Who coined the term “wireframes”?

Wireframes, wireframes, wireframes. It’s one of the those “insider” terms that gets thrown around the user experience design community all the time. We go to great lengths to explain what they are — to our colleagues, our clients, and our friends (“What exactly do you do again?”). [Dan Brown‘s explanation on Boxes and Arrows; Sarah Harrison; Paul Boag]

But why do we use the term in the first place?

About a month ago, I tweeted that I was working on some wireframes:

And then I got this response from Matthew Van Horn, whom I had met a few days prior at a dinner for New Work City:

Matt later sent me an e-mail expounding on the term.


I seriously think I coined that term, but I am not 100% sure. In 1993-94 I was working with a group (Snickelways Interactive) that was transitioning from interactive television to web e-commerce. While we were doing ITV, I was doing some 3d animation and rendering for them. In early 1994 as the web work started taking off, I began pushing the idea of designing the structure of the page separately from the look & feel. I described this to my coworkers as analogous to a wireframe model which shows the basic shape, but no shading/color/texture. The name stuck, within our company at least. I know at least a few designers who first used the term (to refer to web mockups) at Snickelways and later went to work for shops like Razorfish, Scient and Sapient, etc.

So I like to think I coined the term, but any documentary evidence is long gone with my old hard drives. It’s possible several people began using it simultaneously, but I don’t remember seeing it in use as early as I remember using it.

Coincidentally all of this took place a block away from where I met you, at 180 Varick St.

— Matt

After talking to him again last night at the New Work City opening party, I thought I’d help Matt get some corroborating evidence. Or perhaps some dissenters. Do you think you actually coined the term? Got any proof? Let me know about it in the comments!

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  1. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Christopher Fahey and scottmccall. scottmccall said: Who coined the term "wireframes"? http://bit.ly/iMdsi (via @chrisfahey) […]

  2. […] invented wireframes. Okay, clearly I didn’t – you can read Whitney Hess on the history of using wireframes for application and web design – but back in the day (1997), we didn’t blog or tweet […]

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