A huge part of building or improving any web site comes in the site mapping stage. I’m always amazed at the varying kinds of tools that web workers use to do site design, and I even know one top designer who does all his prototyping in Excel—because he likes it. I have a new favorite tool for site mapping, and it’s Jumpchart. The best news of all is that you can use Jumpchart for free, and there isn’t even a download required.
Jumpchart is hosted on the web, and it’s intended to be easy to start using instantly, because a great application for it is to invite, say, a client you are building a site for to jump right into your site prototype, helping you to design and edit. Once you go through a quick signup you have a free account and can start mapping out sites. My main complaint about Jumpchart is that you only get 10 pages to use for free, after which you do have to pay, but for prototyping relatively simple sites, 10 is enough.
It’s important to understand that Jumpchart is not the tool you reach for to beautify and finalize your final site design. Instead, it’s intended for quick mapping and prototyping. In the application, you begin by giving a project a name, and then you find yourself right in the middle of a sample web page. To the right of the web page are Textile Markup Language choices you can use on your page, for bolding elements, adding web links, etc. Even if aren’t familiar with Textile Markup Language, the tools and commands you need are always right in front of you, and they’re easy.
To add a sub-page to your prototype, you simply use the Add a Sub-Page tab. Jumpchart also has a nice feature called Snippets. This lets you specify a recurring type of content—such as a page header you’ve designed—so that you can invoke it on any page whenever you want. It’s a big time saver, and if you change your snippet, all instances of it in your site prototype will globally change.
When you’ve arrived at a design that you like, which is a lot like working in site building software, you can create a preview version of it that can be sent for clients to look at. Or, they can go right into Jumpchart and help with design elements along with you. This collaboration opportunity is one of the best aspects of the product—a very different proposition from, say, sending someone a site prototype you’ve put together in Dreamweaver and expecting that person to be a Dreamweaver expert if they’re going to work with you on changes.
I wish Jumpchart provided more pages with a free account, but it seems very logical to me that designing a site should be collaborative, and that someone without a lot of web design skills should be able to collaborate with people who are skilled. For that application, Jumpchart stands out.
Do you know of any good tools for collaborating on sites?