Wireframes are becoming less relevant — and that’s a good thing

Sean Dexter
6 min readFeb 24, 2019

Over time I’ve found wireframes to be less and less useful, and I don’t think I’m alone. Because the term is somewhat loosely defined, it’s probably important to be specific. While there are many types of prototypes that examine levels of fidelity across various dimensions, I’d like to focus on the specific variant that most immediately comes to mind when hearing the word wireframe. It’s not a sketch or a fully realized mockup but rather the typical “middle” state —digital artifacts left intentionally unstyled and made to represent the “skeleton” of a full page in black and white. The prototypical wireframe attempts to be an accurate representation of layout and information architecture while intentionally avoiding high visual fidelity and sometimes high content fidelity as well.

Behold the drab, spindly splendor of a wireframe in its natural habitat

I’ve been surprised to hear wireframes are still posited as an essential step in the process of design. This attitude seems to be on the decline, but I’ve still heard everyone from early career designers to industry leading agencies insist on the necessity of a “wireframing phase”. The argument typically looks something like this:

⦁ Wireframes focus attention on usability instead of aesthetics. They prevent stakeholders derailing meetings over irrelevant details like button color, and they allow user testing to focus on interactions instead of visuals.

⦁ Wireframes are faster to create. They keep things conceptual and avoid the risk of getting too invested or attached to a particular direction.

⦁ Wireframes can be a tool for detailed documentation of interactions without the additional overhead of visual design.

That doesn’t mean that everyone actually makes wireframes, but when someone admits they don’t it’s often in a hushed tone and without a lot of eye contact. They would like to make wireframes. It’s just that the constraints of their organization, stakeholders, or project prevent that from always being possible. But the mindset that they are essential may be misguided. While I won’t deny that wireframes are ever useful, nowadays they’re valuable only in limited…

Sean Dexter

Sr Product Designer @ Meta. Prev: HubSpot & Cigna. I write about UX, agile, & product. Not speaking for any employer/s. linkedin.com/in/seandexter1/