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5 Ways Mobile App Wireframes Clarify Requirements To Developers

Ben Obear
May 21, 2017

When it comes to designing your mobile app, planning is no small feat. The creation of your mobile app requires a significant amount of thought, organization and iteration to transform your initial napkin sketches and requirements into a full-blown product.

You may say "I'll know it when I see it" when talking about getting to a design you like, but it's important that your developers know exactly what they're building, which allows your project to get delivered on time and within your budget. How do successful teams manage to take a series of unrelated concepts and turn them into something clear and concise for developers to implement?

Wireframes help designers communicate every feature within your app to your software development team, so nothing is misunderstood. If you're working with a distributed team that works across several time zones, your app's wireframes become all that more important to ensure your entire team is on the same page.

In essence, a wireframe is a blueprint of your desired final mobile app. Whether they’re lo-fidelity sketches, mid-fidelity mock-ups or hi-fidelity prototypes, your wireframes help developers focus on your app’s requirements.

When your team utilizes a design driven development process, they create wireframes for every screen within your app, including error screens and empty states, so every feature and button is clear to your development team. Here are five ways mobile app wireframes help clarify requirements.

1. Wireframes serve as primary blueprints to which all parties refer to for requirements and "master" information

There is nothing more frustrating than trying to cobble together a finished project from a variety of mismatched iterations and incompatible components produced by separate individuals who worked out-of-sync. Detailed wireframes streamline communications between members of your team and reduce your costs in the form of development hours. By developing a comprehensive set of wireframes, designers create a single source of "master" information to keep everyone working on your product on the same page (and avoid timeline and budget setbacks).

Not only do wireframes serve as a blueprint for the features, screens, forms, layouts and buttons used within your app, but they even suggest things like style and visual layout. In general, lo- and mid-fidelity wireframes don't include these elements. Hi-fidelity wire-frames are developed in cases where visual and specific aspects like aesthetics, text content and imagery are very important to the app itself. With hi-fidelity wireframes, developers also receive insights about your app's visual design requirements.

2. Wireframes clarify the ideas behind complex workflows and interactions

It's one thing to describe how Form A connects to Function B and produces X Result on Screen C, but it's hard to get an entire team on the same page with a written spec. Since members of your development team are visual learners, wireframe provides an opportunity for your designers to visually represent exactly how these complex interactions occur. By referring to your app's wireframes, developers easily "walk through" your workflows and processes to better understand how to develop your app. They also use this understanding to warn you about technical challenges that may present themselves at various points in the development process.

By working closely with developers, mobile designers identify features that may be costly or technically difficult to develop before your developers spend man-hours implementing them. Your designers often work with developers to find solutions that are less complex and technically feasible.

3. A strong wireframe helps curb scope creep

When creative minds come together, it's near impossible to stem the tide of great ideas. Brainstorming produces the best ideas about how to design your app, but it leads to new features that expand the scope of your original project. In addition to quickly bloating your app's budget, scope creep makes it hard to develop a finished product with a clear and concise purpose. Your additional ideas add up to thousands of dollars in extra development hours.

One way to reduce scope creep is to break out the design phase into a separate project and work with your designers to create a product that's close to your original scope. Once you've approved the wireframes, your developers work with you to remove out of scope features or increase your development budget. This approach helps gives you a more iterative process that lets you learn what you really need during the wireframing process and then remove extraneous features to keep your app development costs within budget.

4. Wireframes help you evaluate usability early

When you visualize an app before it's fully developed, you identify usability and accessibility issues early on in the process. Tools like InVision make it easy for designers to create clickable prototypes of their wireframes, so you and your target customers can walk through your app to identify ways to improve the user experience.

Developers working from wireframes anticipate user experience issues by identifying design patterns that don't follow Material Design or Human Interface Guidelines. By testing wireframe mockups with end users, you save on costly development hours that might otherwise be spent fixing usability issues after features are incorrectly implemented.

5. A history of wireframe iterations helps developers avoid previously scrapped elements

Over the course of development, it's nearly impossible for everyone involved in your project to remember everything that was previously changed, fixed, or replaced. Your developer doesn't have time to dig through meeting notes and Basecamp threads as his or her next deadline is approaching. If a history of your app's design iterations is available in wireframe form, however, your developers refer directly to the wireframes to determine what changed, when it changed, and where to implement the changes.

With benefits like these, the development of mobile app wireframes could be one of the most valuable assets of your project. The initial ideation process is aided by the creation of a visual prototype that serves as a clear, easy-to-follow blueprint for those working tirelessly turn your app idea into a reality. Your designers and project managers keep everyone on the same page with wireframes, and your developers receive a comprehensive set of requirements and workflows they easily understand.

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Ben Obear
San Francisco