Wireframing is a crucial step in web design and development as it allows for rapid prototyping and helps to pinpoint potential problems early in the process. It can be invaluable to have a visual representation of content, hierarchy and layout.
Wireframes make it easier to communicate ideas, reduce scope creep, cut down on project costs (due to fewer design revisions later), and enable greater upfront usability and functionality testing.
This post highlights 10 of the best free wireframing tools available, including standalone applications, web-based tools and browser add-ons.
If you’re partial to a particular wireframing tool available for free download, let us know in the comments.
Mockingbird is a web-based beta software based on the Cappuccino framework to create, link together, preview and share wireframes of your website or application.
It’s a clean and user-friendly interface, with drag and drop UI, interactive page linking, smart text resizing and the ability to easily share mockups with clients or colleagues with a direct link, make Mockingbird one of the best wireframe tools available.
As it’s web-based, it means you can create and share mockups from anywhere. It will be interesting to see just how good Mockingbird is when it comes out of beta and the full version is released.
Lovely Charts is an online diagramming application, that allows you to create flowcharts, sitemaps, organization charts and wireframes.
One of the key features is the application’s ability to make assumptions based on the type of diagram you’re drawing, and thus streamline the drawing process. The History management feature is extremely useful, keeping 20 states of your diagram in memory should you wish to go back to an earlier version or undo any changes.
There is a powerful yet simple tool set provided, with an extensive library of crafted symbols to suit most requirements.
Cacoo is a user-friendly online drawing tool that allows you to create a variety of diagrams, such as sitemaps, wireframes and network charts.
The drag and drop UI means creating diagrams is relatively simple; there are also a number of stencils to utilize which could make the process even more efficient. Unlimited Undo is a neat feature with the history of all modifications saved, meaning you can undo right back to the start.
Numerous users can also work on and complete the same diagram simultaneously with the application supporting real-time collaboration.
Gliffy is a web-based application which allows you to create process flow diagrams, org charts, floor plans, business processes, network diagrams, technical drawings, website wireframes, and more. It uses a drag and drop UI with the ability to add boxes, buttons, and lines from the tool shape library to anywhere on the page. Then you can easily add text to create a clear, concise mockup.
You have access to a complete library of shapes and can even import your own images, like logos and backgrounds, to complement your diagrams. You can share and collaborate with anyone, on any platform, in any location, while having the ability to protect and track changes.
The Gliffy API (beta) also makes it possible for developers to add Gliffy diagramming features to their existing web-based applications based on a simple to use framework.
Lumzy is a mockup and prototype creation tool for websites and applications. You can add events to controls, place controls inside other containers and emulate your project with easy page navigation triggered by user actions.
Real-time collaboration is one of the key features, with tools for team editing, a chat engine for deliberating over designs and file versioning. Lumzy is also the only mockup tool with a real image editor built-in — simply grab any picture from your drive and edit it, apply hue, saturation, adjust contrast, and so on, and then add it to your project.
The Pro version is white label and can be integrated into an existing platform or hosted on your own server which may be of interest to companies working with confidential information.
Mockflow is a web app based on the Adobe Flash Platform. It has a clean, minimalistic, organized interface and the editing feature-set set is extensive.
You drag and drop components into a mockup to create the wireframe with the ability to add pages and map out an entire site and it’s structure. The built-in components are extensive, from charts and ads to menus and dropdowns. The ability to upload your own images to use, as well as the option to choose from a set of stickers of common site elements, such as social networking and e-commerce images, make the process of ‘building’ the mockup pretty efficient.
You can talk over the real-time chat and invite others as editors or viewers, depending on the level of editorial power you’d like each member to have. Editors have the ability to make changes to the wireframes, while viewers are limited to reviewing and commenting.
The MockStore is a wonderful add-on service that provides third party components and templates shared by the user community.
The Pencil Project is an open source tool for making diagrams and GUI prototyping that everyone can use. It’s available as a Firefox add-on or as a standalone application (Linux and Windows only). Pencil essentially installs an entire drawing application into your Firefox browser and gives you the ability to display, save, and load an external canvas, together with a palette of shapes.
Of interest is the Stencil Generator which allows you to create your own collection of stencil shapes by pointing the generator to a folder of image files. The Clipart tool lets you search through the library at openclipart.org and directly drop the images right into your Pencil document. Pencil also supports the use of external objects; both raster and vector images can be imported using copy-paste or drag and drop.
The final prototype can be exported as a PNG image, web page, OpenOffice file, PDF or DOC file. If you’re a dedicated Firefox user, then Pencil could be an essential tool for visually expressing conceptual ideas on the fly. It even won the Mozilla award for ‘Best New Add-On’ in 2008.
SimpleDiagrams is a small desktop application that helps you express your ideas quickly and simply with just enough functionality to describe a thought or capture a process. It’s built on the Adobe AIR platform, so will run smoothly on Mac, Windows and Linux.
You can drag, drop and size symbols from libraries, add photos and post-notes and export your diagram to PNG.
It may not be a fully-fledged diagramming tool, but because SimpleDiagrams is so basic, you will be creating wireframes or diagrams within minutes.
Denim is a free multi-platform desktop app that supports sketching and allows design at various refinement levels. It’s an efficient tool for early stage brainstorming and wireframing.
Two main features within Denim are Components, which enable you to create widgets that can be reused and Conditionals, which allow you to create transitions between pages depending on the end-users’ actions, resulting in a more interactive experience.
It’s a simple yet effective tool and allows for easy annotation using editing gestures.
Website Wireframe is a very simple web-based tool for building wireframes in a matter of minutes. A link to view the wireframe can be sent through email, instant message, or mobile phone, and then the wireframe can be easily updated based on feedback, discussion, ideas and suggestions.
The key to this tool is the simplicity of usage, lending itself to speed, both in wireframe creation and sharing. It is free to register and use and works in most modern web browsers.
It may not be particularly sophisticated, however it’s simplicity and efficiency is perfect for those who want an alternative to tools with a higher learning curve.
Are you currently using any of these tools? If so, please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments below.