In the modern, highly competitive market, every site and page you produce needs to connect with its target audience. That requires user-centered design.
If you’ve already tried to adopt user-centered design in your product manufacturing and ideation processes, great! But your site also needs to promote the same mindset, and that can be tricky, even for those with some web development experience.
Today, let’s take a look at how you can bridge the gap between your brand and your target audience with user-centered wireframing techniques.
The importance of user-centered design
User-centered design (or UCD) is a design process that, opposed to focusing on an end product or result, focuses on users and their unique needs and each phase of the design process. These phases might include:
- Understanding the context for the product or the use of a site
- Specifying user requirements
- Product or site ideation and the development of design solutions
- Evaluating against those user requirements once again
User-centered design is essentially a cycle that repeats itself again and again. Each iteration, in theory, results in a better, more user-focused version of the product or website than ever before.
The importance of adopting a user-centered design philosophy cannot be overstated in today’s competitive digital landscape. User-centered design involves a thorough understanding of your target audience’s needs, preferences, and behavior, which guides each decision made throughout the development process. The impact of this approach is ubiquitous, transcending various platforms, frameworks, and project types.
For instance, consider WordPress websites—a cornerstone in today’s web ecosystem. Even with its user-friendly interface and abundance of templates, a WordPress site can quickly become convoluted if not appropriately designed with the end-user in mind.
When building a WordPress site, user-centered wireframing becomes an invaluable asset, enabling teams to pre-emptively address usability concerns, such as the placement of navigation menus, the organization of content blocks, and the integration of interactive elements like forms or comment sections. Clients or stakeholders can even provide input on specific plugins, further facilitating the development process.
Traditional wireframing vs. user-centered wireframing
So, how does this tie into wireframing? Wireframing, put simply, is a critical step of the UI/UX design process that involves creating and adjusting a visual skeleton of digital applications, like buttons, page links, and more.
Think of a wireframe as a layout of a web product. It shows you what elements will exist, how they will interact with each other, and more.
Most wireframes are monochromatic or black-and-white drawings that act like blueprints for a web page or process. UI and UX designers use wireframes to get a visual sense of what a page will look like when it is finished.
Traditional wireframing might focus much more on:
- How a page loads
- What a page leads to
- How many products a page may lead customers to
- How well the page works from a technical or code standpoint
In contrast, user-centered wireframing is a more evolved and effective approach across the board. That’s because it emphasizes:
- What your users will see and interact with at first
- Whether your users will find their pain points solved right from the get-go
- Whether your users will have an intuitive, enjoyable experience navigating through your site
Put simply, user-centered wireframing is all about designing a mockup for a website or page with the user as the central target — not productivity, profits, or anything else. It requires you to get in the head or mindset of your target audience members. You might ask yourself:
- What do I need from this website?
- Is the website easy to use?
- Can I find what I’m looking for within a few button clicks?
These questions will help you design your page outlines and layouts with your users in mind. In the long run, this will result in a better overall user experience and superior results for your brand.
Key principles of user-centered wireframing
User-centered wireframing leverages a variety of different key principles to ensure it produces positive results. Let’s take a look at these elements one by one.
Empathy is, of course, one of the most important elements of user-centered wireframing. After all, this kind of approach requires you to empathize with your target audience members by getting into their heads.
You may not know exactly what your target audience members want, need, or desire from a brand like yours. If that’s the case, you need to correct it immediately. Only by understanding what your brand can provide your target users will you be able to empathize with them.
For instance, if you offer a website that provides sports fitness products for high-salary individuals, your target audience members probably want things like:
- Quality instead of quantity
- Scientific studies backing up the effectiveness of your products or consumable items
- Long-lasting solutions (e.g., well-made backpacks or hiking tools)
By empathizing with your target users, you’ll be able to provide them with a user-centered experience that speaks to them right from the get-go. Not only is this beneficial in terms of customer loyalty, as those users will be more likely to return to your brand again and again, but it will also help you file your target users to the purchasing sections of your website.
But user-centered wireframing also relies on user feedback. In fact, user feedback is one of the most valuable resources in your repertoire!
When you create your first pages, you’ll want to give them to a limited audience of test users. Let the test users interact with your website or mockup however they like, then ask them for feedback. Even if the feedback is less than stellar, write it all down and be prepared to incorporate it into your iteration process.
User feedback is, in some ways, even better than empathy. It’s data directly from the mouths of the people that you are trying to work for, plus it fosters a culture of openness and growth. For example, if a user tries out an early wireframe of a new web page, but says it’s confusing to navigate, listen to them! Go back to the drawing board and be prepared to redo that section of the website with a high priority on high navigability.
As touched on earlier, iterative design is the heart of the user-centered design process. That’s because it’s never truly complete.
With user-centered wireframing, as with UCD, iteration is the key to guaranteeing an ever-evolving, ever-improving product for your customers. When one version of a webpage works well, continue to collect feedback on it from your current and future users.
Then, over time, you can make improvements on that webpage, ensuring that it delivers a better experience every time you relaunch the page or web element.
This iterative design has another benefit: it allows you to create new websites or web pages using the lessons that you’ve already learned. Given enough time, your user-centered wireframing processes will become so efficient that you’ll be able to create excellent, user-centered designs right from the start.
Lesser-known approaches to user-centered wireframing
To maximize your user-centered wireframing approach, you’ll want to take advantage of some lesser-known approaches and techniques. Here are a few examples.
Behavioral personas take the concept of a target audience one step further. When you construct a behavioral persona for a target user, you essentially come up with a history, motivation, and personality for the “avatar” of your target user base.
Let’s take a look at an example. Say that you have a brand that produces bespoke apparel for people who like graphic T-shirts, accessories with logos or their names on them, and so on. This kind of company appeals to a demographic characterized by attributes like:
Taking this information, you can then construct a behavioral persona for the person most likely to visit your site and purchase your products. Armed with this new behavioral persona, you can deduce things like:
- How the target user will interact with your site
- How they are likely to navigate through your site and check out your available products
- How much money such a person is likely to spend on the first, second, and third visit
All this information can then be used in the user-centered wireframing process. However, it’s important that you coordinate with your team to ensure the persona is the result of collaborative input.
User flow analysis
It might also be useful to conduct a user flow analysis. A user flow is how someone flows through a website or page. Think of it as a graphic representation of the steps that a customer or user takes to complete a task, like making a purchase, signing up for an email newsletter, or something else.
As people use your website, you should construct user flow maps of those users. Then analyze those user flows to determine things such as:
- Do people get lost in certain areas of your website? If so, where do they go?
- Do users flow through your website like you originally predicted, or do they take different routes to their goals?
- Do users flow through your website efficiently, or do you need to streamline things by removing web pages, eliminating unnecessary elements, etc.?
In effect, a user flow analysis can tell you whether your current wireframe is acting as intended. If it’s not, you can take immediate steps to fix the issues, such as using Cacoo to draw detailed diagrams and visualize the user flow so your whole team will understand the site visitors’ behavior.
Lastly, don’t hesitate to use eye-tracking software when giving your new pages and web elements out to customers on a trial basis. You can also use this when your own team members use your wireframed elements for the first time.
Say that you have a handful of mockups for a page or website section. Your team members sit down to use those web pages for the first time. Have eye-tracking software installed so you can see:
- Where the eyes of the users gravitate when they visit a page for the first time
- How the eyes of users navigate through the page (which can tell you how information is organized, whether it’s effective, etc.)
- How long do users linger on a particular page element or graphic
Information is power in business, but especially when it comes to user-centered design and wireframing! Essentially, you should use eye-tracking software to maximize the feedback collection and iteration parts of the design process.
Many brands have already used user-centered wireframing to excellent effect. Take Behance as an example. This brand created a new app for Travel APP: a platform where travelers can pick travel packages, similar to having their choice of special deals and discounts from travel agents. Behance’s client had a very short timeline, but wanted Behance to significantly improve the user experience for the application.
Behance started from a user-centered perspective, developing an app redesign that focused on navigability and mobile friendliness. As a result, Behance was able to significantly improve the usability and enjoyment of Travel APP, resulting in better conversions and an overall improved user experience in more ways than one.
Tools and software for user-centered wireframing
User-centered wireframing is best accomplished with the assistance of specialized tools and software. These tech solutions will help your team both design and iterate upon wireframes as you come up with them, accelerating your progress until you create the perfect pages for your target audience members.
But what tools should you use? Some of the best tools and software for user-centered wireframing include:
- Cacoo, Nulab’s diagramming tool that allows team members to collaborate in wireframing projects in real-time.
- Sketch, an app for designers on Mac computers that allows teams to create webpages, prototypes, and a variety of other digital products.
- Figma, a collaborative interface design tool that’s perfect for designing high-quality online UIs and web elements.
- Axure, a tool that allows you to create UX prototypes, diagrams, and specifications in no time at all.
Whatever your team chooses to use, make sure all of those tools play well together or can integrate for collaborative, truly efficient progress!
Integrating essential tools for comprehensive wireframing
Wireframing is not an isolated process. It often requires the collaboration of different departments, whether it’s design, development, or content creation. Integrating the right set of tools can substantially streamline the workflow.
For example, using a React PDF viewer allows the development team to instantly access briefs, feedback, and design assets shared by clients, designers, and copywriters. This promotes real-time communication and ensures that everyone involved in the project remains aligned with the user-centered approach from start to finish.
Additionally, tools like this can be customized to suit the unique requirements of your project, offering features like annotations and bookmarks, which further facilitate the collaborative effort. It acts as a centralized hub for crucial project documents, making it easier to track revisions, clarify uncertainties, and expedite decision-making.
For instance, SEO or search engine optimization tools like Ahrefs can and should be used in conjunction with your wireframing efforts. Such SEO tools can allow you to see the competitiveness of different keywords, adjust your blog layout accordingly, and plan where different keywords will be placed on your site.
Alternatively, you might use project management tools like Backlog, which will help your team members collaborate, and your web developers share resources, plans, and mockups.
Bottom line: you’ll need to leverage and successfully integrate the right tools to fully adopt and master user-centered wireframing.
Challenges and solutions
Although user-centered wireframing is, overall, a better approach compared to traditional wireframing, this isn’t to say it doesn’t come with its own challenges! Indeed, user-centered wireframing can be difficult for brands to adopt, particularly if they are used to traditional wireframing approaches instead.
Some of the most common challenges associated with user-centered wireframing include:
- You may not know if an approach or element will be profitable. This can be tough to swallow, especially in the earliest days of your business. But remember, anything that’s good for the user is good for your bottom line, as well.
- It can be tough for you to get in the heads of your consumers if your business is still very young. To fix this, build comprehensive, accurate personas of your target audience members to better understand their needs.
- You may not know if every user will interact with a webpage or element similarly. The best way to overcome this is to gather a lot of data. Launch live trial versions of webpages, then take the data and continue to iterate.
All in all, user-centered wireframing helps you connect your brand to your users like never before. It’s the best way to ensure your site, pages, and media elements service your target audience members above all else. In the long run, you’ll see better brand loyalty, higher profits, and improved conversion across the board.
And don’t forget — whether it’s creating diagrams, internal communications or project management, Nulab and its suite of wireframing tools have your back.
Magnus Eriksen is a copywriter and eCommerce SEO specialist with a degree in marketing and brand management. Before embarking on his copywriting career, he was a content writer for digital marketing agencies such as Synlighet AS and Omega Media, where he mastered on-page and technical SEO.