News   May 4, 2016

To Wireframe, Or Not to Wireframe: How Digital Workflow Can Work Harder

By Jeremy Cockrell

SOMETIMES, CREATING WORKABLE WIREFRAMES IN THE DEADLINE-DRIVEN WORLD OF DIGITAL ADVERTISING CAN FEEL A LITTLE SHAKESPEARIAN.

After all, each act of the web design process is different. And there are a variety of product attributes, communication requirements and brand assets for designers. Copy tone and voice subtleties for writers to craft the brand story, and so on.

SPOILER ALERT: A ONE-SIZE-FITS-ALL SOLUTION DOESN’T ALWAYS FIT THE PROJECT.

Of course, opening up the conversation for the website design process to be more fluid and less prescriptive has its ups and downs. It requires everyone to work toward a shared vision, with the understanding that the site is subject to change – even after launch. It’s a website after all, not a brochure. And when we look at digital strategy as a discipline, every project deserves to begin with one or more powerful insights.

VALUABLE INSIGHTS, HIDING IN PLAIN VIEW.

Like content analysis through keyword research. Unveiling words and phrases associated with a product or company, which can help us craft the story and topics we want to cover.

From there, keywords can be shuffled through a card-sorting exercise to determine content buckets, the topics which will help us develop the site narrative. For a user experience designer, this translates to site-mapping and content flows. For a writer, it means developing a content outline to ensure we’re hitting all necessary keywords to support the site with a strong search engine optimization strategy.

Of course it all adds up from a logical perspective. But at first, there isn’t anything flashy for clients to react to. So everyone agrees to move along since it’s a deadline-driven process and world. The takeaway?

NOW THAT TECH HAS TAUGHT US WHICH CONTENT TO COMMUNICATE, IT’S TIME TO GET CLIENTS ONBOARD - BY PRESENTING KEYWORDS, A SITEMAP AND CONTENT APPROACH EARLY ON. 

Now it’s time for UX designers to start on the final, final wireframes. You know, the “blocking and tackling” we use to lay out content in gray boxes with black type in order to sell in a visual map of where web optimization fits in their marketing plan.

Every detail is considered. Each aspect of the user’s journey is painstakingly positioned to let the content drive the conversation. Page after page is designed. Detail and documentation are determined. And experience is born.

THE RESULTS ARE IN.

Roughly three weeks in, we’re ready to share our progress to get clients excited and engaged. It’s showtime for our wireframes, as we walk them through navigation, the “hero” section, modules for cross-linking, interactive tools to deepen interaction, calls-to-action and our recovery footer, showing links to any leftover information.

So we come to an agreement on information hierarchy, necessary revisions and by day’s end, begin feeling as if we’re on track. But clients may or may not be excited (yet) since there’s little to react to on an emotional level. After all, we’ve been showing their brand in black and white for almost a month. But alas, we move forward. Onto design.

We regroup with the team – UX designer, creative director, copywriter, art director and account service – to kick-off our shared vision for the project. And what do we give them as inspiration? A site map, content outline, greyscale wireframes and interaction notes. And what does the art director see? Paint-by-numbers boxes they need to fill in.

Over the next two weeks, the creative team “skins” the wireframes, dropping images and brand identity into the site, working in both the ideas and direction that’s been agreed upon. Straying from the approval path has a polarizing effect on the design process: while successful in delivering on a deadline, there are still missed opportunities along the way.

NOW, IMAGINE A WIREFRAME PROJECT, driven BY CREATIVE.

We would still begin with insights but in a less formal way. Keyword research would show opportunities and manifest itself not in a sitemap, but an opportunity brief. Which would be a list of considerations for the creative team to use in concept development. Translation: useful guardrails to keep the project on strategy.

From there, the creative team would work together to develop a vision. With sketches on a whiteboard, which naturally allows for site map development, creates navigation items and lays out information flow. A story comes to life – one the creative team developed together.

The art director? Now they’re inspired. So once a design is etched out over a few hours, a look emerges. The next day, the team loops in the UX designer, presenting the work along with user considerations – and guess what? The work gets better.

At this point, a site-map emerges to support the creative vision and provide structure to the site. And over the next couple days, additional pages are fleshed out to demonstrate the power of the concepts. Then, finally! Something shareable to show the clients. A meeting is scheduled. And one week in, the first presentation is upon us.

HERE’S WHAT IS LOOKS LIKE. HERE’S THE EXPERIENCE FOR EACH USER. HERE’S HOW WE’RE MEETING YOUR GOALS… AND HERE’S HOW A MIXTURE OF SMART UX AND KILLER CONTENT HELPED US MEET ALL THE MANDATORIES.

Upfront, we discuss the approach, explaining how our process of insight development led to enhanced creative output. "An idea was born – and we immediately started working on it. So naturally, we developed a look that was strategically-based and substantiated through the site experience."

Now the client has something to chew on. It’s not just a design - it’s a creative exploration, with visuals allowing the brand to breathe and express itself through the site. And we got there faster. Huh. So, what’s the answer? PR Pros, here’s your boilerplate:

USER EXPERIENCE DRIVES THE SOLUTION, NOT JUST THE SCIENCE. MEANWHILE, THE SCIENCE INFLUENCES, BUT IS NEVER THE ONLY DRIVER.

As a project starts, the scope drives the approach. Deeper, more complex projects require you to proceed in a more traditional manner. But in many cases, digital designers are also gurus of UX experience, who have already worked through complex creative solutions to connect ideas with users.

Which means finding the right approach depends on how your team wants to work. And ultimately, what’s going to provide the best solution for the project. A one-size-fits-all approach doesn’t always fit. But we are experts in our field. And after all, it’s our audience's experience – and our ability to solve problems – which make us successful.

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