We've all been there: an existing website has gone far beyond its sell-by date and everyone from marketing to sales and in between is demanding that a new website has to be launched by next Tuesday at the very latest.
So the organisation's esteemed digital agency is called in, coffee and Danish pastries are dispensed, and as soon as the pleasantries are out of the way the first item on the agenda is the urgent, unmissable and often unrealistic deadline for the shiny new website to go live.
Now, it goes without saying that an intuitive, user-friendly website is essential to just about every organisation in the modern world. The problem is that no truly useful website is born beautiful and fully functional without a proper development process having first taken place, which should always start with the creation of a fully tested wireframe.
Ask Yourself What Leonardo da Vinci Would Have Done
To draw a slightly old-fashioned analogy, let's think about where the term wireframe comes from. It's what sculptors have been using since the year dot (and game designers since the 80s), to ensure that the image they see in their heads will work in practice before they start getting busy with clay and copper.
Even Leonardo da Vinci, perhaps the most brilliant mind in history, shaped or sketched a 3D 'wireframe' before starting to create a sculpture or build one of his visionary models, just to make sure it was going to work. So let's be honest, if even da Vinci went for a wireframe before he started to code, the rest of us have no excuse not to.
Understanding the User Experience With a Wireframe
While it's always useful to start with a few sketches, creating a wireframe for your next website is where the real work starts, as you lay out the content and functionality you think you need, than assess how it matches up to user needs and projected user journeys.
So it's a good idea to make every stakeholder a part of the process, as they may all bring useful insights about the user experience and site objectives that your wireframe needs to take into account. It's also important to realise that while User Experience (UX), navigation and functionality issues will soon manifest themselves once the site goes live, it is far quicker, easier and cheaper to spot and eradicate them at the wireframe stage.
Yet despite that, stories of organisations who felt they didn't have the time or the budget to include wireframing into the cost of web projects are legion.
They all tend to have the same ending too: a missed deadline and a massive overspend, because fundamental problems had to be solved once the design stage was well under way, or worse, when a finished site was ready to go live but then had to be drastically redesigned and rebuilt in order to be fit for purpose.
Make a Wireframe Part of Your Timeframe
'Think first, design later' has always been a bit of a mantra at Proctor + Stevenson. I know for a fact that none of my esteemed web design colleagues would even dream of firing up an Apple Mac unless we had already worked out a viable wireframe with the client.
After all, while it may seem low tech and even self-indulgent to some, laying out a proper wireframe lets you see problems before they can really become problems. It lets you live with a new way of doing things before it starts costing you real money.
Most importantly of all, a wireframe is the only way to take into account the only person who really matters: the end user. You need to know that they're going to land where they expect to land, and see what they came for. You need to know that their likely objective will be hard to miss. If it's an ecommerce site, you also need to know that they can get from 'just browsing' to 'pay now' in as few clicks as possible.
And yes, I know that the paragraph above will seem hopelessly obvious and appallingly patronising to most of you reading this. However, while there are still such a wealth of people in the world who see wireframes as optional extras, I think I can probably live with myself for writing it.