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Wireframe vs. Mockup vs. Prototype: Decoding The Differences

by Henny Kel Tweet - in Technology

Wireframe vs. mockup

Last updated on February 2nd, 2023

Designing is a complicated process that can go on for many days and months. One such project involves an entire team of professionals. So, it has to undergo various evolvement phases. Wireframes, mockups, and prototypes help visualize a product getting its shape.

Many people take wireframes, mockups, and prototypes as synonyms. These aim to help a team visualize a concept but are helpful in their own way. This means you cannot replace one for another.

Those already in the field of designing products will probably use wireframes, mockups, and prototypes. But if you are not among them, you may mistake these three as being the same.

We can say that wireframes, mockups, and prototypes are three different ways to draft your product at its various stages of creation. Though they have similarities, they have other purposes.

Here Is How Wireframes, Mockups, and Prototypes Differ From Each Other

What is a wireframe?

A wireframe is the first step to creating or designing something you are looking forward to while working on a project. Mostly, wireframes are in black and white and look like grey boxes. So, when looking for wireframing meaning, know that it is mostly about inserting many texts in different boxes called wireframes.

You can quickly create the boxes during a brainstorming session. You can use paper and pencil, any product management tool, or a whiteboard to create a wireframe. We can say that wireframes are thus the basic foundation on which a design project further builds up its concept.

So, a wireframe represents a website or an app through graphics. It will contain the design elements most likely to be used in the project. A wireframe is thus like a building’s blueprint. Many sketches are made as blueprints.

Similarly, a wireframe has all the basic frameworks required for a design project. It will show many elements of a design project with the layout structure.

When to use a wireframe?

Wireframes are minimalistic structures that you can instantly adjust to your project’s adjustments.

Here Is When You Should Use Wireframes:

  • Share key information – Wireframes are best when you want to share your creative design ideas with your team. You can then take their feedback about the design of a product at the initial stage when it is just a concept.
  • Quick modifications– Designers can quickly modify their ideas on wireframe since it is a simple tool in which anyone can make changes whenever they want.
  • Identify business requirements – With the wise use of wireframes, you can identify your business requirements. This helps in finding out the scope of your products in the market.

What is a mockup?

Once you have prepared the wireframe, next, take it and create its mockup. At this stage, you will add different design choices such as fonts, colors, icons, navigational elements, social buttons, etc.

Usually, mockups give the designers or project creators multiple options so they can have some more ideas. The intention here is to make the content of the wireframe look more real and show how the final product will look. So, mockups usually have actual content.

When project stakeholders see the mockups, they get a detailed visual design, which helps them decide what should go in the website design. Therefore, we can say that mockups are realistic portrayals that allow for getting a user’s perspective.

When team members compare different mockups, they can get a direction and decide how a design should look. For instance, a website design mockup will visually give you an idea of how your website will look on the screen.

Similarly, if you intend to create different mockups of logo design on custom t-shirts, signboards, business cards, etc., it will let you find out how effective it looks.

When to use mockups?

While mockups are tools helping you visualize your potential ideas that may work for your project, you should use them strategically.

Here Is When You Should Prefer Using Mockups

  • Know Your Product – A mockup gives you a visual idea of how the product will look before starting a project. With mockups, you can also test out a variety of approaches.
  • Get Stakeholders Aligned – When designing a product, it would be good to involve more people with different ideas. So, mockups help them align with the project. You can also include investors in the project by showing them the product mockups.
  • Take Your Final Design Step – Use mockups when ready to visualize your product after a long discussion with teammates. You created those sketches and went through brainstorming sessions. Now, mockups will help you visualize that one design you finalized.

So, mockups help you communicate how you want your final product to take shape. They can tell your team about what you are visualizing and give their feedback for improvements.

What is a prototype?

Prototypes are the last stage in the chain of creating ideas—user feedback and usability testing matter. The prototype looks like a mockup. The designers incorporate some UX tools for interaction at this stage.

Another aspect to consider when finding out what a prototype is is that there is no actual coding involved at this time, so the prototype will not be fully functional. The interactive elements, however, will be able to validate the core concepts.

When a prototype is fully developed, user testing of its project is performed. That is when you can know how actual uses intersect with the products and their features.

Once the prototype gets approval based on user feedback, the development team starts working on it to realize the concept for the users.

When comparing wireframes vs. prototypes, we can conclude that wireframes present an outline of a product. But a prototype is a final visualization of what you wireframed.

When to use a prototype?

  • Usability Testing – When you want to put a working version of your concept or product, the prototype is a way to test the product’s usability. You can check if your design is fit for use.
  • Share Your Ideas – Protopyes are also great tools to share your creative ideas with experts or team members for idea valuation.
  • Better Collaboration – By involving all the stakeholders, prototypes let developers test the functionality of a product, and product managers can test it for user flows. Also, UX writers can validate navigation.
  • Inviting Investors – A well-made prototype is also a way to convince investors that the product is worth investing their money in.

Knowing how wireframes, mockups, and prototypes differ does not mean you cannot use them simultaneously. Since they serve the same purpose of helping visualize a design concept, you can use all of them at once.

For instance, you can use a wireframe to outline your mockup. Similarly, when you add some functionality to the mockup, it becomes a prototype.

Design Fidelity of Wireframes, Mockups, and Prototypes

When describing the current developmental phase of a design project, it is usually referred to in terms of fidelity levels. When we talk of design fidelity, it indicates the level of detail. So, design fidelity refers to the level of detailing while creating a design during its evolvement phases.

Designers and product makers often discuss the fidelity of a design. Design fidelity is categorized as low-fidelity, mid-fidelity, and high-fidelity.

Low-fidelity stage involves sketches and sticky notes. The designer will make a lot of sketches. For instance, many drawings of a logo design will be done at this start phase.

Mid-fidelity design involves many details such as colors, typography, icons, symbols, etc. At this stage, a design gets an excellent visual shape.

High-fidelity design is where the designer uses computer-based graphic design tools for real interaction. As a result, it becomes closer to the user interface.

Wireframe Fidelity

Wireframes are generally low-fidelity since the designer or stakeholders give basic details only. There is a whiteboard drawing and a bunch of boxes with some text to communicate a purpose.

Mockup Fidelity

Mockups are medium-fidelity designs since they provide more information to the creator. The design is visual at this stage due to the details. So, when every element is used, and the design is visual and ready for testing, it is a mid-fidelity design.

Prototype Fidelity

Prototypes are high-fidelity designs as they involve a lot of detailing after elements of interactions, transitions, or animation. At this stage, the mockup gets usability buttons, such as clickable menus and social buttons, that give the users a visceral sense of experience.

These prototypes allow for mouse-keyboard interactions. The intention here is to give an experience of how the product will interact and behave when delivered to the users.

So, from the above discussion, we can say that a wireframe is a basis for designing a product when a designer provides some initial thoughts on paper. Then, mockups take that thought further by adding details to visualize the outcome. In the end, prototypes add interactive elements and demonstrate how users will experience the product.

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Wrapping Up

Wireframes, mockups, and prototypes are three stages of designing a product. Wireframes provide basic information about the concept, while mockups add details to wireframes for visualizing the idea. Then, prototypes make the mockups suitable for user experience.

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I am a graphic, web designer and blogger with over 6 years experience. I am very passionate about anything related to design and spends copious amounts of time hidden behind a book or a screen and reading about design. Twitter



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