Designing Effective Wireframes: Embracing Trends while Staying Grounded

Raluca Angelescu
August 28, 2023
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As the moment arrives to transform ideas into digital interfaces, the spectrum of emotions you might feel can range from sheer excitement to a sense of relief. After all, you're inching closer to the part where the design really begins to take shape. If this resonates with you, I hope the insights below help enhance your design journey.

Conversely, if anxiety looms and you're wondering where to start, these same insights might be your guiding light.

So, here's a first key point I'd love to highlight:

Wireframes are meant for iteration and discussions, not perfection.

The iterative nature of the design process is no secret. Discussions, decisions, readjustments, tests—every facet of the process applies equally to wireframing. Yet, sometimes we overlook the importance of wireframes or bypass them altogether. Wireframes are tools for dialogue and change without the stress of lost effort. Imagine investing days into a product design only to have it revised within half an hour.

white printer paper on white table

What have I learned from creating wireframes besides mastering design tools and becoming comfortable with iteration?

Low fidelity isn't a license for the impractical

These preliminary drafts set the stage for what the product will eventually become. However, while low-fidelity designs allow for greater creative freedom, this shouldn't come at the cost of grounding your designs in reality.

Consider this scenario: you create a detailed map interface that flawlessly guides users through multiple touchpoints. Yet, if your product's primary application is in an indoor setting—like a mall or a large convention center—how does the design factor in indoor location access? Does it account for potential discrepancies in GPS accuracy within closed spaces? Similarly, when mapping out user interactions, it's vital to preemptively think about factors such as data security, user privacy, and potential misuse.

While low-fidelity sketching offers a creative sandbox, it doesn't mean you should let your imagination overpower realism.
white paper sticked on white wall

Leverage familiar mental models

In the ever-evolving world of design, it's tempting to incorporate the latest trends and patterns into your creations. Everyone wants their design to stand out, to resonate, and to be deemed "cutting-edge."

However, it's a best practice to make sure the design trends you want to use align seamlessly with the objectives of your product. Blindly integrating trends without analyzing their relevance can bring usability hiccups, thus confusing or even alienating users.

Historically, some patterns and designs become universally accepted and integrated because they resonate with widespread user mental models—they're intuitive, easy to understand, and get the job done efficiently. Before venturing into the new and novel, reflect upon these tried-and-tested designs. Analyze their strengths, understand why they work, and consider how they might be adapted or improved upon for your specific project.

In addition, while seeking inspiration, broaden your horizons. Everyday apps, whether they're for note-taking, shopping, social networking, or gaming, have elements that have undergone rigorous user testing and optimization. A feature or interaction pattern from an e-commerce app might just be the perfect fit for a finance app when tweaked appropriately. Inspiration, after all, can strike from the most unexpected places.

It's okay to be inspired by apps you use daily. There's no need to recreate the wheel. Moreover, don't pigeonhole yourself—design inspiration can come from various sources. For instance, a financial app might benefit from features observed in shopping or social media apps.
person writing on white paper

Approach established patterns with a discerning eye

In the early stages of your design career, viewing patterns in existing apps as the gold standard is natural. After all, they're out there, so they must be effective, right? While it's true that some designs stand the test of time due to their brilliance, it's essential to be critical. Every app or business has its unique challenges and constraints, so always trust your judgment.

Let others inspire you, but never settle for the easy way out. Keep in mind that no design is flawless—including your own.

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