Wireframes are drawings of new user interfaces showing what goes where and how it works, much like an architect’s drawings are plans for a new house. They can range from low-fidelity wireframes that can be as simple as a sketch on a whiteboard, through to intricate high-fidelity wireframes that dive into every detail.

While wireframes are one of the workhorses of user experience (UX) methodologies, the question is whether they’re still needed in Office 365, where Modern pages can be designed and delivered in minutes. The answer is no, and yes.

Modern SharePoint Pages: Prototypes Go Live

One of the most powerful aspects of Modern SharePoint Online sites is that a business user can build a site in minutes. By just point-and-clicking, elements can be chosen and dropped into the page, and then tweaked (to some degree). In many respects, this is a form of prototyping, but on the real platform rather than in a separate UX tool.

The simplified layout of Modern pages takes away much of the fiddly aspect of designing traditional intranet pages. The nature of the cloud-hosted platform also enables new sites to go-live straight away, rather than having to be built on development servers, and then pushed through staging sites before finally being released into production.

There is still great value to be gained from UX expertise and best-practice intranet knowledge, even in this frictionless world of site creation. Just because elements can be slapped together on a page doesn’t mean they will make sense to users.

Instead of needing a formal process of design, however, UX and intranet experts can sit alongside business owners to co-create new sites. This enables the designs to be shaped in a way that meets both business and end-user needs.

Related Article: How to Modernize Your SharePoint Online Home Page

SharePoint Online Delivers Most, But Not All

While SharePoint Online is improving in leaps and bounds, it’s still often the case that it only delivers 80% of what’s needed. This may be limitations on the functionality or design of a single web part, or broader intranet functionality.

Where the gap is relatively small, a small amount of customization might be all that’s needed. Or the use of one of the myriad third-party web parts and solutions.

In the spirit of prototyping directly within Office 365, business owners can simply create text boxes on a page containing notes on what’s needed. Or a hand-drawn sketch could be photographed with a phone, and then dropped in as an image within a box on the page.

In either case, this may often give enough detail for the intranet team, or external partner, to understand business needs. A conversation can then clear up any remaining questions before a technical approach is formulated.

Learning Opportunities

Related Article: Why It's Time to Update Your Legacy SharePoint Intranet

Wireframes Help You Take Your Intranet to the Next Level

All of this assumes, of course, that what needs to be delivered is largely provided natively by SharePoint Online. While this is often the case, it does lead to the delivery of an ordinary intranet that provides typical functionality, but no better. If you hold ambitions to deliver a leading-edge intranet that really pushes the dial, then the gap between what’s provided natively and what’s needed can become large.

This is where UX — including wireframing — becomes valuable. It allows ideas to be formulated and refined, and then assessed against technical effort. This is particularly needed where the solution is bigger than just the functionality within an individual web part.

A good example of this are the current crop of intranet that offer a universal inbox, which aggregates notifications and tasks into a single experience. This requires careful design of the user experience, and substantial development to deliver this powerful feature.

SharePoint Online can, and should, be used for more than just delivering corporate intranets. With the combination of a modern development environment and simplified UX, it can be a powerful platform for delivering true business solutions.

It’s here that wireframing becomes more than a nice-to-have. In order for development processes to succeed, including when following agile methodologies, there must be a clear understanding of the desired end state.

Business owners, developers and UX experts must all work closely together to deliver these solutions. Best practice knowledge and methodologies will be needed to craft each element, as well as the shape of the solution as a whole.

In short, if you’re delivering something simple in SharePoint Online, dive in! A lot can be produced by playing with native features, and then extending them where needed. And if you’re delivering a leading-edge solution using SharePoint Online — bravo! — this is where you will need the full set of UX techniques, including wireframing.

fa-solid fa-hand-paper Learn how you can join our contributor community.