Whether you practice waterfall, or agile project management, or something in between, wireframes can be extremely useful. I would argue that they should be required for every project. Without wireframes, you will end up making poor decisions that will have to be fixed after they’ve already been put into a heavily crafted design, or even worse, production code. I think the importance of wireframes is a well known fact in our industry now and so I won’t spend time arguing that here.
The next question is though, how much time do you actually spend on wireframes? Technically, wireframes can be anything from paper tests, to low fidelity Illustrator files, to functioning pages made in something like Axure. Whichever level of detail you put into your wireframes I think is usually offset by the amount of time you put into your comps. The less complex your wireframes, the more work you’ll have to make up in comp, but the more detailed your wireframes are the less work you’ll have to do to transition them to comps.
At SiteGoals, we typically spend an average of 4 hours on our secondary comps, and an average of 8 hours on the homepage design. Homepages are usually very complex by comparison and the designer is usually in charge of specifying what content goes on that page (from slideshows to excerpts), whereas sub-pages are usually left up to the client or a content specialist if there is one. Or they may be predetermined by the original page. Either way, sub-pages offer less flexibility and usually less design.
There are trade offs to low-fidelity (low time) and high-fidelity wireframes beyond just the amount of work required. A low-fidelity keeps the user/viewer focused on the functionality, or general layout. The more detail you put into the wireframe, the more likely someone will nitpick a font or a border width, or some other design element, even if the designer didn’t intend for those to be noticed.
High-fidelity wireframes, especially interactive versions, can have a lot more longevity. They can be used by developers to create the basic functionality and even a front end developer can setup the structure without getting full colors and design. If you already have an existing design from other comps, a high-fidelity wireframe can be enough to give to a development team to build the entire page and will require much less communication.
So, given a standard project for your agency, how much time do spend on an average homepage wireframe?