Five Benefits of Wireframing a Mobile App Digitally

Having spent considerable time in the web world before building apps, I’ve adopted various principles and processes I became accustomed to with that medium to mobile design and development. One element in particular, which is standard in creating websites, has seemed to almost be controversial when dealing with mobile: wireframing.

More specifically, there seems to be a belief that wireframing a mobile app is best suited as a sketching activity, that is, using a pencil and paper. If people are tickled to wireframe or rather sketch and mock their app up this way, then more power to them. But I feel compelled to outline the benefits of wireframing digitally, because in general, I believe it’s a much smarter and more efficient way to wireframe a mobile app. Here are five reasons to throw away your paper and pencil:

1. Artists Need Not Apply

As I mention in App Savvy, I’m creative but not artistic. There are many who can be classified this way and the result is that they simply aren’t talented with their hands. Even with a stencil, using a paper and pencil to wireframe the app would result in a poorly communicate concept that likely made sense to them only.

2. Erasing is No Fun

Early in life, I wanted to be an architect…of houses (and not apps). I can still remember my desk being covered with eraser filings and the constant frustration of having to spend more time removing an idea than getting it right. Architecting an app is no different and the ability to click the delete button or make a quick edit allows many different ideas to be explored, much more quickly.

3. Stencils vs. Drag-and-Drop

While there are some decent stencil kits available, who really wants to stencil in a UI element that can easily be dropped in digitally? Not to mention, a stencil doesn’t evolve while resources like Mockups To Go and Graffeltopia are constantly getting better. And if you are feeling daring or possibly too limited, you can always scan in a hand-drawn sketch for use within your wireframe.

4. Paper is Dead

One of the more powerful aspects of a digital wireframe is that it can be interactive. In fact, we often will demo the earliest versions of an app as a live, interactive wireframe only, to help nail down flow, scope, and features. Paper prototypes have been popular for the web but when it comes to touch-based interfaces, they really don’t help communicate these key interactive elements.

5. “Now, Billy, what did I say about sharing your mockup with others?”

A major limitation of a pencil and paper wireframe is it’s impact in a collaborative, team environment. It’s not really shareable. Even if it’s scanned in its entirety and sent to someone else, there’s no easy way for the person who doesn’t own the sketch to make edits…and as everyone knows, “sharing is the icing on the cake.”

Concluding Note

Clearly, I’m not suggesting that pencil and paper wireframing or sketching is useless. I just think that as a whole, this approach has been oversold. Ultimately, use the tools that suit your needs best…but don’t overlook wireframing your mobile app digitally solely because others keep pushing paper onto you.