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What Is The Difference Between Wireframe, Mockup and Prototype?

You often hear terms like sketch, wireframe, mockup and prototype while working with developers, but do you really understand what these terms mean? Would you know when to use wireframe or when to go with prototype?

Let’s begin with the reasons why you should start with a sketch, wireframe, mockup or even prototype as you begin tosa:

  • To brainstorm or figure out what you want to build. They are designed to help you define your expectations.
  • Save money on developers and describe clearly what you need to get built.
  • Use them to pitch investors, first customers and co-founders.

It’s crucial for you to distinguish these terms as you communicate with a remote development team.  Based on our experience, we need about 2-3 Skype calls and approximately 2.5 hours of business analysis to understand what exactly needs to be built – even without the basic wireframe. Mockups take a minimum of 5-8 hours for a simple mobile app.

Designing Your First App

The graph below shows all stages of the typical design representation development journey. It is essential to follow these steps each time you create a new product.

Process of creating sketch, wireframe, mockup or prototype

TL;DR

Start with a simple sketch on a blank piece of paper. Then, make a wireframe that organizes the content and features of your app. Add colours, icons, pictures and logos to your wireframe for the mockup. Finish by bringing your mockups to life with interactive elements.

What’s The Difference Between Sketch, Wireframe, Mockup and Prototype?

Sketch

It’s basically just a raw freehand drawing on a piece of paper, that gives you a low-fidelity representation of your app. It is the fastest way to get your idea ready for brainstorming. Even a simple sketch can describe your idea better than words. Generate ideas, change details, visualize what you have on your mind; it’s all up to your imagination. This step is essential for getting to the wireframe stage.

My favourite tool to do it: Pen and A Selected List of Templates 

Wireframe

A wireframe is equivalent to the skeleton or simple structure of your website/app. Each one is used to describe the functionality of a product as well as relations between views (what will happen when you click a certain button). The decisions on what (content/features) and where to put on the website or app are usually made during this stage. This step does not cover the product’s design.

My favourite tool to do it: Balsamiq

Mockup

At Brainhub, we never start building an app before mockups are completed. With this representation, you can start to work on the development process and the developer can make your mockups a reality. Any mockup will provide a medium-fidelity representation. Add colours, fonts, text (Lorem ipsum), images, logos and anything else that will shape your wireframe. Your result is a static map of the app. Think about User Interface Practices while shaping this step. If you don’t have the ability to move your wireframes to the next stage, just outsource it.

My favourite tool to do it: Sketch

Prototype

Prototypes offer a high-fidelity representation of your app. It’s like a mockup enriched with UX pieces, interactions, animation and anything else you’d like to experience when clicking buttons. This step is not always needed to create an app. If you’re not a developer, I highly recommend having a prototype to pitch your idea to friends, family and potential investors. The only thing that missing is functionality. It can give you a feeling of using a real app, but they are only images connected with each other.

Get feedback from your customers with a prototype and measure.

My favourite tool to do it: UXPin

More Resources

  • Presentation from UXPin about the same topic -> here,
  • Insightful discussion on Quora about difference between wireframe, mockup and prototype -> here,
  • Another discussion on the same topic -> here.

Summary

One picture is more than a thousand words. Below you can see the major difference between wireframes and mockups.

Difference between Wireframe and Mockup

If you are looking for great tools to create your first sketch, wireframe, mockup or prototype, just check my last post about how to prototype an app as a non-designer. Once there, you will find great tools and free resources that will help you build your first app prototype.

Good luck!

Matt Warcholinski

Matt Warcholinski is the COO of Brainhub (a software house building awesome node.js web and mobile apps) who loves to build startups and play guitar.

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