A mockup is a graphical representation of a product or design. Designers make them during the design phase to show stakeholders how the final product will look and test their design concepts. The project can move on to the next stage if all stakeholders agree on mockups.
Mockups and prototypes differ. As we said while explaining prototypes, prototypes are interactive and functional representations of the product. Mockups are static; you can't interact with them as they only aim to show the visual design and layout of the product and not its functionality. Mockups help all stakeholders agree on the direction of graphic design, so in terms of the design process, mockups come before prototypes.
Why make mockups? Mockups ensure that everyone on the project agrees on the graphic direction before the product is fully developed. This allows for avoiding any misunderstandings as the project moves forward. It's also a great way of gathering feedback from stakeholders, users, and others on the design team. The feedback on mockups can be used to iterate the designs and ensure it meets the target audience's needs. Designers can also use mockups to test various design ideas before committing their resources to one. Mockups also help identify errors in design before the product reaches the development stage, saving both time and money on the project.
How to make a successful mockup? Focus on your users. The needs and preferences of your target audience should drive the design decisions. Keep it simple – mockups are not meant to be complex but relatively easy to understand. Don't add too many details that are not necessary and can confuse stakeholders or users. Like many other things from design, the best outcomes are made after feedback. So gather feedback from users, stakeholders, and other designers, and adjust your designs according to what you've heard.
There are also things you should avoid. Perhaps the most important one is trying not to get too attached to your designs. Mockups are for exploration and feedback. If you get too attached to what you've made, you may not get the most out of your gathered feedback and not adjust your designs. You also shouldn't neglect usability. Yes, mockups serve as a representation of the visual design, but you should still consider usability. Visual design should keep the user experience in mind and ensure that the designs are intuitive and easy to understand. Finally, try not to make too many variations. Use mockups to explore different design ideas but maybe limit yourself to a few, gather feedback and try making changes then. Otherwise, you may lose a lot of time which can be especially disadvantageous in a time-sensitive project.
A mockup is more than just a representation of prepared designs. It's also a communication tool that allows all project stakeholders to see eye to eye on the visual direction of the product.