Wireframing is an essential aspect of the UX design process.
Photo by Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash
If you’ve dipped your toes into the field of UX design, you’ve most likely heard about wireframing.
Wireframes are the foundation of any website or application. They provide designers with a solid framework to work from, which is essential for creating an interface that both human users and machines can understand — not just one group at the expense of others.
Similar to an architectural blueprint, wireframes are two-dimensional skeletal outlines that show how the content will be organized on your website or application. They are often drawn either by hand or created digitally, depending on how much detail is required for your project. Let’s start off by taking a look at the different types of wireframes and how they are important to UX designers before we get into the tools required to build the wireframes.
There are three different types of wireframes — low-fidelity wireframes, mid-fidelity wireframes, and high-fidelity wireframes. Each type of the wireframes mentioned mainly serve two key purposes, which are to keep the concept user-focused and help in clarifying and defining the features for a website or an application.
For this reason, the process tends to take place during the exploratory phase of a product life cycle. After all, this is the phase where the designers will test the scope of the product while they collaborate on ideas and identify the requirements of the business. This helps the designer to identify and rectify the flaws and pain points at the earlier stage of the product life cycle without any significant expenditure of time or money. As a matter of fact, it will be harder for any changes to be made if those issues are late to be found.
Photo by Visual Design on Unsplash
Wireframing is still very much alive till this day. In fact, there are still some who still use the old school method of pen and paper to create wireframes for their projects. However, in today’s technology-abundant landscape, we have various advanced wireframing tools and programs available just at our fingertips.
Now that we’ve got some context around what wireframes are and how they can be used, let’s take a look at some of the wireframing tools that you should know about. Do keep in mind that your choice of what will work best will depend on the complexity and purpose of your project. The tools listed here are based on the general needs of most users and are not in any particular order.
Adobe XD is one of the members of Adobe Creative Suite. It was launched as a direct competitor to Sketch but instead of being available to only the Mac users, Adobe XD was made available for Mac, Windows, iOS, and Android. Adobe XD is fully interoperable with other Adobe tools such as Photoshop and Illustrator, as well as services such as Adobe Fonts and Adobe Stock. This gives designers a tool that they can use to create all the concepts in the UX/UI toolbox. That’s why Adobe XD can be considered as one of the best tools for wireframing. For those who might be turned off with the subscription model for the full version, you can always opt for the free version which has limited functionalities. However, there’s definitely no reason for you not to subscribe to it.
Balsamiq is a tool born from a digital integration of the basics and comfort of old-school paper wireframing that makes it super easy to get started with creating wireframes. It has several common elements from buttons to lists that you can drag-and-drop to build your wireframes. Balsamiq is available on desktop as an app, on web browser, or you can even integrate it with Google Drive. Although there is no free version for Balsamiq, it does have a 30-day free trial that you can use to try it out before truly committing to using it. However, do keep in mind that Balsamiq mainly focuses on low-fidelity wireframes. So, it will only be a great choice if you are looking for a flexible, convenient, quick wireframe tool to put together a quick low-fidelity wireframe rather than a full polished prototype.
Invision can be considered as one of the more basic apps on this list since it is the digital variant of drawing wireframes on a whiteboard. The best feature of Invision would be the ability to either draw a wireframe freehand using your cursor. Yes, it really is that simple and definitely has its own appeal for those who want to quickly create low-fidelity wireframes. On top of that, Invision also has real-time syncing features with both Sketch and Photoshop. It also allows you to have smoother group wireframing sessions since multiple designers can be signed in and drawing at the same time. This is definitely a tool worth checking out.
Figma can be considered as a wireframing tool that offers a forever-free plan. Of course, it also has its own package, but let’s leave that out for another day. Similar to how Canva is a strong alternative to Adobe Photoshop and Adobe Illustrator, Figma can be considered as a strong alternative to Adobe XD. It not only allows you to easily create, design, and share wireframes with anyone with a live URL link but also supports real-time collaboration without interference of versioning or overlapping. If you are ever in need of a straightforward interface for rapid wireframing, Figma should be your go-to.
Miro is more of a visual online whiteboarding collaboration tool for distribution product and UX teams instead of a wireframing tool. However, it is definitely not something that you should overlook. You can create wireframes that go on forever with its ability to create an infinite amount of canvas. For those who typically use Canva or Figma to create wireframes, you should really check it out. The fact that Miro was designed with collaboration in mind, it will be a great tool for fully remote teams to collaborate and build whiteboards and wireframes simultaneously without hassle.
Mockflow should definitely be your go-to if you only want to use a wireframing tool that is browser-based. It’s almost like a simpler version of Adobe XD but on steroid. You can use it not only for wireframing but also for prototyping, UI mockups, UX suite, and UX planning. What makes it better is that it allows designers to quickly brainstorm UI ideas in a collaborative environment. You also have the ability to search and import thousands of wireframe templates in its MockSotre for immediate use. The only downside would possibly be its less-than-stellar customer service support. But if you enjoy the tool and don’t have any issue with it, why would it even matter, right?
Sketch is one of the best-known wireframing tools in the market. It uses a combination of artboards and vector design shapes to allow designers to quickly and easily create wireframes on a pixel-based canvas. However, Sketch does not include any ready-made UI elements unlike Balsamiq but it has a convenient Symbols feature that allows you to reuse UI elements once they’ve been created. The only downside to Sketch is that it doesn’t integrate with any of the products from Adobe Suite and the fact that it is only available for Mac users.
There you have it. That’s our selection of recommended wireframing tools that are solid and will allow you to easily create wireframes for your designs. As for which one would be the best option for you, that would depend on your experience and on how you are working. If you prefer to have a specific tool with special features for the process, then, it may be best for you to choose one of the dedicated tools. For newcomers with little experience, tools with a relatively simple and intuitive interface like that of Balsamiq or MockFlow may be best. For experienced professionals, some may prefer an option like Sketch or Adobe XD. Regardless of which one you decide to work with, you will definitely be able to come up with stunningly designed wireframes that show the skeletal framework for your project at a glance.