When you look around the web for prototyping software, you find a lot of wireframing apps pretending to be prototyping tools. There’s a difference between the two, though.
Good old trusted Wikipedia defines website wireframes as follows:
“A website wireframe is a basic visual guide used in interface design to suggest the structure of a website and relationships between its pages.”
Visual guide is right. Wireframing is self-descriptive; it’s about visualising the outline of the page by placing components and UI elements on a canvas and determining how they should be positioned. There can be a lot of work involved here in terms of sizing, weight, colour and order. When you build a wireframe, you’re thinking visually.
Prototyping, on the other hand, gets the following summary:
“The conventional purpose of a prototype is to allow users of the software to evaluate developers’ proposals for the design of the eventual product by actually trying them out”
This quote talks about behaviour, not visuals. Software prototyping is about evaluation, testing, verification, and function. It’s something different from wireframing.
You might think we’re being a tad Captain Obvious here, but it’s actually surprising how the language is being misused at the moment. Building a wireframing app is a great, noble goal. It solves a problem, serves a purpose, and helps people figure out how their layouts should look and feel. But prototyping occupies a grey area in-between visual design and software development. You can’t just create something with which to make wireframes, add the ability to click through pages, include export-to-HTML support, and call it prototyping. That’s putting lipstick on a pig.
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