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 understand what these terms mean? Let us explain it briefly.

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TL;DR

Wireframe, Mockup and Prototype are different phases of product design

The product design process starts with a simple sketch on a blank piece of paper. Then, wireframe is create to organize the content and features of your app. The next step is to add colors, icons, pictures, and logos to the wireframe so the mockup is created. The process is finished by bringing the mockup to life with interactive elements.

Introduction

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

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

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

It’s crucial for you to distinguish these terms as you communicate with a development team.

Based on our experience, 2-3 calls and approximately 2.5 hours of business analysis are needed to discover what exactly needs to be built. While mockups take a minimum of 5-8 hours for a simple mobile app.

What does the process of designing an app look like?

The graph below shows all stages of the typical design representation development journey, which often constitutes a part of a more extensive Product Design Sprint. It is essential to follow these steps each time you create a new product.

Process of creating sketch, wireframe, mockup or prototype

What’s the difference between sketch, wireframe, mockup, and prototype?

#1 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 and is often preceded by a Discovery stage.

My favorite tool to do it: Pen and templates on paper.

#2 What is a 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 favorite tool to do it: Balsamiq

#3 What is a 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 colors, 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 favorite tool to do it: Sketch

#4 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 favorite tool to do it: UXPin

More resources:

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

Final word

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

Difference between Wireframe and Mockup
Marta Lichaj
github
UX/UI Designer
Bianka Pluszczewska
github
Editor

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