Differentiating between all the elements of visual design can be confusing… even for the people doing it! But, alas, knowing the difference between a mock-up and a wireframe – as well as their benefits – can make all the difference when designing a website. Here, we discuss two important components of website design: sitemaps and wireframes.
So, what is a sitemap?
A sitemap is a representation of the pages and content contained within a website in a hierarchical structure. It defines the connections between web pages, website content and other components of a website. The sitemap also helps enable Google and other search engines to crawl your site’s content, which (obviously) will help with SEO.
3 benefits of sitemaps
There are many benefits to utilizing sitemaps when planning a website; the most important being that it allows for the planning of the site’s content and flushes out the information architecture. An added bonus is that it forces the designer to implement – and stick to – best practices of the website structure. Here are three more benefits:
Through the use of a sitemap, the website plan can be easily communicated to clients, developers and other team members. Sitemaps can also be used to help strategists develop SEO plans, mapping keywords to the pages within the site architecture. This communication allows for less confusion, greater insight and, most importantly, improved end-user satisfaction.
Websites, by nature, are complex. And the more you add to them, the more complex they get. When you start with a sitemap, you can easily add pages to existing navigation rather than undergoing another full website redesign every time you need to make a change. Sitemaps can also control the confusion that comes with new content, ensuring you aren’t creating duplicate content.
Sometimes, websites can utilize a “lather, rinse, repeat” process, only updating the look of a site, but never changing its structure. By starting with a sitemap, you can rethink your site’s organization, allowing the designer to be creative in the how and why a website is used. Sitemaps put the designer in the driver’s (OK, user’s) seat, saying, “Does this make sense?” before implementing.
Next up: wireframes
OK, got it, sitemaps are important. But what about wireframes? Wireframes are a black-and-white rendering of webpage’s layout. Think of them as a blueprint, the wireframe outlines the specific size and placement of page elements, features and other navigation components. Often confused for the actual design, it is purposely devoid of any color, font types and images so the client can focus on the page assembly and content areas.
3 benefits of wireframes
Just like with a sitemap, wireframes offer many benefits to the website design process. They take less time than the design, so when the wireframes are approved, there is less confusion/back-and-forth/time wasted when developing the designs. Other benefits include:
The most important aspect when developing a website is making it useful for the user. If your site doesn’t work the way users expect it to, you run the risk of losing potential business. Wireframes remove the colors, imagery, etc. (read: the fun parts) of the website in order to just focus on the functionality and user’s goals, thereby providing the best possible user experience.
2. Layout, Structure, Hierarchy
I’m a content strategist by profession, so this is the part that means the most to me. Because the design is often happening at the same time, the wireframes are the only thing I have to go off of when writing copy. Wireframes give me an idea of how the page is going to be laid out, providing the structure and hierarchy of what content goes where, so I don’t have to guess.
3. Ease of Development
Wireframes give developers a clear path as to what needs to be done. In conjunction with the business requirements documentation (BRD), the wireframe dictates how a page and its features should function and when.
A lot goes into the design and development of a website. But, by instituting these few measures to the design process, you can remove confusion, save time and, ultimately, deliver a high-quality, user-friendly website.