Wireframes vs. mockups: What's the difference?

Wireframes vs. mockups: What's the difference?

We've all been there. You take your first steps into learning a new skill or starting a new project and you're immediately confronted by mountains of jargon and technical terminology.

Although its true you can get by without knowing the difference between a wireframe and mockup, learning the nuances and differences between the two terms will put you in a much better position when it comes to the success of your digital product design project.

In this article, we break down mockups vs. wireframes, discuss what the purpose is of each, and run through how Uizard can help you with your app and web design projects from wireframing right through to prototyping.

Transform wireframes to mockups in Uizard with wireframe mode

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Wireframes vs. mockups: the basic breakdown

Mockups vs. wireframes and the fidelity spectrum

Wireframes vs. mockups in the design process

Wireframes vs. mockups vs. prototypes

Wireframing and mockups made easy with Uizard

Wireframes vs. mockups: the basic breakdown

Breaking it down into the most simple terms, a wireframe is blueprint of all the screens and on page elements of your product, whereas a mockup is a more visual way of displaying what the finished product might look like. Here is the purpose of wireframes and mockups in more detail:

What is the purpose of a wireframe?

A wireframe is created to visualize a screen’s information architecture and functional elements. Wireframes are generally produced by UX designers and product managers and are used to guide collaboration with both UI designers and developers (you can find out more about what wireframes are in our dedicated guide.)

What is the purpose of a mockup?

A mockup is created to show how stylistic design elements like branding, color, typography, and iconography are expressed as an overall creative direction. As an example, an app mockup will demonstrate how a finished product would look and feel in the hand of a user (you can find out more about what mockups are here).

Mockups vs. wireframes and the fidelity spectrum

When it comes to the level and detail of a digital product design, we use the term “fidelity”. Put plainly, fidelity refers to how close to a real finished digital product a design is. Let's take a look at the relationship between fidelity and wireframes and mockups in more detail...

Low-fidelity wireframes aren’t very precise

Low fidelity designs are simple, rough sketches that give only a basic sense of an app or web design concept. Think ‘back of the napkin’ drawings or sketching ideas down on a whiteboard with your teammates.

website wireframe template
Website wireframe UI template

Low-fidelity sketches are often hand-drawn or created with purpose built online wireframing tools (check out the website wireframe above for a great example).

Mid-fidelity designs are a bit more refined

When we discuss medium fidelity designs, think about boxes and arrows and placeholder “lorem ipsum” text. They're usually a digitally structured version of your sketches that are semi-functional, but do not yet include any final design aesthetics or graphics.

medium fidelity digital product design
medium fidelity design with Uizard.

You’ll likely work through a few rounds of iteration at mid-fidelity, adding in more detail incrementally.

High-fidelity designs are the closest to the “real thing.”

High fidelity designs are polished, if not precisely accurate, representations of a holistic design vision.

food delivery web app template
a food delivery web app UI template

High fidelity mockups illustrate the detailed UI design, highlighting a cohesive look and feel. For a great example, take a look at our food delivery website UI template!

Wireframes vs. mockups in the design process

Generally, wireframes precede mockups in a design process because mockups require some basic guidelines of what content and functionality need to be included on a given screen. Wireframes reflect the truly iterative and collaborative nature of design work. As teams work through the “how might we” questions driving functional and technical explorations, loose ideas get tightened up with more specific details, and sketches are transformed into wireframes.

However, here’s where things get a little slippery. Sometimes mockups can be a starting point in themselves. For example, you might choose to create some dazzling mockups as part of your pitch to impress and inspire potential clients or investors. This is a tempting option, because who doesn’t love seeing an idea brought to life with beautiful designs and cool branding? But presenting mockups at this phase can be a double-edged sword.

On the one hand, mockups help stakeholders envision a near-future state where your product or service already exists. It’s a kind of speculative fiction that gets people amped up about what’s possible. On the other hand, there’s a risk of creating a kind of ‘success disaster,’ which is when your designs have created a too-good-to-be-true scenario.

For example, your mockups might set unrealistic expectations about what’s actually achievable. Then, before your ideas have been properly vetted for technical feasibility or even customer desirability, your stakeholders are already married to a particular direction.

This doesn’t mean you should never use mockups to pitch your idea or kick off your design process. In fact, we think it’s a great way to garner early enthusiasm and feedback!

Wireframes vs. mockups vs. prototypes

Feedback and iteration are what nudge the design process forward, so you can think of moving from wireframes to mockups to prototypes as steps on an evolutionary path. Even if polished design mockups are your starting point, you’re still going to need to take a step back to develop your thinking in a lower-fidelity state. Odds are, things are going to change once you’ve started getting input from potential users and developers.

But there can still be a bit of a gray area when it comes to knowing how and when each type of design artifact comes into play. So, a general rule of thumb is that what differentiates wireframes and mockups from prototypes is interactivity. You can find out more about prototypes in our introduction to prototyping.

Wireframing and mockups made easy with Uizard

If there is any big secret about design, it’s this: a design process is rarely, if ever, linear. The path from concept to launch will likely be full of loops of testing out a number of different directions and approaches. Your ideas will change many times over as you look at things from different perspectives and gather user feedback.

Wireframes, mockups, and prototypes help you learn what’s working and what isn’t. Their chief purpose is to facilitate conversations with users, collaborators, and stakeholders, which is why we can’t say it enough: get your ideas in front of people early and often throughout the design process.

If you're new to the world of design or you are on a time crunch with your next digital design project, Uizard is here to support you through the entire design process, from wireframe to functional prototype. Our drag and drop editor is fast and easy to use and is here to streamline your app or web design project like never before.

From sketch to wireframe to mockup to prototype, your UX design evolves every step of the way with Uizard. Sign up and try Uizard for free today or give Uizard Pro a go to get access to all our premium features; the possibilities are endless.