UX Strategy Musings from Will Tschumy, Microsoft User Experience Advisor

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Wireframing: there’s got to be a better way

September 5th, 2008 by Will Tschumy

So I’ve come to wireframing in a little bit of an odd way.  Way back in the day, I started out, like many of us, by just hacking around in HTML.   I found that this was an invaluable way of learning the medium.  In addition, it meant when I was using a tool like Dreamweaver, or GoLive, I could actually fix the code that it generated.

In 1998, I began using HTML prototyping as a way to capture the interaction design for the projects I was leading (while I may have described them as a ‘web app’ at the time, I certainly wouldn’t now…).   Now mind you, CSS1 was barely out the door at that point, and it was all table all the time.  Despite that, I had some great creative developers working with me, and we were able to iterate very quickly.  This experience was transformational for me – it’s one thing to develop a concept map as a way to structure your thinking, it’s another thing to develop an HTML prototype to show the interactions your proposing.

Fast forward 5 years, I’d gotten really good at making Dreamweaver behave the way I wanted it to in a prototyping environment.  I’d also gotten really good at getting teams on board, and getting clients to focus on the interaction, not the fact that they’re looking at a bunch of gray boxes.

Once  I decided I wanted to move back to CA, and managed to convince my wife of that as well, I started looking at the typical players here.  I settled at a large eCommerce retailer here, and started my work.  What amazed me was even though I was responsible for the most ‘application-like’ portion of the organization (I was responsible for digital photos, (digital) music, books, and (digital) Videos), the organization used Visio as a way to represent the layout of the page.  This created problems:

  1. In order to accurately represent the states, transitions, etc, it meant that *massive* documents were required 
  2. rent a car bulgariaCapturing animations was extremely difficult and describing behavior is ambiguous
  3. Review of the document is very difficult, long process.  Additionally, the review is prone to error, misunderstanding and requires the participants to imagine how the final experience will ‘feel’

All this is compounded by the process that many firms use down the line from the wireframe:


‘On paper’ this looks like it makes sense in the same way that waterfall methodology makes sense on paper.  The fundamental problem with it is that 

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