Prototype vs. Wireframe vs. Mockup – Difference Between Design Deliverables
A lot of people are using the terms wireframes, mockups, and prototypes interchangeably, but this is not the case. It is easy to see why these terms can be mixed up, but each of them represents different design templates. In this article, we will try to remove all the confusion and tell you what each of these words refers to.
What is Wireframe?
A wireframe is a low-level representation of a product that will display its layout and structure. It will not go into too much detail about the product but will give you an overall view with the most important included. Think of it as a channel that allows development teams to stay on the same page by having a common understanding of the product. The wireframe will show:
- How the content will be grouped together
- How the information will be structured
- A description of how the user will interact with the interface
While it can be easy to dismiss the wireframe as a lesser design methodology, it will, in fact, serve as a foundation for the entire project. Therefore, even if it does not go into too much detail, it is essential to get the most important moments of the project adequately depicted at this point to avoid confusion in later stages.
What is Mockup?
The difference between wireframes and mockups is that the latter will go into more detail than the wireframe and will include a representation of information frames and depict content and functions. A mockup will resemble the final product, although you will not be able to interact with it or click on anything. For example, if you are developing a web solution, you will be able to see what it will look like from the user’s perspective, but you will not be able actually to go inside and explore the functionality. A mockup will be necessary when presenting your product to investors and for all team members to get a visual depiction of how development is coming together. When you are creating your mockup, be sure to:
- Accurately structure the information
- Demonstrate basic functionality
- Entice people to take a visual overview rather than inspecting code or other internal details.
If you are looking to attract investors at an early stage of the product, a mockup would be a great resource to use. It can be created in a short period of time and provides investors with more information in terms of the deliverables. Also, you will be able to use mockups for internal documentation purposes since they provide context to the entire development process.
What is a Prototype?
A prototype will resemble the end product as close as possible. It is an important part of the web and mobile app design because user interactions with the product can now be simulated. Also, if done properly, it can save you a lot of costs associated with development. Imagine the following scenario: you start creating the back-end architecture, only to realize in the middle of the project that the design of the interface is flawed and will need to be redone. This will lead to significant delays and wasted resources. A prototype can help you avoid this scenario and help align your development efforts. When you are creating your prototype, the user must be able to:
- Fully interact with the interface
- Test everything in a similar fashion as the final product
- Get a sense of the user experience you are trying to convey
While the prototype does not have to be exactly identical to the final product, it should come as close as possible. All the user interactions should be planned carefully and should mirror the final user experience. Prototypes will be very useful when you are conducting user testing before the actual development begins, but, keep in mind that they are time-consuming and costly to create. Therefore, try to develop prototypes that you will later be able to reuse, even if it means using HTML, CSS, or IS on your own. While you might incur some additional costs with prototyping, it will pay huge dividends in the end.
Choosing the Best Option for You
Hopefully, this comparison of the wireframe vs. mockup vs. prototype will be useful when you need to pick a design template. A lot will depend on your goals and the level of details you have about the product. For example, if you are creating a product from scratch, you might only have the major concepts worked out, which can be used to create a wireframe. Then, as the picture starts to get clearer and you get more details, you can start creating a mockup that will be useful for external purposes such as attracting investment and internally for documenting processes. Prototypes should be used at later stages in order to get an idea of how the user will interact with your product.
It is vital to go through all of these stages since they will allow you to determine what makes sense from a technical and business standpoint. A lot of times, ideas are good on paper, but once you start implementing and testing them, you find out that they simply do not work. It is essential to realize what can be done early on in the software development pipeline to avoid additional costs and delays in the future.