Wireframes done right, they might not be what you think they are…

Someone emailed me yesterday, and mentioned they were going to make “a” wireframe to figure out how their site/app would work. Here’s my response…

Wireframe are about QUESTIONS not answers.

You should check out the website “whichtestwon.com”. They have a free test every month that you can see. It’s amazing because such subtle changes can change signups by 50% or 100%. When giving talks at conferences I often show three tests from whichtestwon to industry “experts” and surprisingly the “experts” do worse than random chance would suggest at identifying which perform the best!

This this has taught me is to be VERY humble.

I have 20 years industry experience, and I’ve worked with marketing director who have a LOT more high-profile experience than me, but I think the most important lesson I’ve learned is:

  • Experts are often wrong
  • Context is key
  • The most successful projects LISTEN to anyone who questions your assumptions
  • Test don’t guess

On that note Amazon (often looked at as being the most successful company in the world at turning casual visitors into sales) has an amazing testing process. If they have an idea for a change they have a system in place where they can make a change to their website, and test it on a statistically significant number of people to know if that change results in more sales. Because of their scale they only need to leave that change up on the screen for less than one second to get enough data to make an informed decision, but the same rule applies to any site.

I’ve noticed when people new to the web world first make wireframes I see them try to find the answer… but true wireframes are about questions. You should never get feedback on “a” wireframe. I usually have 2 wireframes (sometimes 3) and use them to test “density” of information with questions like:

  • These are from two different competitor sites. One is an industry leader, and the other is a bit of a hack. Can you tell which is which? What tipped you off?
  • Which one of these is geared towards students and which is geared towards parents? Why?
  • If you’re looking for information on ____, which seems like a better site? Which would you click on?

I also usually test navigation separately. I’ll make a list of 20+ words and I’ll ask a question like:

  • If you were looking for the best deals which links would you click on. Let us know all that apply as well as your top choice.
  • Some of these words were culled from an industry-leader, others are from a couple of has-been companies. Can you tell which is which?
  • If you wanted to sell xxx on our site to make some money what questions would you have? Where would you click to find out more? What would you expect to find there?

If you’ve never read “Don’t Make Me Think” by Steve Krug, you should. It’s a 2-hour read and worth every second.