We don’t build wireframes for new features. Did we do it before? Yes. What changed? Development technologies, including open source libraries, made it just as fast to build a prototype as to build a wireframe. I prefer the build it and “feel” it approach to the wireframe approach. Being able to use and interact with the new feature allows us to decide if we’re on the right track and make changes as necessary. Of course, once the application’s user interface has been fleshed out and many of the common user experience interactions are in place, developing a quick mock-up is literally as fast as making a wireframe.
In order to prototype as fast as making a wireframe it also helps to be on a modern platform like Ruby on Rails or PHP on symphony. If you find that assembling the front-end components is laborious and slowing you down it is likely you aren’t getting the benefits of the latest frameworks and approaches. At some point you’ll be better off bitting the bullet and migrating to a newer technology. But, naturally, beware the rewrite of death.
What else? What other thoughts do you have on prototyping vs wireframing first?