’s a grand scheme of yours…
I’m just starting the conversation. As an aside, we’ve had a side-project for a while that we called “The 100 shapes UX Glossary — A list of UX terms and how we define them”. It doesn’t exist for the public yet, but I’ll speak to the team about getting it together.

Don’t talk about something we can’t see yet; it’s annoying. Instead, please enlighten us with the definition of a spec according to Michele.
Short for specification, a spec defines how something should work or look as unambiguously as possible.

The responsibility of choosing how best to define something is left to experience and skill of the designer. The important thing is that the spec gets the message across.

A spec defines how something should work or look.

A sketch can get an idea across perfectly well.
Absolutely, but the sketch is a visual representation of an idea. That idea hasn’t necessarily been assessed or agreed upon yet. Sketches deliver the message, but they describe something that could be. Specs describe how something should be.

Sounds like a quibble over semantics to me.
It’s not.

Sketches come early in the design process: when designers are asking “what about this?” or “what if we do that?”. You’re nowhere near the final design at that stage; you’re just sketching because it’s easier than explaining.

(Sketches) describe something that could be. Specs describe how something should be.

Specs, on the other hand, come right at the end: when the design is finalised and the design team know how they want the system to look or work.

That is when 100 shapes makes Wireframes.

So what’s next? I suppose you’re going to describe what Wireframes should look like, or worse: delve into the depths of ‘how to sketch as a UX designer’?

That’s entirely what I meant by leaving the responsibility of choosing the best way to define something down to the individual experience and skill of the designer.

There are no rules to say that pictures should be on the left and annotations on the right. Similarly, these documents don’t necessarily have to be digital. think about that for a second.

A good designer will pick an appropriate way to deliver a spec. If they get hung-up on details, they’re doing it wrong.

You’re the only person in the world that cares about this.
You’re damn right, but I can’t take much more “Can you wireframe this out?” requests or “New project: just wireframing 😎” posts on social media.

Those social networks you’re referring to are all aimed at Visual Designers; it’s that group that you should be talking to.
Maybe, although the cross-over between Interaction designers and Visual Designers is an interesting one.

I remember, I was once invited to a New Years Eve party. I was an Interaction Designer at the BBC at the time, and my friend was a Visual Designer.

“I draw boxes and arrows, and he colours them in.”

It was a party with medics so we thought, being designers, we’d hit it off with everyone.

Our big (pre-planned) line was that we’d say “I draw boxes and arrows, and he colours them in”. It was great fun.

Did you both go home alone?

Funny that. #uxhumour

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