When we hear about wireframing and prototyping, typically this relates to app and website design, new software creation, or some other kind of digital product that has tens of interfaces, and hundreds of potential interactions. What’s sometimes overlooked, however, is their importance and application in engaging interactive content creation.
This could range from an interactive map to animated infographics and everything in between and it’s something we know a lot about here with the work that we deliver for our clients.
Though some might use the terms ‘wireframing’ and ‘prototyping’ synonymously, there are significant differences between the two. Both wireframes and prototypes, as well as mock-ups, which we’ll talk about later, play crucial roles in the design journey, however, they all look different, have different purposes and are used to gather different feedback.
The common thread that runs through them though, is that they’re all representations of the same final product.
By using all three, the creative process becomes much more seamless and streamlined, leading to full transparency with wider team members and key stakeholders.
Before we begin taking a closer look at wireframes and prototypes for interactive content creation, there are some key terms to familiarise yourself with. Now don’t worry, this isn’t a glossary of every design-related piece of vocabulary, more of a brief intro into some common terms.
UI – Stands for User Interface. This is front-end of the design which features all of the visual elements like graphics and typography, as well as components that allow a user to interact with a piece.
UX – User Experience. This refers to the user’s emotions, thoughts and feelings when interacting with a piece, which is especially important when setting out to create something which is both engaging, enjoyable to use and accessible.
Placeholder – Common term for any text, images or UI components which feature temporarily to help illustrate the final look and feel.
Hierarchy – The way in which different elements are arranged to direct the user’s attention.
Fidelity – How closely a wireframe or prototype resembles the finished piece.
Interactions/Micro-interactions – Any kind of element within an interface which communicates meaningful feedback.
Transition – Refers to any change in state or screen as part of an interface. Transitions usually feature some kind of animated element to bridge the gap and provide a seamless experience for the user.
A note on Micro-interactions
Micro-interactions are small events or animations (hence the micro) that are key in providing moments of engagement and enhancing user experience.
Elements like hover effects on buttons or expanding map pins are common examples. They can be implemented to be educational and informative, organically prompting the user to interact with different elements and help break down potentially complex processes.
By responding to the actions of the user in fun and welcoming ways, micro-interactions help forge an emotional connection between the user and what they’re interacting with.
This ‘reward’ for engaging with a piece helps give them a feeling of being valued, like all of the hard work has been done for them. They don’t have to learn anything new, they can just enjoy the piece for what it is.
This is especially important for interactive content creation.
Micro-interactions alone might be small, but when combined, they add an extra level of detail and show a clear sign of care. They provide a seamless experience with continuous feedback and that could be the difference between an ‘ordinary’ content piece and an exceptional one.
Back to the main topic then, starting with wireframes. At their core, wireframes form the foundation of an interface. They’re like the skeleton, providing a framework from which the rest of the design is built on. They range in fidelity and can be anything from boxes and lines sketched out on paper, to more refined outputs created in software like Adobe XD.
When looking at a wireframe, the purpose is to lay out and gather feedback on the overall structure of the piece without being too concerned about the visual styling.
As a result, wireframes use basic structural elements, symbols and icons to represent elements of a final piece. These elements vary depending on the level of detail in the wirefame. For example, a low-fidelity example might use straight lines to represent a section of copy, whereas a medium-fidelity wireframe might use placeholder text or actual copy instead.
Some other examples of common wireframing symbols can be seen below. Consistency with the use of these symbols is key, as it maintains a consistent channel of communication between everyone involved in the piece.
We can take wireframes a step further by adding a level of interactivity. With these versions, we can show the flow of the piece between multiple screens or interfaces, as well as including micro-interactions and transitions. We are also able to gather feedback from the team and key stakeholders, not just on the layout or the framework, but also the behaviour and user experience.
Below you can see an example wireframe for a piece we created for Select Car Leasing recently.
The symbols mentioned above are present and to further avoid styling decisions conflicting with layout feedback, wireframes almost always are created in a single colour.
Bridging the gap between wireframes and prototypes we have mock-ups. If wireframes are the skeleton, then mockups are the skin and muscle, building on the structure of wireframes to showcase and gather feedback on the visual styling and content of the page.
Ranging from middle to high fidelity, mock-ups represent the structure and hierarchy of information and demonstrate very basic functionality but in a static way. For example, you might see how a static map pin looks and how it looks when you click on it, but what’s missing is the transition and the interactivity.
This isn’t to say that mock-ups don’t have their place in interactive content creation, though. It’s much easier and quicker to send a static image than it is to put together a fully-functional prototype. Additionally, they allow us to narrow our focus and encourage feedback purely on the visual elements like imagery, colours, fonts and copy.
Finally, mock-ups are a great way of documentation. Where a prototype will regularly be updated to the latest version, overwriting everything prior, a series of mock-ups allow previous incarnations of a design to be revisited quickly and easily. They also allow for team members to view the piece as a whole, setting individual interfaces side by side with one another rather than navigating an entire piece to find a specific section in view.
Building on our wireframe example, we can see below what happens when we add some colour and styling.
The final stage in the design journey, prototypes are simulations of the finished piece, which demonstrate the user journey and all interactive elements within, in addition to the visual styling.
With the wireframe stage establishing the foundation, and mockups determining the styling, the role of prototyping is to demonstrate and test the functionality of the design and the overall user experience.
When creating interactive content pieces, this is especially important as the aim is to engage the user, encouraging exploration and interaction. Through using prototypes we’re able to get a sense of this and make any changes quickly and easily.
Prototypes also allow for feedback on those interactive and animated elements which aren’t possible in flat visuals. Transitions, micro-interactions and animations can all be explained alongside flat visuals in a mock-up, but until a user actually interacts with and experiences those components, it’s difficult to gauge the emotional impact and response they achieve.
Therefore, prototypes deliver more meaningful insight into the user experience. Though they aren’t able to deliver the same kind of documentation as mockups, they are able to be easily shared with a wider team and explored without the need for instruction or direction.
In turn, this leads to more natural feedback process, where the user is free to explore at their own pace.
To sum up
Prototypes, wireframes and mock-ups are all crucial parts of the workflow when it comes to interactive content creation, with each stage having its own distinct purpose and aesthetic.
It’s important not to lose sight of each of these stages and how they build on one another to create the overall piece.
Together they help teams collaborate and gather feedback; breaking down the design process into easy to understand chunks.
This process can ultimately lead to better client results too, an idea with well-thought-out visual aids communicated effectively is more likely to answer any queries or respond to any scrutiny along the way.
Don’t believe us? Check out the finished content piece here and see if you’re faster than Tesla’s Advanced Braking system!
If you’re looking for an agency that could do results-smashing interactive content creation in their sleep (probably), find out more about our Content Marketing service.
With a full design and dev function in-house at Evolved Search, we’re able to create unique pieces that really gain traction for our clients’ businesses. But hey, don’t just take our word for it: see our case studies for more information.