Seduction by Wireframe

By Deane Barker on August 14, 2012

I really enjoyed this article from RSG and can so relate to it.  It’s about “UX overreach” in site overhauls – when IAs and UX people get too active and try to do too much, adding layers and layers of superficially great functionality on a wireframe without any thought to how it’s supposed to be managed, either editorially or technically.

One of my favorite stories about this was when a senior US government executive demanded that a federal portal for small business owners display its content by business type and state, until a plucky underling pointed out that in fact, the agency had no content whatsoever “tailored specifically to a carwash owner in Rhode Island.”

[...] It’s hard for any web or marketing manager to say no to this stuff at first. The wireframes will entice. The new features will look delicious in Photoshop. The HTML prototypes will likely test well. But then what?

I love that: “The wireframes will entice."  I envision a stack of wireframes next to a candle and a bottle of wine, Marvin Gaye playing softly in the background.

Don’t you know how sweet and wonderful life can be I’m asking you baby to get it on with me I ain’t gonna worry I ain’t gonna push, won’t push you baby So c’mon, c’mon, c’mon, c’mon, c’mon, baby Stop beatin’ ‘round the bush Let’s get it on

My new favorite phrase: seduction by wireframe.

Here’s why this is dangerous – everything works on a wireframe.  Just like the hot guy or girl that seems so perfect in every way from across the bar, wireframes are wonderful zones of pure enjoyment, free from concerns like reality and technical feasibility.  Everything just works. 

Wireframes will always put the toilet seat down and put the cap back on the toothpaste.

My favorite is “Related Content” (the following is not from the article, BTW).

Isn’t this great?  The user gets a list of other content they might like related to this one!  It’s wonderful!

How are we going to do that?  Um, well, we’re just going to...ask the CMS?  Yes, that’s it, we’ll just ask the CMS to provide us of a list of related content.

But why are there a bunch of articles here about equestrian Olympic events?  What?  Okay, but that article isn’t really about a horse.  The word “horse” is just  a metaphor for something else.

What do you mean the CMS doesn’t understand metaphors?

We have to provide metadata?  And it has to be organized to provide some continuity between articles?  So, there has to be, like, a directory of tags and stuff?

Um, what the hell is a “taxonomy”?

Too much stuff gets crammed on wireframes.  They become like brainstorming sessions run wild where everything goes in, and it’s the integrator’s job to sort it out.  But a lot of times, the integrator is fairly hamstrung by the CMS platform and its capabilities.

Then you have to add the editors’ desire to manage all this content.

We have to enter all the stuff?  And what happens when it changes?  We have to go edit it all?   We don’t have the staff for this.  I thought this stupid CMS was supposed to make our lives easier!!

Keep your wireframes simple, people.  Get that stuff working, then incrementally add complexity after thoroughly considering (1) whether or not it can be justified in terms of ROI, and (2) whether or not you have the editorial capabilities to manage it.

Put another way: sober up before you propose marriage.

Comments (4)

Brade says:

Incredibly relevant to me right now. As the “integrator” I just have to face-palm sometimes with the wireframe functionality I am handed...

James Robertson says:

Amen to this!

I still remember one painful project, where we were brought in to help the client select a CMS for their website. So the usual business requirements -> CMS requirements -> RFP -> shortlist.

The client had been through six months of UX work, the end product of which was a huge set of beautiful wireframes.

But in the first hour of my workshop, I started asking questions like “Where does the information for that list come from?”, “Those related links, how are they created?”, “What drives this faceted navigation?”.

As you highlight in your article, they’d been seduced by the wireframe, and my process forced a very painful process (for all) of revisiting and refining the designs.


Vidar Langberget says:

The main problem I’ve had with wireframes isn’t complexity or technical challenges, but rather that there often is no overall thought behind the navigation in the wireframes.

But his has improved considerably in the last few years, at least here in Norway. Previously there was often little or no separation between who did graphic design and who did interaction design (wireframes) in a project. But the two types of design need very different skills. Few graphic designers are good at doing wireframes IMO. With more focus on interaction design in projects, the quality of wireframes in a project is generally much better than a few years ago.

Sara Wachter-Boettcher says:

Dean, have you happened to see this little talk Jonathan Kahn gave a couple years ago? It’s called “Wireframes are Works of Fantasy” and I suspect you might like it: