Visualizing how users interact with digital solutions is critical to every designer’s SaaS product redesign and design team. UX design modeling saves designers the time they would lose redesigning products, apps, websites, and software.
Designers have different ways of modeling and testing digital solutions before launching them. They can use prototypes or wireframes to visualize final products, depending on the degree of detail they need. This post explores all these concepts in depth. Eventually, you will be better placed to know which alternative to use and when.
Types UX of Models
User experience models are abstract representations of how a digital interface works. They help designers understand complex user behaviors and usage processes. A UX designer has three types of models they can explore—implementation, mental, and representational.
These models help designers visualize how things work. They represent how developers build systems, websites, apps, and other digital solutions.
UX Mental Models
Mental models are belief sets about how systems work and how users interact with them based on those beliefs. Unlike implementation models, these focus on how users think or believe a digital solution works. Remember, these assumptions are not verified facts; they are just beliefs.
These models rely on how designers present digital interfaces to users. They directly relate to user interfaces and connect with interaction layers between systems and users. These model types rarely represent implementation models. Instead, they focus on the designer’s view of their users; thus, they’re more of designers’ than users’ models.
Prototypes are another essential tool in UX design modeling. A prototype simulates or samples a final product version, which UX teams use to test their products before the launch. Designers create prototypes using single wireframes or mockups. A prototype comes in two forms, namely:
These prototypes utilize paper or digital wireframes to test user flows. During conception, user experience teams use them to test ideas and concepts. They also create information architectures for websites or products.
After completing design mockups, designers connect all the buttons and links to formulate functional high-fidelity prototypes. UX designers make them look and function like the final products as much as possible. This way, they can address challenges more effectively before releasing final drafts for engineering.
Wireframes are low-fidelity mockups that serve three simple goals. Designers use them to:
- Present the information that will display on pages.
- Outline page structure and layout.
- Convey a user interface’s overall direction and description.
A good wireframe must be simple to serve its purpose effectively. A wireframe always has low to medium-level fidelity ranging from paper lines and boxes to onscreen creations with more polished looks. Additionally, a wireframe’s minimal interactivity level allows users to test behaviors without worrying about a product’s final looks or feel.
Where Is the Difference?
How do prototypes differ from wireframes? We can use the human body to illustrate how these two differ. But before examining their differences, please note that these two are essentially the same but only differ in their purpose.
A wireframe is your digital product’s skeleton. It’s a base that provides a general view of what you are building. Beyond your design’s skeletal layout lies the product’s muscle—copy and content. Getting clear information and copy earlier facilitates a clearer transition from the wireframe to a prototype.
Creating a prototype is like positioning your digital solution for public service. Inversely, a prototype visually represents your product or digital asset more clearly. We can compare it to a formed body with skin and evident facial characteristics.
However, it isn’t the perfect version of what the public will interact with upon the final launch. If you are creating a product, this stage lets you make small final changes based on other people’s feedback before sending it over for engineering.
The Middle Ground
We saw that a wireframe is a prototype at a skeletal level, while a prototype is a wireframe at a more advanced muscular level. But how does the transition happen to fill the developmental gap? Mockups come in at this critical stage.
Assembling wireframes is quick, but envisioning a final product’s actual feel and looks can be challenging. Here, mockups bridge the gap by letting you focus on getting the visual design right. That stage is about prototyping and not UX or usability trials. The mockup stage focuses on your product’s final looks without worrying about user flow, which prototyping addresses.
Designers working with large companies should consult team members to design the processes and assemble mockups to get valuable feedback. The same requirement applies to product managers in large organizations.
When to Use Wireframes or Prototypes?
Now comes one of the most critical questions, “When should you choose prototypes over wireframes and vice versa?” First, understanding when to use each option over the other is the focus, and not if to use or not use them. Thus, the ‘when’ question relates to the stage of digital product design and not an option’s overall supremacy over another.
So far, no rules exist to dictate these two methods in a specified order. Everything depends on a designer’s project and team. As a rule, the product development pipeline is as follows:
Use wireframes in your design’s early development stages. After transitioning to a mockup, you should proceed to prototypes unless you want to redesign a product.
Prototypes are used throughout the design processes up to the final handover stage. Without them, usability testing would be impossible. A UX team creates low-fidelity and high-fidelity prototypes at all development stages to test, gather feedback, make tweaks, and redesign products. Low-fidelity prototypes usually remain in UX departments, while teams use high-fidelity prototypes for trials or client and stakeholder presentations.
Wireframes and prototypes are essential in any product’s user experience modeling stages. They differ in their stages and application but are equally necessary. Knowing when and how to use one solution instead of another is essential for successful UX design modeling. With these insights, you’re sure to streamline your modeling processes and derive maximum value from the UX design toolkit.