What are annotated wireframes and why are they important?
First, let’s quickly review what wireframes are. Wireframes are 2D, grayscale designs that serve as a blueprint of a website or application. They outline the user journey and highlight content hierarchy, possible features, design elements, calls-to-action, and site navigation.
Since there are typically many collaborators on website or product wireframes, clear communication is critical to ensure all members of the team are aligned on the intended design and functionality. But the necessity of clear communication extends beyond the internal team to external stakeholders as well. They must be able to quickly understand the wireframes and visualize how the wireframes will translate into the end result.
Annotating wireframes is an efficient and effective way to add context and clarity to wireframes. Notes around user flow, functionality, and the purpose of certain design elements help collaborators and stakeholders understand the wireframes more comprehensively. This clear understanding also enables people to provide constructive feedback to improve the wireframes.
Wireframe annotations mitigate the risk of a team member misinterpreting the intent of design elements, proposed functionality, or the general user flow. Any oversight or malalignment on wireframes has the potential to cause problems later on in design or development.
Annotated wireframes are also helpful for stakeholders or project team members who may be less technically inclined and not familiar with how functionality is commonly represented in wireframes.
What and when to annotate?
Although wireframes are a blueprint and not a final design, they are still thoughtful and detailed. It’s not necessary to annotate every single design element or functionality, but you should highlight the most important items – especially those items that may require discussion and debate. Elements commonly annotated include but are not limited to:
- User flow
- Key content
Your annotations should be simple, concise, and accessible to technical and non-technical individuals.
Annotations should be made throughout the design process, rather than waiting until the wireframes are completed. On-the-fly annotations are often more comprehensive as they capture concepts and ideas that occur while still laying out the user flow. If you wait until the wireframe is completed, you may not recall all of the decisions or rationale you used to create them.
Who uses wireframe annotations?
Designers and developers are typically the ones annotating wireframes, but there are other individuals who can add valuable annotations or who benefit from reading annotations. Here’s a snapshot of how each role can interact with the wireframe annotations.
Both UI (user interface) and UX (user experience) designers annotate wireframes to add context around visual elements and user flow. For example, a UX designer may annotate a certain design element to explain how it will improve usability. UI designers or developers who read this annotation will then have added context around the purpose and importance of this element.
Developers often refer to annotations provided by the designers to understand the context for various design elements. They can also add their own annotations to wireframes to explain how certain elements will function, or advise how they will need an element to be designed in order to accomplish the desired functionality.
Copywriters are looking for information on what to write and how to target the right audiences through messaging. Annotations provide context around the user flow, which helps to inform what messaging is used to help guide the user through that flow. Copywriters can also add their annotations to comment on the amount of space needed for copy, or how the copy will interact with the design.
Project managers are responsible for keeping the project timeline, budget, and scope on track. They can reference annotations to help ensure ideas are aligned with the original scope, or to identify where additional scope may be needed to achieve the best possible outcome.
Clients want to see a wireframe with a clear user flow that guides them throughout the user journey. Annotations provide clients with valuable context that helps them understand the project and provide feedback around necessary changes.