Wireframes are a simplified visual guide that represents the skeletal framework of a website. Prior to the design, wireframes are usually presented in black and white, and do not define any visual style, typography or imagery.
Wireframes for a website are often compared to blueprints for a house. Blueprints define the number of bedrooms, bathrooms and other rooms of your house, but do not determine the color of the walls or the furniture inside your new home. Similarly, in wireframes, we define the pages and the functionality forms, video, image galleries, navigation, etc) required to achieve the goals of your website.
In the past, wireframes were presented to clients in Word doc or PDF formats — through extensive annotations you would be able to follow the flow of content and calls-to-action. Thankfully, over the last few years, several apps have been introduced that allow us to create interactive wireframes. Now we can present functional wireframes online that clients can click through to get a better experience of the user journey.
Why is wireframing important?
There are many things to consider when designing a website: UI/UX trends, screen sizes, and devices, brand standards, among many other variables. Having the wireframes gives the designer (that's me!) a roadmap to follow for pre-determined functionality and content that aims to achieve a specific goal — this saves time and money!
Some agencies go straight from determining the sitemap to designing the website. This is no bueno. You wouldn't give the construction crew thumbs up to move forward on your new home construction if you've only seen an outline. Just like you would expect to see blueprints, you should expect to see wireframes. Go into this process with a plan for conversions and how the website moves users through the buyers' journey.