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What's the Difference Between Wireframe vs. Mockup vs. Prototype?

What's the Difference Between Wireframe vs. Mockup vs. Prototype?

Design Process
8 min read

Wireframes, mockups, and prototypes will help you showcase your ideas. All these techniques have a common goal — to visualize a future product. However, they do this at different stages and in different ways. Once you understand what the difference between wireframe vs. mockup vs. prototype is, you will be able to use each tool when necessary.

Arounda has been building outstanding digital products, such as platforms, mobile apps, and websites, for five years. And we use various design tools to bring our clients’ ideas to life. Using this experience, we will answer the question “What is the difference between a wireframe, mockup, and prototype?” Also, this article will briefly describe how they can facilitate the creation of your digital product.

We will consider wireframes, mockups, and prototypes based on the order they appear in the design process.

What Are Wireframes?

Wireframes are the skeleton of your project — a minimal product layout without colors, logos, and other UI components. 

Wireframes include:

  • Basic product elements
  • Relationships between those elements
  • Project structure

In other words, it's a quick pencil sketch created before moving on to a full-fledged artwork. In fact, designers often develop wireframes with pencils on plain paper at the brainstorming stage. Usually, they do it before making a technical brief at the beginning of the idea's justification. Later, designers transform paper wireframes into digital wireframes and then approve them again.

The difference between wireframe and mockup is the absence of visual elements such as colors and logos. Instead, wireframes focus on whether the proposed layout, not graphic details, will cover users’ needs.

Why wireframes are essential:

  • They visualize design decisions. Wireframes provide a clear visual representation of the structure and layout of a website or app. It helps ensure that the user experience is logical and intuitive.
  • They trigger valuable UX insights. Because wireframes focus on structure and layout rather than visual design, your team can provide feedback on the overall user experience without being distracted by colors, fonts, and other visual elements.
  • They help spot and eliminate design problems. By creating wireframes early in the design process, designers can identify potential issues and make adjustments before adding visual design elements. 

Some teams overlook wireframes and immediately jump into mockups and prototypes. However, with wireframes, you won’t miss any critical design aspects and UX components at the very beginning of the project.

What Are Mockups?

A mockup is a realistic visual design that shows what the new product’s design will look like. Mockups can improve the development of graphic elements and visual harmony. Also, a team needs to review and compare mockups. This way, designers can consider more options, making the product more inclusive. 

Mockups include:

  • Wireframes
  • Logos
  • Color elements
  • Icons
  • Content (partially)
  • Fonts

Why mockups are essential:

  • They improve consistency. Mockups help ensure the visual design is consistent with the brand.
  • They communicate ideas. Mockups help designers collaborate with other team members, including developers, to ensure everyone is on the same page.

Many don’t see the difference between a mockup and a prototype, so let’s clear things up. While mockups may look like the final product, they don't have any navigation or functionality.

What Are Prototypes?

A prototype is an example of your product design with maximum functional elements and visual solutions. It’s an interactive modeling of the functionality of a new product.

Prototypes include:

  • Logos
  • Color elements
  • Icons
  • Content (that can be interacted with)
  • Fonts
  • Navigation elements
  • Opportunity to collect feedback

When you add any functionality to a mockup, it becomes a prototype.

Why prototypes are essential:

  • They allow for early improvements. With prototyping, designers can make iterative design changes based on user feedback. Testing and refining the prototype improves the overall user experience and ensures that the product meets users' needs.
  • They help prevent development challenges. Prototypes allow the team to identify potential problems and make adjustments before product development, saving time and money in the long run.
  • They improve teamwork. Prototypes facilitate collaboration between designers and developers. With a functional representation of the product, developers better understand how it works and what it takes to create it.

When Should You Use a Wireframe?

Designers usually create wireframes during brainstorming and before the primary design process. That is due to another difference between a wireframe and a mockup. Wireframes help you define what you should have without focusing on how it should look.

At the wireframe stage, designers also build a user journey map. It’s essential when you need to dive deeper into your audience’s specifics and create a helpful product. 

Additionally, it’s an opportunity to present your idea to the team and come up with efficient strategies. In the business world, it's always better to show once than to explain with words several times. 

When Should You Use a Mockup?

The process of coordinating product styles, color palettes, and critical content occurs between a wireframe and a mockup, . Then, the team turns the results into a mockup and edits it. Therefore, designers often create several mockups until the team approves the most relevant solution. 

UX designers can also create several mockups to offer the client a few options for implementing their idea. This way, the team demonstrates that they understand the client’s vision and consider different ways to implement it.

When Should You Use a Prototype?

Prototypes are an integral part of the usability testing phase. They present a functioning product version to users. So you can get their initial feedback.

The difference between a mockup and a prototype is that there is usually only one prototype, and the team constantly improves it. Based on the mockups, they select a single option and turn it into a prototype. Finally, after testing, it becomes a full-fledged product.

Final Thoughts

Now you know what is the difference between a wireframe, mockup, and prototype. Wireframes focus on structure and layout, mockups prioritize visual design, and prototypes represent functionality and user experience. 

Our team regularly creates wireframes, mockups, and prototypes for our projects. So if you need experts who know how to employ each of those tools with the most significant benefit to build your digital solution, contact us! 


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FAQ on UI/UX design services

What is the difference between a mockup and a prototype?

A mockup is a static visual representation of a digital product, while a prototype represents the product’s functionality. Designers usually create after the wireframing stage. It incorporates visual design elements like colors, typography, and images. In contrast, a prototype is a working digital product model allowing actual user-product interactions.

Are a mockup and a wireframe the same?

Wireframes often consist of simple shapes and placeholders. Their goal is to establish the user flow and identify potential design issues. On the other hand, a mockup is a high-fidelity visual representation of a digital product that provides a more realistic image of the final product. While both wireframes and mockups are design tools, wireframes focus on the structure and layout of the product, while mockups focus on the visual design.

When should you use a wireframe vs. mockup vs. prototype?

Wireframes cover initial brainstorming and creativity to ensure the product’s structure and layout. Mockups aim to finalize the visual design and get feedback on the product’s overall look and feel. Prototypes help with user and usability testing to refine the product's design and functionality before development.

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