27 Jul How Wireframes Improve Custom Software Development – Part 1
In the construction industry, blueprints are not even a topic for discussion. You don’t build anything without a set of blueprints, end of the story.
But when it comes to custom software development, some people tend to build applications on the fly with little or no planning at all; often because a client doesn’t see the need for this step in the process, or because a custom software developer feels they already understand what needs to be done. It’s like saying, “let’s build a house without a plan; I’m sure it will be exactly what we want.”
At Inverse-Square, we don’t do that.
In the custom software industry, our ‘blueprints’ are actually called ‘wireframes,’ and essentially, they offer similar benefits to the traditional blueprints you may already be familiar with.
Designing Custom Software 101
Before we get into the details of wireframes, it’s good to show you where they fit into the big picture of software development. Our software planning process is divided into four stages:
- Feature or Requirement Documentation: Often, this is just a simple document that contains the first pass at everything your custom web application should do. This is similar to an architect talking you through what your new house is going to look like and then writing it all down. It’s a great starting point, but it leaves a lot to the imagination.
- Wireframes: These are the blueprint of your application. There is nothing pretty about these; they are just lines, boxes, and high-level text areas, but they help everyone start to get a real feel for exactly what needs to be built.
- High Fidelity Mockups: These are used to help set expectations for users’ interaction and experience with the software (UI/UX). These mockups focus more on the look and feel and less on the function of the application.
- Plan the Build: Project planning allows us to take everything we’ve learned about what is wanted and then lay it out into weeks and hours to project cost. Without the wireframe, we can’t responsibly say how much effort is required to build something.
Put Your Money Where It Helps
We believe that the highest ROI in the design process lies in the wireframing step; here’s why;
- Feature Documentation gets the ideas flowing and provides a core to work from, but they don’t share intangible details well, even between the team members assembling the documents. There’s a relatively low ROI on these documents. They’re hard to assemble and even harder to keep up to date as things evolve.
- Wireframes are the best bang for your buck; they translate requirements into functionality on a screen. They lack a rich design (UI), but they start to demonstrate user experience and clearly illustrate what the system will accomplish (all the input, all the output).
- Hi-Fis are useful, but they’re more time-intensive to assemble than wireframes. Put the wireframes together and then do one or two sample hi-fi screens to capture the UI’s essence.
- Planning is absolutely crucial, but if you’re not planning on building the same thing, it’s just a pit of false security.
Remember, wireframes are not a high-fi mockup. They’re not built to look good; they’re built to say a lot. This basic appearance allows us to quickly change how an application is laid out time and time again. To prove this point, we asked our Director of Custom Software Development, Jesse, to record a half day’s worth of design effort in Basalmiq, a wireframing software application, and boil it down to a few seconds of video.
Wrapping It All Up
Wireframes are helpful because they have the ability to balance details. They allow everyone to share the same vision on what an application needs to do, without being distracted by its looks. It’s far easier to modify the appearance of a custom web application than it is to change what it does after the fact.
What a Wireframe Is
Simply put, a wireframe is a skeletal framework of the completed application. It allows the designer and the client to focus on the structure and function of the application, without worrying about the colors, graphics, typeface, or copy. Wireframes are a down and dirty visual that illustrates the layout and workflow of the application. They are the most efficient way to generate details concerning the functional requirements of an application.
Wireframes can demonstrate how data will be displayed, often causing additional thought about things (like column ordering) that just aren’t covered in design documents.
We also use techniques that keep our audience in mind. It’s easy to get wrapped up in thinking ‘like a developer.’ By looking at wireframes specifically through the user’s eyes, we’ll often find gaps in our logic. Audience management in wireframes helps to address that issue.
What a Wireframe Isn’t
A wireframe isn’t a tool that represents the emotional feel you want an application to have. It has nothing to do with branding, and often times the rudimentary presentation can be seen as incomplete to the wrong audience. But, wireframes are perfect for helping internal teams get on the same page and building well thought out custom web applications.
If you would like to have a one on one conversation with one of our developers about what we could build for you, contact us today for your free 60-minute consultation!Request a Consultation