Monday, September 29, 2008

Balsamiq makes mocking up fun!

Robert sent me a link last week to a new mockup tool called Balsamiq.  At first, I didn't really see the point, but after using it for only a few minutes, I was totally sold.

What is it?

Have you ever tried to use Visio to mockup UI?  It's a cumbersome process, and no matter what I do, the end result just always looks like a bunch of circles and squares and nothing like what I actually envisioned.

Balsamiq has some ready-made controls that you can easily drop onto your canvas.  They look hand drawn, which is absolutely wonderful because then when I show people my mockups, there will be no doubt that they're simply looking at a mockup and not the final version.


Why is it useful?

I was just playing around with Balsamiq for a few minutes and made a quick screen showing a new feature we want to implement.  I showed it to Robert, and we found out instantly that I was going about it the wrong way.  Imagine if I'd mocked that up in HTML, or in Photoshop?  It would have taken me a lot longer, and it would have been harder to modify after my initial mistake.  Since I used Balsamiq, i was able to just move the controls around.  So it saved me a lot of time and aggravation.

Another Example

We have to implement a way for color blind users to use our web application, so we've been asked to add "Color Schemes" to the User Settings.  The user can have an underline or a box around particular fields on the form.  The box background color or underline color is affected by changing color schemes.

At first, I thought, the simplest thing to do would be to simply provide a drop-down list of named color schemes with a preview below, so I mocked it up, and it looked like shit.  Then I remembered the way Digsby and now the new Windows Live Messenger 9 Beta showed some of the custom UI settings, so I tried to emulate it a bit.  (The horizontal rule control in Balsamiq isn't colorable yet, but the author says he's added to his upcoming feature list.)


Also, I just want to note that I've emailed the author twice, and he responded back within a few minutes each time.  That's impressive.

Check it out: