In order for your website’s design to be truly effective — for it to actively help your law firm drive business — it must be more than just visually appealing. That may come as a surprise. Most likely, website design calls to mind a site’s color palette, font choices, and imagery. These are the elements most people think about. But good website design is about much more than just aesthetics. The truth is that there’s a lot going on “under the hood” that can make or break a website’s design.
The website design process must be strategic. The site’s content and information architecture (its organizational and structural design) must be crafted with your law firm’s goals front and center. And it must also proactively anticipate and respond to the needs of your intended visitors. To that end, one of the most important planning tools we use with our clients is a pared-down prototype of the website called a wireframe.
For clients who are especially eager to see the fully fleshed website design, the wireframing process can feel tedious. But it’s critical to designing a website that accomplishes your business development goals.
What is a Website Wireframe?
A wireframe is a visual outline of a website that focuses on the site’s organization rather than its look and feel. In much the same way a writer constructs an outline of an article before drafting it, a wireframe outlines the pages and content that will live on your website. Wireframes are used to think through the following elements of a website’s design:
- The information contained on the homepage
- The types of pages that will be included on the website (such as practice areas, lawyer biographies, blog pages, and so on)
- The hierarchy of the site’s menus
- The relationships between different pages and content items (for example, all the different places an individual lawyer’s biography might appear, such as on related practice pages and case studies)
- The site’s actions, functionalities, and behaviors (for example, what happens when users click on a Contact button)
Visually, a wireframe is like a rough sketch. It’s intentionally designed to be sparse. And for good reason. The purpose of wireframing is to allow key stakeholders to make important decisions about the site’s content and information architecture before the site is built. Creating the wireframe with as little visual styling as possible allows everyone to focus their attention in the right places. Without getting distracted by Pantone colors and serif versus sans serif fonts.
With that said, it’s important to remember that the look of the wireframe doesn’t correlate to the way your website will eventually appear. It depicts many of the individual elements that will appear on the site, but not the way they will be styled.
The Benefits of Wireframing Your Website
Wireframing is an essential part of the way we work with law firms to design their websites. We wouldn’t dream of skipping this important step; the benefits are just too numerous. Wireframes help your law firm:
- Define the scope of your website — and roles and responsibilities for getting it done. The work we do with our clients prior to the wireframe is all strategic. In a way, it’s also hypothetical. The wireframe is where the rubber starts to meet the road. It’s where we begin to translate those strategic objectives we’ve been discussing into decisions about how the website will be structured and what it will communicate. In doing this, we flesh out the overall scope of the website. We also make sure our clients understand all the parts needed for each page and the relationships between them. By the time we’re done with the wireframe, our team has all the information needed to begin working on visual designs. And our clients’ teams know what’s required of them and who is responsible for pulling together visual assets, content, and information on their end. On a number of levels, the wireframe brings much-needed clarity to an otherwise complex project.
- Set a realistic budget for your website design project. There is a direct connection between wireframing and budgeting. Because wireframing helps you determine the scope of your law firm’s website, it also helps you set a realistic and accurate budget for the project. If you didn’t take the time to think through what you want your website to contain and how it should behave, then you will almost certainly spend more money. Beyond that, you’ll take longer achieving the same outcomes.
- Think about your intended users and their needs. The success of your law firm’s website as a marketing tool depends on how well it anticipates and meets the needs of your site visitors. The wireframe is the right place to sort out detailed questions related to those users. What questions do they have? What do they need to know about your law firm? How does your wireframe account for them? Often, the people working within an organization are so internally focused that they can’t see the website from a user’s perspective. One of the benefits of working with a web design partner like Decker Design is that we bring a mix of industry expertise and an outsider’s perspective to bear on these questions.
- Develop your content marketing strategy. The wireframing process also represents an opportunity for law firms to dial in their content marketing strategies. When we work with clients, our initial research phase results in a market strategy report that includes customized recommendations related to content marketing. In putting together the wireframe, we show our clients exactly how that content strategy could be executed on their website. It’s important for law firms to think carefully about what they will take on in terms of content marketing. This potent marketing technique makes sense for many firms, but it requires an ongoing commitment of time and resources in order to make an impact. The wireframing exercise gives law firms the opportunity to more carefully consider the degree to which they can realistically commit to content marketing before building the website.
Wireframing isn’t the sexiest part of website design. But even the most visually appealing designs in the world can’t make up for a confusing or poorly planned user experience. In the end, wireframing provides a sturdy scaffold on which to build an attractive and effective website.