What Is the Difference Between Wireframe, Mockup and Prototype?

It doesn’t matter whether you’re trying for getting an app build or are learning the ins and outs of UX design, chances are you pretty often stumble with terms like wireframe, mockup, and prototype. So, where to these terms point? What is their purpose and why should you want to learn about them in-depth?

Today, we bring you this exclusive guide detailing these design terms and outline the distinction between each of them. As a starting entrepreneur looking forward to launching his first app, a thorough knowledge of these design terminologies can be beneficial for you to make progress and succeed. A great control over such designing elements can make sure you succeed the first time in your latest venture.

Before moving forward with technical details, let us first explain why would you need an in-depth knowledge over the usage and distinction of these design elements. Given, you’re looking to launch your first application, mobile or web whatever it is, you need to first ensure your developers know what they’re dealing with precisely.

Without access to these “blueprints”, developers need to spend a considerable amount of time figuring out what they are required to deliver. This not only decreases their productivity but also result in a much-increased production cost for you. Even in certain scenarios, your devs will need to re-work the whole process from scratch due to stumbling across un-avoidable UI overheads. Believe us, as a potential entrepreneur you do not want to spend an extra penny that can be saved for getting around future pitfalls. So, getting yourself familiar with these design basics will both save you a significant amount of money and increase the production much faster.

Reasons you’d want to wield a thorough understanding of wireframes, mockups, and prototypes:

  • To brainstorm what you are trying to achieve.
  • Saving production costs and dates.
  • Pitching in potential investors and your first customers.

Here, at Netcore, we found it takes at least 3 skype calls and minimum 3 hours of business analysis to help remote devs figure out what the client wants to get build. Mockups will require minimum 8-12 hours and prototypes at least 2-3 weeks.

A short glance into Fidelity

When peaking into the ever-changing world of dynamic design, you’ll come across terms like low fidelity and high fidelity pretty regularly. These terms derivated from popular rock n roll music references during the 80’s.

In the design world, the term fidelity refers to the numbers of details present in the early-stage representation of any given product. The more details a prototype has the higher its level is. So, you can usually find low, mid, and high fidelity prototypes. Low fidelity accounts for product representations that have the least amount of resemblance to the actual product. Whereas, high fidelity prototypes usually resembles the final product very closely.

Wireframes, mockups, and prototypes all fall under some category of design fidelity. The lower the level of fidelity, the easier it’s to develop. Prototypes are usually the last level as they resemble almost the final product or at least, semi-interactive designs of it..

Wireframe

You can think of the wireframe of your latest product as the skeleton of your final deliverable. They are usually a low-fidelity representation of your app and outlines the basic structure of the application. In industry, wireframes are a basic tool used to outline the features and functionalities of the final product. They highlight the different relations between your views, i.e: what happens when users click the home button. Wireframes describe what type of content will be displayed in the product and where to place them.

Wireframes tend to be built on top of your project’s sketch. A sketch is the first visual image of your application, drawn usually on a piece of paper with a pen.

Advantages of Wireframes:

Simplistic and Minimal in Nature: Wireframes are normally drawn in black/gray lines and are the first whiteboard representation of the final product. They do not contain animations or other complex interactive components, rather simple graphs and diagrams to showcase primal elements needed for the product.

Faster Production Time: Creating a regular wireframe should not take more than a couple of hours, given you’ve already outlined the features and structure it needs. Wireframes are used in almost every aspect of industrial design due to their fast and effective production time.

They come Cheap: One of the foremost reason to build a wireframe for your next launch is the fact that it’ll not cost you a fortune. Developing a cheap yet convenient whiteboard representation of your final product thus gives you the ability to work out future progressions effectively.

Creating a Wireframe

Developing a wireframe should not be a hectic task as it requires very low resources and development period. However, creating an effective wireframe might become a tedious task if not planned properly. The planning needs to be perfect and you should have all the required features in place before you move on developing the wireframe.

Fortunately, we’ve come to a time where you don’t need necessarily to take a paper and draw the wireframe of your product all by yourself. You can utilize top-notch web apps dedicated for such purposes. At Netcore, our developers used to rely on balsamiq for rapid wireframing. However, we’re gradually shifting towards Moqups , a more reliable and convenient solution. We recommend you to check them out before looking for alternatives. They are employed by big names in the industry such as Amazon, Sony, Microsoft, and Intel.

Mockup

A mockup is the static design diagram of your final product. It usually demonstrates visual information about the final product and contains resources like placeholder contents and functionalities. Mockups are usually a medium fidelity representation of your final launch and pave the way to a rapid development phase. They look almost the same as the final product, much visual and viable, unlike wireframes. The only thing they lack is the interactivity between different elements.

Mockups are usually built on top of wireframes and are a great way to represent the visual aspects of your latest product. This graphical representation is helpful when providing potential investors a concise picture of the final product. It also helps developers visualize what they need to implement.

Advantages of Mockups:

Interaction with Clients and Investors: Mockups are a great way to showcase a visual image of your final product to your first customers and potential investors. Often investors want to have a fast realization of on what they’re going to spend their hard-earned money. They don’t like the idea of investing their money prior to acknowledging how the final product will look like.

Early Option of Usability Testing: Mockups gives your dev team the ability to test the feasibility of your final product even before delving into its production. This allows you to avoid problems such as UX designs that are impossible to produce and the interaction overheads between crucial components. This may lengthen the development period a bit but will narrow down future pitfalls.

Designing Packages: With the right mockup of your next release, you can start designing your final packages even before going into production. This saves a considerable amount of time during the production and fastens your release date. You can even exhibit your product and the different packages with the right mockup of your future product.

Creating a Mockup

Creating a mockup usually takes more time than wireframes. However, if you already have a whiteboard representation of your app, creating the mockup should not be a hard task. It’s quite often business people such as you find it difficult developing a modern mockup all alone. We find it best to outsource this task to freelance designers or firms.

You can also utilize paid SaaS(Software as a Service) providers like Moqups in order to create a high-level visual representation of your product. These give you quick control over complex components like fluid grids and other liquid structures.

Prototype

A prototype of your product is almost identical to your final product in terms of visibility and interactivity. They are a high-level representation of your future product and combines interactivity with already existing mockups. Prototypes are usually built on top of mockups and incorporate complex design elements such as animations, graphical components, and other visual effects. Prototype combines the effects of clicking buttons with mockups. The only thing that helps to differentiate between the prototype and the final product is the back-end logic of your application.

Creating a fast and effective prototype is the best way to garner the much-needed attention of industry professionals and investors towards your application. However, it also requires much more time to develop a working prototype than developing a wireframe or mockup.

Advantages of Prototypes:

Reducing Time and Costs: Although developing a working prototype require more time than developing a wireframe or mockup, they can save you a vast amount of money and time in the long run. A great prototype lets you evaluate the market emphasis of your final product even before going into production. This helps you anticipate problems that might endanger your product in the future.

Improved User Interaction: Prototypes ensure your product starts to gain continuous traction even before it becomes a reality. Users will be able to view how the final product will look like and provide important feedback to help you gain effective insights into the future impact of your product. It helps you identify feature not appreciated by the customers and modify them during production.

Increases Communication: A top-notch prototype increases your communication to potential investors, customers, and stockholder in a very short time. This is very crucial when it comes to the successful marketing of your final product. Without proper communications and understandings, no matter how great your product is, chances are it will fail at one point or another.

Detecting Errors: Prototypes gives your developers the ability to check for potential design errors and overheads without even writing a single line of code. This saves testing time further the line and can improve the overall quality of your final product.

Creating a Prototype

As a high fidelity representation of the final product, creating a prototype requires substantially more time than developing the wireframe or mockup. Despite the time it takes, prototypes play a significantly positive role in your product’s success. Enterprises usually always incorporate effective prototypes of big apps for gaining a fast traction both in the market and amongst the consumers. Although time-consuming, prototypes are the most important visual representation of every next-generation product.

We found a great web service that helps people with little or no technical knowledge quickly get up and running with a working prototype. Check out their website before looking into alternate solutions. Other popular options are also available. You should check some prominent one before siding with a particular choice. Outsourcing these tasks to freelance designers can also be a viable solution for your business.

Our take on things

However, these lines between each type of project visual&functional representations aren’t set in stone as each project is unique in its own way. To cut costs and time while getting the optimal result, we tend to mix elements of all 3 together, for example, the mockups have hotkeys that represent intended functionality while visuals are mostly kept minimalistic as  placeholders, as it can be seen here (hold left shit to highlight the hotspots/clickable buttons):


Mockup:

https://app.moqups.com/netcore/0QOqSn52qF/view/page/ae331bdf5

As this was a rather complex SaaS project, everything was showcased, discussed with the client and documented before we moved on to the next stage, which is designing.


Designs/Prototype:

https://projects.invisionapp.com/d/main#/console/11163505/236098943/preview

As functionality is almost fully showcased in the mockup, there’s no point to double the effort by mimicking it in the Invisionapp designs as well, but you have to keep in mind that this project was developed to a client directly as he didn’t require prototypes for showcasing them to potential investors or shareholders.

Summary

So, what we learned in this article is that wireframes, mockups, and prototypes are all very similar in their targets, but differ in functionalities. Every one of this three is used to have a futuristic idea of what a said product will look like after production.

Wireframes are basically just a whiteboard representation of the final product, wheres mockups and prototypes are much more detailed in their visualization. Mockups and prototypes are almost identical visually, only differ in interactivity. Prototypes have interactive features like call to action buttons, rather than placeholders employed in a mockup

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