When I was starting out as a digital designer, I found little or no guidance about how to create and use wireframes. If I could pass any knowledge onto my younger self, this would be it:

Wireframes are an invaluable part of the interaction design and user-experience toolkit.

They’re useful for everything from explaining a rough concept to exact specifications for the interface build.However, I do think that there is too much emphasis on wireframes as a deliverable when actually the concept is the deliverable. Wireframes are purely the means of communicating the concept, so let’s focus on making them effective for communication. So why are they useful?

1. They encourage realistic thinking

Everyone with a solution in their head thinks that it’s is the right one, but is it? Crystallising ideas into wireframe form helps you (and others) judge whether it could actually work in practice, without having to build anything. Wireframes also allow us to work with scale accuracy, which is especially important for mobile design. Can you really fit all of those buttons in that toolbar?

2. They cut the distractions

There is such a thing as showing something too realistic. When presented with a hi-fi visual mock-up, many people find it hard to believe that it’s not real, and focus on irrelevant details instead of the big idea you’re presenting. If you’re getting more feedback about the sample copy and imagery than the design concept, it doesn’t necessarily mean everyone’s happy with the concept, it could mean that they can’t see past the content. Wireframes allow us to display only what’s relevant, and communicate it better.

3. They make it professional

A sketch might not be enough to convince busy stakeholders that the idea is right (and besides, mine aren’t neat enough!). Working up a wireframe demonstrates that it’s had enough thought to be worthy for consideration and in the process of wireframing it, you’ll have already encountered many of the questions you’ll be asked when you show it to a wider audience.

There you have it. Wireframes to way more than just annotated things.