Why grey wireframes are a song of the past

They appeared seemingly out of nowhere around 2004, but stayed with us for almost 12 years. Grey wireframes - mostly done in Axure were often the most important part of the design process. They were heavily praised by some larger UX agencies as the de facto "right way" to do UX. It also created a new job - UX designer - but it meant something a little bit different then. It was a person, who mostly based on heuristics puts together "layouts" with blocky, grey boxes. In most cases that person lacked the skills to move it any further than that - i.e. choose typography, add some color and make it a little bit more like a real thing. This division between UX and graphics design didn't help the projects, confining them to being based heavily on the wireframes. It also created a lot of communication distortion - because two people were doing essentially the same thing, only parts of it.


2016 changed all that in favor of hi-fi prototypes, pushing grey wireframes into obscurity

The worst part of that "grey era" was that the clients were also getting used to receiving "first drafts" in that form. Some UX designers joked around, that the client sometimes didn't understand what he got and said he didn't like the way it looks. I think the joke is on them in the end.

Especially since those wireframes were often used for user testing. And no matter how long you explain to the users what a wireframe is - they will subconsciously always "feel" that this is ugly. How can you then believe in the results, if they are so likely skewed negatively right at the start. The only way to "truly" test it would be if the entire focus group was UX designers. But that doesn't make much sense, right? ;)


2016 changed the landscape quite a bit. Sketch (@sketchapp) got a lot more mainstream and A LOT more powerful. A lot of UX-designers started learning graphics design and only a small, regressive group, usually doing mediocre designs is still a fan of the grey wires.

We have tools now that are so powerful, with huge element libraries to choose from, that hi-fi prototypes take almost as much time as grey wireframes used to.

I imagined this back in 2015 when first playing around with Sketch and then later inVision (@invisionapp) which I am right now a very strong supporter. The division between UX designer and graphics designer felt fake and unnecessary. It was also that way because a UX designer couldn't really predict all the cool visual stuff that could be done, but he was already putting limits on the graphics designer.

Our knowledge of UX + UI is at an all time high, so every "graphics designer" should know the UX design principles as well. It was like that before 2005, when almost no agency had a dedicated "grey wireframe person". Yet they managed to deliver great products at that time.

The only lo-fi thing here to stay are pencil sketches at meetings - but after that we should go hi-fi all the way.


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