What is a Website Mockup and How to Design it

Going from an idea to a polished online presence, it is pretty exciting to see the way websites come to life. Designing a website mockup gives the first picture of what your website will look like once it’s all said and done. During this website creation phase, the final digital products begin to take shape. However, this vital step is commonly overlooked as it sits in the middle of the designing process.

That’s why in today’s article, our web design agency in Chicago explains what a website mockup design is and the benefits it bestows on your business. We’ll also suggest some of the best tools for website mockup design.

What is a Website Mockup and How to Design it

What is a website mockup?

A website mockup is a static visual model of the way a website or a web application will look up in its final form. Being a static model, the website mockup is not functional but only resembles the end product.

A website mockup design usually includes:

  • Main layouts
  • Various page elements
  • Branding
  • Colors
  • Fonts
  • Text
  • Images

Instead of using the actual text and images that the final version of the product would feature, your mockup design may include placeholder content such as lorem ipsum text and stock images.

The mockup version simulates how the website looks, but not how it behaves. That means it doesn’t feature any transitions and usable functions such as animations, pop-ups, image sliders, working links, and clickable buttons, as these will be included in the latter stages of a design process, most often during the prototyping phase.

Mockups help you define all the essential factors of the website user experience, like:

  • Information architecture: The way you logically and hierarchically organize information on your website.
  • User flow: The way your users navigate and interact with the website.
  • Visual hierarchy and layout: The way elements appear on the web pages regarding their size, position, and spacing.
  • Color
  • Typography in UX design: Font types, sizes, and boldness.
  • Images
  • Interaction

When should you design a website mockup?

As we have already mentioned, website mockups are designed in the middle of the creation process. Though the website development process varies from agency to agency, most approaches include the following phases:

  • Ideation and research
  • Wireframing
  • Mockups
  • Prototyping
  • Programming

During the ideation and research phase, designers determine the goals the website needs to accomplish and the features it needs to include to satisfy the client and users.

The next step is creating wireframes. A wireframe is a website blueprint that maps its basic functionality, elements, content, and layout. That’s the base on top of which designers add visual elements. There are two types of wireframes:

  • Low-fidelity wireframes
  • High-fidelity wireframes

After the wireframing phase comes the mockup phase; that’s when sketches turn into polished website designs. During this phase, web designers add content, branding, and styling on top of a wireframe’s fundamental layouts. Website design mockups also allow professionals to receive feedback from stakeholders and adjust their mockups accordingly before moving to prototype. Mockups can also be of low-fidelity and high fidelity.

Prototyping is the next phase of the website creation process. The website mockup design is turned into a high-fidelity and interactive demonstration during the prototyping phase. While this is still not the final version of the website as it lacks coding, it simulates how the website looks and behaves as closely as possible. Prototypes are used for user testing and gathering feedback about the site’s usability.

Once the prototype is approved, the development team takes the work over, programs the website, and prepares it to go live.

Why are website mockups important?

Website mockup design efficiently delivers your product to the market, reduces development costs, and increases the chances of the website’s long-term success by:

Early noticing of design errors

Designing a mockup website provides valuable information on whether or not your design works regarding functionality and aesthetics. Mockups give you the chance to adjust your design until you achieve that perfect harmony. During this phase, you can reveal which, if any, of the visual components are not the best fit for the final product.

Implementing valuable feedback early

Website mockup design also allows you to gather feedback from clients and stakeholders alike before the more expensive coding process begins. Presenting your clients with a high-fidelity mockup is a perfect way to convince them that your design approach is suitable for their website. Also, you have an opportunity to carry out user testing to ensure that the website will be user-friendly for your target audience. This way, you avoid significant development costs later on, along with bug fixes and updates. 

Improving communication and collaboration with your development team

Website mockup design bridges the gap between cross-functional teams. Whether as simple as website footer design choices or as complicated as establishing an elaborate design QA process, it acts as a communication device for ensuring a smooth design handoff. 

The handoff process is one of the crucial moments in product development, especially when it comes to custom WordPress web design. It is the moment you deliver the final design to developers, along with all the assets and guidelines required to code the mockup into the final product. That eliminates all the uncertainties that may arise along the way.

How to design mockup website: A step-by-step guide

The most important piece of advice that we can give you at the start of this process is always to keep your users in mind. You’ll notice that many of the following steps lean heavily on user testing and research. We’ll employ the agile methodology that, at its core, goes like this:

  • Define a minimal viable product
  • Design mockup website
  • Test with users
  • Tend to any problems
  • Test again

With that in mind, let’s dive into the process itself.

User research

Identify market opportunities

We must start by answering a simple yet fundamental question: What is the website for?

Though the answer may sound obvious, here at Alpha Efficiency, we’ve seen a fair share of websites that started with one purpose and audience in mind but pivoted the other way after development. Pivoting and completely changing your idea at this stage is fine, so answering this question early on will save considerable time in the latter stages.

Create user personas

Once you decide on the website’s primary goal, your next step is to talk to your potential users and see if they really need that kind of website. Online surveys, along with in-person interviews, are perfect for identifying the market needs. After you get a clear idea about the problems your website aims to solve, you need to develop user personas. In other words, you need to create your ideal user. This sort of info is gathered in the user research stage. Then, the data is aggregated to outline a single persona.

The number of user personas may vary based on your project goals, but the fewer you have, the better. It is much easier to consider two or three user personas while designing a website mockup than twenty, as it creates a more cohesive experience.

Information architecture

Once you have your user personas created, the next thing you need to do is think about your information strategy. That allows you to put user personas into use by inviting people who fit those personas in for a card sorting test. It is a type of user testing that will help you come up with the best way to organize the information on your website. By providing your users with a way to rapidly and seamlessly find the info they are looking for on your web pages, you will significantly improve the user experience.

Now that you’ve gathered all the information you need through the user research phase, it is time to design your website mockup. The best way to do this is to start with a wireframe. As we have already outlined the basics of this process, let’s jump right into adding visuals on top of your website blueprint.

Graphic design

Navigation and CTAs

The navigational elements and calls to action should be clear and easy to understand, but make sure not to overdo things. Regarding the visual hierarchy, placing labels next to related fields and grouping related topics together provides better legibility. Also, explore different button design concepts, experiment with various sizes, see whether to include shadows, etc.

Color

Color choices can evoke different emotions, so make sure to pick a color scheme that provides a great user experience while also making your brand memorable. They are also vital for establishing a hierarchy, making your website more intuitive.

On the other hand, making wrong color choices can repel your website visitors right from the get-go. The obvious choice for this misuse would be to make your CTAs red, which is the color most often associated with errors. You can use tools like Adobe Color CC to explore various complementary color combinations.

Images and icons

Since your mockup website design tends to reflect the final product as closely as possible, it is essential to include high-quality PNG or SVG images. When it comes to the elements of the user interface, we suggest you stick with UI kits so your design language would be familiar to your users from the moment they land on your web pages.

Typography

Typography can help you direct your users’ focus to the most important elements of your web pages, thus improving comprehension and establishing text hierarchy and other elements. However, you shouldn’t go overboard with the number of fonts you use. Include no more than two or three different fonts and use different sizes and boldness to define contrast and hierarchy. The line spacing can be anywhere between 140% and 180% so that the text wouldn’t look cramped.

Content

The amount of content you include in your mockup website design depends primarily on the type of the website, and the number of information users need for testing. Don’t shy away from lorem ipsum text, but always aim to include accurate headings and title texts so test users would better understand the function of each web page.

Add interaction

Though mockup website designs are rarely interactive, adding some clickable elements can go a long way in communicating ideas to stakeholders as well as providing more effective user testing and developer collaboration.

Focus on basic interaction instead of advanced functionality and add enough clickable elements for users to navigate from page to page easily.

User flow in mockup website design

A user flow is a path a user follows as they navigate the website. The best way to map user flow is to think about how your user personas would navigate the site.

Once user flows are established, design website mockup pages and add navigational elements.

User testing

So far, we have established our layout, visual design, and basic interaction element. Now, it is time to user-test our website design mockup. Here are the three main categories of usability testing:

  • Explorative: Explorative user testing is employed in the early stages of product development. The main goal of this kind of user testing is to assess the effectiveness and usability of a preliminary website mockup design as well as explore users’ thought processes and conceptual understanding.
  • Assessment: Used mid-way in product development, this method assesses real-time trials of the technology to determine user satisfaction, overall usability, and effectiveness of digital products.
  • Comparative: This method compares two or more digital products to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of each one.

While user-testing a website mockup, focus on the explorative method, as this is the one that provides feedback on how users understand the design choices you made and how easy it is for them to navigate the future website.

Make the appropriate changes and test again

This is the step that you’ll probably need to repeat several times. What you do is tend to any problems your users notice and test the mockup again. The earlier you fix issues, the cheaper the website development and maintenance will be in the long run.

Developer handoff

Once it’s all said and done, you need to hand the website design mockup to the developers so they would start coding the product. Also, you need to supply them with the relevant specification documentation, including:

  • Stylesheets
  • Project scope
  • Sitemaps
  • User flows
  • User requirements

Tools for website mockup design

Next, let’s explore some of the tools you should consider when creating a mockup of your website:

  • Adobe XD: This is an end-to-end UX design app for Windows and macOS devices. It leans heavily into pre-build components and third-party libraries to handle design tasks for everything from wireframes and mockups to prototyping and developer handoff.
  • Figma: This end-to-end design tool allows teams to collaborate on a file and access cloud files from one place, even while using Figma on iPad Pro simultaneously. It offers abundant features and design resources to help you throughout the process.
  • Adobe Illustrator: This tool represents an industry standard for vector graphics and is perfect for wireframing and mockup website designs.
  • Sketch: This design tool for macOS provides robust collaboration features and a vast library of components and third-party extensions.
  • InVision Studio: InVision studio is a tool oriented more toward prototyping, but it is also great for creating high-fidelity mockups. Though the tool is free, it’s meant to be used along with InVision design collaboration software.
  • Adobe Photoshop: Being one of the best and most popular tools for graphic designers, Photoshop is also great for all your mockup needs. If your design is detailed or unconventional, you won’t find many more powerful tools than Photoshop.

Website mockup design best practices

  • Ensure that your users know what the mockup presents and what they can expect in terms of interactivity.
  • Use your user personas to test the product with people that fit these pre-defined user types.
  • Establish various potential user flows. That can give you more actionable insights into how people interact with your website.
  • Consider client testing as another form of user testing and provide clients with comprehensive instructions before they start testing.

Final thoughts

Starting a new project, especially when designing a website, brings its share of uncertainties. Though many ideas and concepts may come to mind at the beginning, they are all just an abstract stream of thoughts with no visuals and tangibles to show for them. That’s why designing a website mockup is vital, as it is the first time you create something that resembles the product you envisioned. While wireframes act as the blueprint and prototypes enable user testing, mockups unite these phases, making your design’s value clear to your team and the clients while opening the door for feedback.

Brian Djordjevic
About The Author

Brian Dordevic

Brian is Marketing Strategic Planner with a passion for all things digital. Feel free to follow him on Twitter or schedule a consultation call with him.

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