Some designers say that wireframing is dead and prototyping is the future. Some say prototyping is dead and iteratively designing (and developing) the actual product is the future.
I have nothing against any alternative process recommended by designers. If they think it’s the most comfortable and faster way to do it, then by all means go for it. What I understand is that in startups where the stake is high and rapid delivery is required, it’s actually helpful for designers to launch the app quickly and iterate further. It is also sometimes imperative that the designers can actually build or code. In larger, established companies however, the process can be more dedicated within each “silo”.
From my experience working at Ice House, a mobile design and development company, wireframing is favoured in the first part of the product development process: the Design & Define phase. This is an initial “product design” sprint or phase in which designers, developers, product managers and business analysts sit down together with the client to define the product. It is in this phase where we actually do wireframes and a Flinto prototype (with full UI design, of course). When we get client sign off, we can start iterative, agile development afterwards.
Two things that I learned wireframes can help.
First, the developers favour it because it helps them create data model and relationships. It also gives them a good impression on the flow, whereas a prototype is more of a “one screen at a time” in nature, where the next possible screens are hidden and that the developers could be clueless. A huge diagrammatic view over the app flow and user journey is helpful making a mental and visual model for the developers.
Second, it gives a great start for the business analysts to create epics and stories. Again, it helps create a mental and visual model for them to convert the wireframe screens to actionable chunks of stories. It call circles back to development.
Prototyping is useful to further furnish the details, especially interactions within a screen. It also helps the detailing of what exact colors, buttons, layout or shapes should go into specific screens. A prototype is also more useful to the clients as they would have a better grasp of the app.
I think both wireframing and prototyping help — a wireframe creates a good guide on how the app works almost in its entirety, while prototyping creates a good feel of the screen-by-screen user experience.