Every website design has to kick off somewhere, and in most cases, this initial starting point comes with the creation of wireframes. Choosing the right wireframe software can be a complex business, depending on your needs.
There are plenty of straightforward and user-friendly online wireframing tools that will sort you out with a quick prototype in no time at all, but if you want to create a more detailed site prototype, then you may be looking at shelling out a hefty wedge of cash to fulfil your needs.
Whatever you desire from your wireframes, there is more than enough choice to provide you with what you're after. So, here are 10 of our current favourites for your delectation.
01. Omnigraffle ($99.95)
A longstanding favourite with the Mac community (it's not available for Windows), Omnigraffle makes it easy to create interactive wireframes using its intuitive WYSIWYG system. Although originally designed as a diagram creation tool, Omnigraffle's wide range of free stencils from the likes of Yahoo makes it an ideal solution for prototyping. A 14-day trial is available.
02. Axure RP ($589)
Boasting a client list that encompasses many of the most successful companies around, Axure RP is a one of the most comprehensive pieces of wireframe software around. Available for both Mac and PC, Axure makes use of widgets, custom libraries and master documents to streamline the process of creating wireframes, while annotating tools enable you to insert descriptions wherever necessary.
03. Balsamiq Mockups ($79)
If Omnigraffle and Axure RP aim to be one-stop shops for your wireframes from start to finish, then Balsamiq Mockups is unabashedly for people who want a quick and dirty layout. Built on Adobe AIR, so you'll need to have this installed beforehand, Balsamiq Mockups places a variety of hand-drawn pre-built objects at your disposal, with which you can fashion the beginnings of a mighty web presence.
04. Mockingbird (Free)
What could be easier than dragging your intended page elements onto a blank page to generate your shiny new wireframe? How about doing it all online, without having to sign up first, and with the option to share your creations with a simple click? Mockingbird is still in Beta, so expect the odd glitch.
05. Jumpchart (from Free)
Any tool with a website as gorgeous as this one has to be good, and Jumpchart thankfully delivers on its promises. It uses a different input method to any other wireframe software we've tried; instead of dragging and dropping on a WYSIWYG interface, you chose elements from a drop-down menu. In the editing view, things can get quite confusing, but when it comes to previewing your work, everything is as it should be.
06. ProtoShare (from $29/month)
07. Lumzy (Free)
We know what you're thinking: what the world really needs is an online wireframing tool called Lumzy. Despite the baffling name, Lumzy actually delivers the goods, offering a totally free service that comes across as a much, much smaller Axure RP. It might not be one for the design purists, but the results speak for themselves.
08. HotGloo (from $7/month)
If online help, a straightforward interface and a nice, cosy atmosphere were the markers to perfect wireframe software, then HotGloo would romp home with every title. In fact, HotGloo delivers on every front, with object selection about as easy as you could imagine, as well as a host of other features which should make your wireframing life a whole lot easier.
09. FlairBuilder ($24/month or $99/life)
The aims of FlairBuilder should be familiar to you now: give users the chance to quickly and easily build wireframes and prototypes. With a host of features and a very speedy interface, FlairBuilder does the job, and gains even more marks by allowing you to assign a vast array of interactions to any element on the page.
10. iPhone Mockup (Free)
No wireframe software round-up would be complete these days without a nod to the iPhone at some point. This dedicated online service allows you to create basic layouts for your iPhone apps or sites and, while it doesn't do much else, its iPhone wireframe tools are superb, with all of the standard interface elements at your disposal, as well as a choice between illustration or pencil effect.
Words: Thomas Watson