Nowadays I am doing requirement gathering and analysis for a good project here in Gibraltar.So you can imagine lot of user interactions ,taking interviews of end-users , sometimes shadowing them to their specific work function and lot of questioning etc are going on…at least project started off good and we are heading in correct direction.
For successful execution of project,the team which is going to implement or code,should get understanding of the ideas and concepts and functionality and thus the need of good mock up tool arise. These tools plays a vital role of explaining the ideas and bringing the life to boring documentation. It is truly said that “1 picture is equivalent to 1000 words!”.
In my previous projects,I had mostly used visio and its sort of standard at my workplace for mockups.Though recently I had also tried out serena prototype composer for one project.These tools have their advantages and disadvantages.
Visio is the huge software.It is not meant just for prototyping or diagramming.However,it comes at a price and it requires a lot of time to starting off and be expert with it.You can find massive features are poured on as just any other Microsoft stable software.After using visio ,I came to a conclusion that visio is good tool ,but still not a very handy tool for creating mockups quickly.
I explored a bit more on internet and found Serena Prototype composer.Serena prototype composer scores over visio ,when you want a clickable prototype.But then serena prototype composer needs to be installed where you want to run your prototype and seems to be pretty rigid kind of a tool.I didn’t like it much though it has unique advantage of creating clickable prototype.
Then again in search of perfect mockup tool,I downloaded and tried many. One day(actually night),when on the verge of just concluding that there is not so much great tool other than visio,I found the gold “Balsamiq Mockups”!!!
As a practice,Without much hopes,I downloaded and installed it.As a authentic software engineer,I never use manuals or help to use software [In fact,I had reached to conclusion that if you need help or manual for running a software,there is a problem with usability of that software]. Firing up balsamiq tools,I was just kind of landed in my dreams!! Since,it is just made for making mockups!!! Very no not friendly,I will say inviting user interface.there are all UI elements at the tops with really big and wide tool strip which shows of drag and drop user elements some common like buttons,text,all types of containers(i.e. group box,tabs etc) and some uncommon like accordion,cover flow,video player,street maps etc.The most surprising is I found sticky[comments as they call it ] and charts and graphs as well.Wow! pretty genius work.Since,many business software always need this and very few people do have mockups for this stuff.
You can create a new mockup and start building your mockup by dragging and dropping these elements.When you drag and drop the vertical and horizontal guard lines appear to assist you for placing the elements,taking care of alignments which is again cool feature.
You can set properties of individual element by selecting the element and then property bar appears out of nowhere.You can drag it anywhere so that it will not disturb you or obscure the view of element that you are working with.Also The properties are fantastic set,Just as what needed no extras .These things truly live “YAGNI(You aren’t gonna Need It!!) agile principal.
On top of this,the mock up you created can be saved or imported as XML file or can be exported as PNG files.
Balsamiq Mockups team has really come up with really genius product !!
However,there is a saying that greedy man and end-user can never be satisfied :)
I must also point out some things that they can improve into their next version.
After using it for two or more weeks ,I realized that grouping and un-grouping of containers and their child elements are somewhat confusing to me.Since,The controls that we drag goes back side of group box and another thing I wanted is the ability selection of many controls like visio gives. As of now,to move entire thing,we have to group them.There must be the selection ability for controls that are not grouped.
The community of Balsamiq Mockups is also good.And they had come up with several templates that you can find at http://www.mockupstogo.net .
All in all,It is insanely great tool built by genius people out their at Balsamiq.I think I can saved at least 40% of time required to create mockups with Basamiq compared to Visio.I will certainly recommend that try your hands on Balsamiq and you will be happy making your mockups ever after.