Balsamiq: My crafty ingredient for speedy UX design

There are so many cool wireframing tools to assist UX designers these daysAxure, Visio, OmnigraffleJustInMind, and Balsamiq and only a few of the biggies. There’s nothing like a digital toolbox full of goodies like iPhone stencils and essential wireframe assets to go along with your 7th cup of coffee.

I find it’s still good practice to start with whiteboards, index cards, sketch pads, post-it notes and good conversations to kick off the initial concepting phases and find the key directions to explore. But after some time, there comes the inevitable period of needing to pump out immense sets of wireframes and use cases — many of which will still be exploring potential avenues to pursue. This is when these digital toolboxes truly come to the rescue.

For the past few months, I’ve really been enjoying Balsamiq — to the extent that it seems to be my go-to digital tool now. I’ve used it for both iPhone apps and websites, for both concepts and design docs, and for both personal and professional projects. It’s fast, easy, flexible, and has both mock-up & prototyping capabilities as well.

Here are some things I really like and dislike about Balsamiq:

  • Its default aesthetic is a sketchy feel to emphasize the role of a wireframe (focus on functionality — not visuals), and it also has a setting to appear as a more traditional, clean-cut wireframe. Either way, each aesthetic family has a unified feel to it. However, it’d be nice to have a hybrid between the two looks — the edgyness of the default, but the precision of the latter.
  • Its documents are set up on a giant grid — a UX designers’ helpful-but-not-limiting pixel playground
  • It has multiple export options, including PNGs and PDFs, with the ability to only export selected content
  • Saving conventions can be a bit over-automated, not prompting the user the specify the name and location of exports.
  • Its iPhone, web and icon stencils are fairly extensive and functional
  • The stencils & asset kits are limited to iPhone and website, though, which excludes cross-platform necessities
  • Wireframes can easily translate to mockups with the use of color customization and image importation. The can also translate to a functional prototype with linking.
  • Built-in markup tools make it easy to annotate in-doc

It seems that the Balsamiq crew is cooking up some improvements and services, so my apologies if any of my negative input in here has already been addressed by the team! — I wouldn’t be surprised if they’re already on top of it 😉

Personally, I still prefer to use the Adobe Suite — InDesign, Photoshop, Illustrator and Fireworks — for my polished design docs, mockups and protoypes. But Balsamiq is my buddy when it comes to quickly pumping out use cases, alternate designs and low-fi prototypes so that my team and me can stay on the same speed! I definitely recommend giving it a try — especially for iPhone app UX design.

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