As a developer and some-time designer, I’m always on the lookout for tools to make communicating with customers easier. For many things, the textual tools that web workers reach for are sufficient: email, wikis, project management systems, instant messages, and so on. But sometimes you just need to draw a picture to get your point across. The latest tool I’ve run across for this is Balsamiq Mockups – and it’s a nice tool indeed.
When you run the desktop version, you get an empty window that looks like a notebook page (complete with spiral binding) and a menu bar of controls – everything from web browser shells to progress bars to charts to maps to all sorts of widgets. To construct a user interface mockup, you drag from the menu bar to the drawing area, then click and drag and resize things. Widgets that contain data – like a table or a textbox – make it easy to edit that data, so customizing the user interface for the application you’re showing off is trivial.
The drawing style is deliberately sloppy: rough lines, semi-handwritten text, even the ability to add scratch-out lines over part of an interface that you want to cross out. This is actually just what I want for a prototyping tool: something that can’t possibly be mistaken for working software, but that’s good enough to discuss design decisions and application flow.
Balsamiq Mockups is built using Adobe AIR as its engine, so you can try it on the web or download it to run on your desktop on Windows, OS X, or Linux. There are also enterprisey online versions for Confluence, JIRA, and XWiki. The desktop version is free to try, but it lacks some essential features (like saving, exporting, and flipping through multiple mockups in a single session). Registering it will cost you $79, which on a big design project could be money well spent.