The Right Way to Wireframe

Session Title

The Right Way to Wireframe


Russ Unger, Todd Zaki Warfel, Will Evans, Fred Beecher

Session Type: Presentation


Increasingly, as designers of interactive systems (spaces, processes and products for people), we find ourselves stretching the limits of communication tools to explore and document what it will be like to interact with the things we design.

We describe “wireframing” as a form of design communication that enables stakeholders, team members, users and clients to gain first-hand appreciation of existing or future problem spaces and solutions.

We create wireframes to inform both design process and design decisions. Wireframes range from sketches and different kind of models at various levels of fidelity — “looks like,” “behaves like,” “works like” — to explore and communicate propositions about the design and its context.

We think that the wireframing strategies user experience designers use are often constrained by the tools they feel most comfortable with: problem space, domain, expertise, theme, context of problem, bias towards types of design tools and documents, timeliness of artifacts created. For this reason, a session that attacks one business problem from the perspective of four different designers will provide attendees with a unique understanding and set of strategies and tactics to improve their own practice.


This session will provide a step-by-step explanation of how four leaders in the User Experience space approach wireframes.

The four user experience designers will be provided with the same clear business requirements to meet. Each of them will choose their own tool for exploring those requirements via wireframes and specifications. In addition, each user experience designer will work with their graphic designer of choice for visual design exploration.

Each user experience designer will present their results and fully detail their process and their final deliverables to the audience.

The audience will be provided ample time to critique and ask questions of the user experience designers.

Audience Level: Intermediate

Session Takeaway

* Gain a better understanding of three different kinds of activities within the design and development process where wireframing is valuable:
– Understanding existing user experiences and context
– Exploring and evaluating design ideas
– Communicating ideas to and audience of decision makers and team members.
* Provides user experience designers with a variety of approaches to creating wireframes.
* Details four different approaches to business requirements synthesis and wireframe exploration.
* Shows the advantages and disadvantages of different approaches within a specific context
* Refutes the argument that wireframing is dead by showing that it has just multiplied its forms
* The realization that the tools we use to design, such as wireframes, prototypes, etc. influence the way we think. Solutions, and probably even imagination, are inspired and often time limited by the tools we have at our disposal — which is perhaps the greatest takeaway from this session.


Russ Unger

Russ Unger is the Director of Experience Planning for Draftfcb, the largest advertising/marketing agency in the Midwest. Russ has been working on websites since 1993 — when there was only Notepad to code with and Mosaic was the only browser around. That was when he found his interest in User Experience Design and Information Architecture began to flourish.

Since then, he has worked with a number of major brands, including Gatorade, Propel, Quaker and Celebrity Cruise Lines, as well as on large scale Intranet and Extranet applications for such companies as Volkswagen Credit, Audi Financial Services, Information Resources, Inc. and Marsh. He has been involved in the Information Architecture for large-scale public-facing sites for such companies as Metromix,, United Airlines and Hewlett-Packard. He has also worked off-line, creating unique biometric (fingerprint reader) applications and has worked as the Design Lead for Motorola’s Connectivity domain where he was responsible for creating user interfaces for mobile applications in Motorola’s Consumer Experience Design group. Russ worked closely with such major carriers as T-Mobile, Cingular/AT&T and Vodafone to design features for Bluetooth, WiFi and over-the-air updates. He has also taught courses in Web and Interactive/Flash Design.

In his spare time, he is an author and editor for Boxes and Arrows (, a well-known online Information Architecture magazine. In addition to being a mentor for the Information Architecture Institute (, Russ also serves on the 2200+ member organization’s Board of Directors as the Director of Events and Marketing. As if that is not enough, he tries to actively blog on topics in User Experience Design at UserGlue UserBlog (

Russ is co-author of the book “A Project Guide to User Experience Design” with Carolyn Chandler for Peachpit Press (Voices That Matter).

Todd Zaki Warfel

Todd Zaki Warfel is a Principal Design Researcher and founder of Messagefirst, a Philadelphia-based design research consulting firm, where he blends research and design to evolve products in innovate and beautiful ways. Todd is a dynamic speaker and storyteller by nature. He’s rarely short on details. He is an active member in a number of industry communities and organizations, including the Information Architecture Institute, IxDA, and UPA.

Todd’s clients have included Albertsons, AT&T Wireless, Bankrate, Bank of America, Citibank, Comcast, Cornell University, IntraLinks, The Hartford, LA Times, Motorla, Palm, and SBC.

Todd currently lives in Philadelphia and blogs at His upcoming book ‘Practical Prototyping’ will take a hands-on approach, enabling you to develop prototypes with minimal muss and fuss. The book will discuss how prototypes are more than just a design tool by demonstrating how they can help you market a product, gain internal buy-in, and test feasibility with your development team. Anticipated publication is in 2009.

Will Evans

Will Evans is founder and Principal User Experience Architect for Semantic Foundry with 14 years industry experience in information architecture and user experience design. His experiences includes directing user experience design and information architecture for AIR Worldwide, UX Architect for web 2.0 social networking site (; and UX Architect responsible for information architecture and interaction design for ( Before Kayak, he was the senior information architect at IBM working on their enterprise learning management platform. Before IBM, he worked at Curl – a DARPA-funded MIT project when he was at the MIT Laboratory for Computer Science. Most recently Will has lead design projects for Pillsbury, General Mills, HiveFire and CrowdSprout.

A distinguished speaker, Will provides lectures and seminars on such topics as user experience, strategic design, social interaction design, and findability. Will’s work has been featured in numerous publications including Business Week, The Economist, Fortune, MSNBC and the Wall Street Journal.

Fred Beecher

Fred Beecher is a Senior User Experience Consultant at Evantage Consulting in Minneapolis. Fred has been working in the user experience design industry for 11 year, doing research, information architecture, interaction design, and usability evaluation for a diverse array of clients like Medtronic, UnitedHealthcare, 3M, RBC Dain Rauscher, General Mills, Thomson Reuters, and the National Marrow Donor Program.

A recognized expert in rapid prototyping, Fred speaks frequently on the topic at national professional conferences and local user experience group meetings. In 2007, Fred developed the official training program for the Axure RP Pro rapid prototyping tool at the request of the makers. He has since trained additional consultants to give the courses and currently leads a broader Axure training program for Evantage.

Fred and the rest of the Evantage user experience consultants blog on all things UX at


  1. Richard
    Posted September 15, 2009 at 9:47 am

    This seems like it might be more appropriate as a discussion. Many of the other presentations tackle exciting issues and can potentiality push people in the community to find the “moonwalking bears.” In contrast this presentations strikes me as overly focused on problem solving and feels a bit stale in comparison to the other proposals.

  2. Posted September 15, 2009 at 3:43 pm

    If I understand the description correctly, you guys are going to solve a problem real-time and, I suspect, do a lot of thinking out loud. I’m not sure it’s practical to do that in 40 minutes, but it sure would be fun to see you try. This is a gutsy and unique format, a real break from talking-head panels. I think it’ll be fascinating.

  3. Posted September 15, 2009 at 4:30 pm

    Man, I really missed something last year with this “moonwalking bears” thing, huh? :)

    Hmm…I actually think I’d rather see this as a presentation. For some reason, I’m really compelled to go to bat for this one. I think there’s a lot to be said for hearing people who have gotten really good at solving problems with a technique go through how they’ve adapted that technique to make it work for them (especially at a time when wireframing is seeming less and less useful.)
    As someone who’s gone into tangible computing from web application design and finding myself more and more disillusioned with COTS IxD tools, I’d really appreciate the chance to see how others in the field use wireframing to help shape their thinking.

  4. Posted September 16, 2009 at 9:17 am

    Dan: Although that sounds like tons of fun, if we were able to solve problems that quickly, we’d be getting severely undercompensated! :) We’ll each be solving the same problem via different processes & tools, and then we’ll each talk through how that affected the solution we came up with.

  5. Posted September 16, 2009 at 2:24 pm

    I too think that in 40 minutes this is a presentation. Awesome lineup, great topic — I’m there!

  6. Posted September 22, 2009 at 6:28 pm

    I just might be wireframing wrong. I want to see what you’ve got.

  7. Posted September 23, 2009 at 10:24 pm

    I think it will be extremely useful to see.

    Concrete examples are gold. It’s good to talk about ‘how’ we do the math.

    I’ll attend this session.

  8. Carol H.
    Posted September 29, 2009 at 9:12 am

    This sounds like an interesting presentation. Is the goal to find ‘the right way to wireframe’ or illustrate that there are many means to an end?

  9. Lori W. Cavallucci
    Posted September 29, 2009 at 10:13 am

    I look forward to any opportunity to add to my knowledge of wireframing and do it the “right way”.

  10. Amy
    Posted September 29, 2009 at 3:43 pm

    Very much looking forward to this one.

  11. Posted October 1, 2009 at 10:45 am

    I love this idea. Rarely do conference speakers actually show their chops as practitioners, so that alone will be refereshing and fun. And by requiring the presenters to all solve the same problem, presumably each with substantial skills but different approaches and styles, the audience will have the benefit of comparing and discussing the approaches without having to adjust for different contexts — apples to apples, etc. Again, actually looking at real design work in a critical light is something surprisingly rare at professional conferences.

    Can I make one suggestion: The assignment that is given to the four “panelists” should be released to the public at the same time. That way, the audience can ruminate on the design challenges in advance of the session, think about how they might approach the problem (giving them something to mentally compare with the presenters’ work). Perhaps some audience members will even sketch up a few ideas of their own. I’d be tempted to.

  12. Posted October 1, 2009 at 7:51 pm

    @Christopher Fahey

    You know, that’s a pretty kick-ass idea with some real legs to it. The timing may be a bit tricky due to a couple of other things, but I don’t see any reason why we shouldn’t be able to do something like that.

    Thanks for helping make this even better–love that thought!

  13. Posted October 1, 2009 at 9:05 pm

    @chrisfahey Two words. Hell. Yeah.