The Niehaus Wireframing Method was introduced in May 2010 at the Conversion Conference in San Jose, California. Its creator, Sandra Niehaus, came up with the strategy as a way of improving upon the main weaknesses of extant wireframing methods: focus, relevance, and conversion optimization. In this article we will take a look at the Niehaus Wireframing Method and its useful application in user interface design.
What is a Niehaus Wireframe?
A Niehaus wireframe is a visually enriched wireframe that codes certain information about the properties of interface elements, such as their relevance for buyer conversion, as shades of grey. Niehaus wireframes are meant to focus the attention of the designer on the most essential elements of the user interface. According to Sandra Niehaus, wireframes are an excellent way of organizing and orientating website systems and communicating their basic principles and structure, but as a method wireframes as we know them are not perfectwireframing has many weaknesses. The Niehaus Wireframing Method attempts to address these disparities:
The disconnect between the target audiences needs and priorities
Hypotheses deduced from target audiences needs and priorities
Implementation based on user needs and priorities
The feasibility of planning and improving upon conversion
Of the abovementioned disparities, perhaps the most important in terms of the Niehaus Wireframing Method is the issue of conversion optimization. Niehaus asserts that wireframes can be developed into more than mere structuresthey can also be given a broader conversion strategy component. In the next section we will discuss this conversion strategy component in greater depth as it is the most crucial aspect of the Niehaus Wireframing Method.
Conversion Strategy Component
In the Niehaus Wireframing Method, the conversion strategy component can be divided accordingly:
Target audience relevance (pareto principle)
Object relevance (perceptual psychology)
Organization of content and structure
The pareto principle is invoked in Niehaus wireframing by imposing restrictions on the amount of screen footprint available to interface design elements with a certain degree of relevance. Niehaus suggests working with four levels of relevance (which are color-coded in shades of grey) each of which is allotted a certain percentage of the screen footprint. This forces interface designers and marketers to select carefully within each relevance category which interface element is kept in the final draft of the user interface design: For example, elements with a higher cost-benefit ratio will be kept while others will be dropped in their favor.
Object relevance is of particular importance. A Niehaus wireframe is characterized by identifying and optimizing the essentials of an interface design and thus it is crafted using object relevance as a guiding force when working with wireframes. For example, Niehaus suggests that when building a Niehaus wireframe, the designer should grade page elements in order of importance and then assign a specific shade of grey to each element. This results in a wireframe with various areas of grey that can be more easily structured according to relevance during the interface design process.
It is important to note here that object relevance leads to a Niehaus wireframe, but the Niehaus wireframing method is actually comprised of more than just a Niehaus wireframe. The method breaks the wireframing process into three steps that correspond with the abovementioned conversion strategy elements. Step one involves creating a Pareto Wireframe that contrasts the cost-benefit impact of each interface design element, step two involves creating a Niehaus wireframe and step three involves combining the two into an optimized, storyboard wireframe. Thus, the Niehaus Wireframing Method combines new and existing ideas to create a fresh new approach to wireframing, one that simultaneously focuses on user needs, relevance, and form and structure.
Why is the Niehaus Wireframing Method important?
The Niehaus wireframe and the Niehaus Wireframing Method are valuable because they are creative new approaches to fundamental questions of user interface design. The method focuses on improving the weaknesses of wireframing by combining novel approaches with old ones. It is truly evolutionary and seeks to turn wireframes into more than high or low fidelity sketchesit seeks to make them into tools which help address a broad range of aspects of user needs and interface design.