Wireframe vs. Mockup vs. Prototype: What’s the difference?

Narek Bayadyan • Updated on Dec 14, 2021 • 5 min read

What is a wireframe?

Wireframes are a low-fidelity option for developing the basic structures and layout of a product. Explained more simply, when looking at a wireframe, you can understand which main sections the final product will have and where they will be located. 

As the function of a wireframe is to illustrate only a general structure of the product, UX/UI designers spend no time adding design elements, such as color, style, and text. That's why wireframes usually appear in black, white, and grey schematic blocks and are considered the skeleton of the future website.

wireframe example

Image Source: Cacoo

Why should you use a wireframe? 

The two primary purposes for wireframes are testing and approval. 

Imagine a company that requires you to create a website for them. As a proper brief, they should provide you with details like why you need that website and what kind of problem this website should solve for its users. 

Further, even if you are very sure of how you should construct this website, you need to test its rough version and have the client's approval.

And here's when wireframe comes in handy. 

You can't spend much time and financial resources developing the final website and then showing it to the company for approval. If you do so, and the client asks you to change the site in the end completely, you will feel very sorry.

So, instead of that hassle, you can spend very little time and money (many designers even draw a wireframe on paper) and present your initial idea in a structured outline. 

Further, if the client is happy with your suggestion, you can develop the visual elements of your wireframe, a Mockup.

What is a Mockup?

As mentioned, a web design mockup is a wireframe enriched with the visual component of the website. Here, besides the raw layout, you include the colors, typography, graphics, final texts, menu items, buttons, etc. However, the mockup lacks interactivity, which means nothing is clickable on it.

In other words, the mockup looks exactly like the final website; however, it does not function yet. To prepare a good mockup, you should include every single visual element that you will later use in the final product. 

mockup example

Image Source: mockplus

Wireframe vs. Mockup: Why should you use a mockup?

The mockup has the same purpose as the wireframe, with the difference that here you test and approve the website's visual content. 

Visual is an essential component for the website, and clients want to see how their website will look before you go further into building its functions. 

What is a Prototype?

A prototype is the final stage of the product's design flow. Once the mockup is approved, you should then add interactivity to it to test the user experience. This means you should work on the website navigation to have a clear picture of where the user will appear after clicking on certain sections. 

A prototype is very close to the final product, or sometimes similar, but it is not finally ready to go live.

prototype example

Image Source: Serpstat

Mockup vs. Prototype: Why should you use a prototype?

So what's the difference between a prototype and a mockup? A mockup is a non-functional, first draft of a website or web app and is used to demonstrate or promote the product.

Prototypes, on the other hand, are functional, early releases of a product that's meant to be tested in order to further develop the concept or design.

For example, it might happen that you have developed a perfect UI, which means everything looks good on your website; however, the website lacks a convenient UX. 

A poor UX refers to problems when the website navigation is not set correctly; a user spends too much time to find something, it's hard or impossible to complete the necessary actions on the website, etc. 

To test the UX of the website, UX designers build a prototype and test it as a user. In some organizations, a QA specialist tries different schemes on the website to find out the flows that need improvement. 

The more users test the prototype, the better. Therefore, try to use it yourself, and ask as many of your team members as possible to do the same.

The primary function of the prototype is to possibly decrease the bugs of the product before it is presented to a large public and save development costs. 

Final thoughts

Wireframes, mockups, and prototypes make the life of the UI/UX designers significantly easier. It’s faster and more cost-effective to make adjustments on each element of the final design separately, compared to receiving tons of feedback at the ready product.

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