What is a design mockup? The definitive guide
Find out what mockups are and how they can help you create high-fidelity product designs
If you’ve ever worked as a designer before, you’ve probably experienced many rounds of feedback on your work. Product design and development are very interlinked processes. Mockups are one of the best ways to showcase a potential design for your team, users, or potential investors. Mockups are high-fidelity, versatile designs that can help you in all kinds of situations.
In this article, we’ll be talking about mockups, what they are, and why you need them — as well as exploring the different kinds of mockups.
What is a mockup?
A mockup will mean different things depending on your industry. We’ll be specifically talking about product design, especially in the web and mobile app space.
A mockup is a high-fidelity render of your product’s design that showcases how the finished product will look. A mockup can take the shape of an image or a product model, and you normally create them using digital design tools. You can use mockups to educate stakeholders, demonstrate design proposals or promote a product.
Mockup vs wireframe
We’ve talked in the past about what wireframes are, and we mentioned that you can sometimes consider high-fidelity wireframes to be mockups.
If you think about your product as a house, the wireframe would be the foundation’s blueprint and the mockup would be the 3D model. Mockups can often build on wireframes as a basic building block, but you can also create them from scratch.
Mockup vs prototype
Another important distinction to make is between a mockup and a prototype. A mockup will only show the expected final design of a product, while a prototype will also show the functionality of the product.
Now that we have an idea of what mockups are, let’s get into why we need them.
Why do you need a mockup?
Now we know what mockups are, we can dig deeper into what you can do with them.
- Product discovery: Mockups can also be used before starting a project. In the preliminary phases of product discovery, you can use mockups to test out different approaches to your potential product. You can also quickly make changes to mockups to adjust according to your needs.
- Keeping stakeholders aligned: Designing and building a product involves a lot of stakeholders — at every stage of the process. A mockup can help keep stakeholders aligned on the finished product. You can also use mockups to impress potential investors with a high-fidelity representation of the final product.
- The final step in the design: As we mentioned at the beginning of the article, designing a mockup is part of the product development cycle — usually happening during the design phase. A mockup serves as the natural final step in the design process, before the design team hands off the document to your development team.
Regardless of how you use them, mockups help you communicate what you want your final product to look like. They are essential tools in your design arsenal — because it’s always better to over-communicate when it comes to design.
Different types of product mockups
Now that we know what mockups can do for us, let’s look at the different types of products that can benefit from mockups.
Mobile app mockup
One of the most common use-cases of mockups is for mobile app design. With millions of mobile apps out there, you will often need a proof-of-concept to be able to show potential investors and stakeholders why your idea is worth pursuing. This can apply to apps starting from scratch, as well as apps a couple of years into their life looking for a design refresh.
Proof-of-concept mockups aren’t the only use case for mobile apps. Designing a mobile app is a continuous process involving a whole team. Designing your mobile app on a digital design platform like Sketch lets you create individual assets that any member of your team can seamlessly export and inspect. This transforms your mockup into a building block that developers can use to implement your vision quickly and more accurately — rather than just a render.
Like mobile apps, designing a website mockup can also help you show relevant stakeholders what your final product will look like. But while most mobile apps focus on optimizing regular user interactions, websites typically have a different set of goals. Most commonly, a website’s purpose is to turn a visitor into a customer. With website mockups, you’re able to test out the most effective designs that will attract users.
And again, by using a dedicated tool, you’ll be able to create these specific brand assets, share your designs with your team, and make it easier to turn pixels into code.
Digital products aren’t the only thing that can benefit from a mockup. While designing a new device — that can be anything from a smartphone to a vacuum cleaner — a mockup can help you align a huge team around a common goal. Having a render of what the final physical product would look like can go a long way to helping designers, manufacturers and other stakeholders work in sync.
Device mockups like the example above can also help fans or members of the community share their excitement for a product release. They can help app and website designers, too — creators can share what their app would look like on a physical device, to give a better idea of the finished product.
Poster or Print mockup
We’ve talked a lot about products, but in reality, mockups can help all sorts of causes. If you’re planning to go to a march with a sign or launch a campaign on social media, a mockup is your go-to design tool. Creating a render of what you’re planning to print can help you get quick feedback and make adjustments on the fly.
As you can see, mockups can be powerful tools in your design process. They’re especially useful in mobile app and website design, offering big benefits to the whole team at any stage of the design process.
Also, don’t forget that designing a mockup isn’t a closed process. Involving your team members — such as your UX writer — can help you elevate your designs even further.