Send me problems, not wireframes

During the past few years as a freelance product designer, I’ve noticed that everybody loves to create wireframes. It’s the one thing in the product development process that gives big value, requires familiarity with the product, and most importantly, it’s super easy to do.

Wireframes are the infrastructure of a product. They determine the architecture for the entire product, what is the main navigation, what is the second navigation, what is the hierarchy between the different parts and much more. These are all very important things to consider as they have great influence on all aspects of the development cycle, and might even end up with being the product’s success or failure factor.

But for many product managers, developers, or even CEOs, wireframes are simply the way they want their product to work. Many times when a team from a company approaches me, they think they know exactly what they want, and the PM already has everything planned in Axure or PowerPoint. Yay! It’s ready, so now we can bring Ariel to help make it beautiful and prepare the files for the developers.

For me, when a client wants to work like this, this is usually a big turn-off.

If I compare it to building a house, it's like coming to an architect, handing her plans for a house you drew on a napkin and asking her to redo it with colors and make sure the construction engineers will understand it as well.

Dear Mr. Architect, here’s how we want you to design our house.

That’s 100% legit, because you pay her money to do the job you ask for. But would a renowned, professional architect want to take this gig? probably not. She will have many good reasons for why she shouldn’t — the house you planned could be a safety disaster, she’s probably an expert in planning, and you thought you could do her job better, because just retouching someone else’s work is not as satisfying for her as solving a problem.

Your wireframes are not what you need to hand out. They are a #1 creativity killer, they might not be the best solution for the problem, they might not take visual design into account, heck, the best solution might even be a completely different thing! Which is why a good designer would probably prefer to not get them from you.

Great! This solves everything.

What should you, as a product team working with a designer, do instead? Involve the designer in your user research process. Teach her about the product and the company. Explain to her why do you even think this product is needed, and why the platform you chose is the most suitable solution. Give her the 3 main goals this product needs to achieve, what would success mean for you? Elaborate on all the features that you believe are required, and why. Help her make sure she won’t be missing anything relevant.

If you believe she got it wrong, discuss it with her. Allow her to learn and give her as much as you can from the knowledge you’ve gained while working on this problem. She’ll add her product design knowledge and together the whole will be greater than the sum of its parts. Magic will happen.

Coming up with the solution herself, with your help, will help her understand what she’s going to design, and this knowledge will eventually help her come up with better solutions. Both functional and beautiful.

So please - send me problems, not wireframes.

Unless you think I’m dumb as fuck.

Written by Ariel Verber. A product designer who’s got nothing to promote here. Nope. I’m not hiring, and I don’t own any freelancer marketplace I want you to try. Have a great week!