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Wireframes or not

I found it interesting that there were a few presentations at UX London with what seemed as conflicting views of how a UX workflow should unfold. Jeff Gothelf was in favor of testing assumptions with his Lean UX approach as soon as possible. He mentioned a case where they used wireframes and PDF prototypes to check if an idea and a potential solution made sense before writing one line of code. On the other hand, Ben Terrett from fascinating team says they sketch a bit and then jump directly to coding in the browser.

My mind immediately started to evaluate which one was better. It seems this is a normal human behaviour when presented with two options. It took me a few days before my mind settled on another one - they both work, but under different circumstances. Let me explain that a bit.

To build something a target audience would like and use, there has to be a shared understanding between team members and future customers. Unfortunately, that’s usually not the case. The whole process, from defining goals, discovery, specs, wireframes to final design and implementation, serves as a way to coordinate everyone, get their visions aligned, test ideas and then build it. I look at the whole process as a staircase, each step bringing you closer to your goals. The steps are not important; getting on the next floor is.

Framed that way, it’s easy to find situations where it’s OK to skip a few steps. If goals are well defined and tested, a team works together for a long time or there aren’t a lot of stakeholders that need reporting or explaining, it’s very likely there is a high level of shared understanding already. If a designer and a developer know exactly what to build and how it should look like, there are no good reasons for a designer to spend time sketching wireframes he’ll use to explain something everyone already knows.

Ideally, one would need only a few steps to reach a goal. But as a project gets bigger, riskier or with more people involved, don’t be afraid to add more steps. If you try to jump over too many of them in the dark, you’ll slip.

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UX London 2013

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