Wireframes: the good, bad, and useless

As a UI designer, I’m constantly creating all sorts of documentation whether it be rough sketches on a whiteboard or a technical specification. In my article 1000 Words or Less, I touch on the applicability of wireframes in the design process:

Wireframes are purposely non-interactive. This is an advantage in the early stages of design. They not only keep the team focused but also decrease the time to get something in front of them.

While wireframes have their place, they aren’t as useful for documenting or maintaining the final design once coding has begun and should not be relied on to communicate the evolution of the design. Darrel Austin at uxformobile agrees and states in his article about the misuse of wireframes that:

They are an invaluable tool. What I am against is them being used as a document of record outside of the UX team. A wireframe simply can’t communicate the full complexities of the solution to every individual team.

I think this is accurate. He also goes further to suggest that an agile development methodology should serve to evolve the design into code faster and more efficiently than wireframes (and really most other forms of documentation) can. Wireframes as well as most other documentation inevitably become quickly outdated. The time spent making updates to the documentation can be spent sitting with a developer and updating the code.

The one place where I don’t quite agree with Darrel is that I don’t have a problem creating electronic versions of my wireframes. Where he would prefer to keep them on paper and whiteboards, I find that wireframes if used properly are as useful (more so in fact) if they can be shared via email, projected on a screen, or otherwise archived along with other project documentation that gets created along the way. Besides this, I agree with his final words of wisdom:

Focus on the product. Not the wireframes. After all, our users will never be using the wireframes.

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