Balsamiq Mockups Easy Mockups and Prototypes for Developers

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balsamiq.pngAny developer knows two things: the lamest part of the job is building mockups for the client and the hardest thing to do is to mesh what the client wants and what you’re doing. The idea is that mockups for the client’s perusal eliminate the second problem, but making those prototypes for them is a real pain and sucks up a lot of time.

Balsamiq hopes to change that by offering an easy-to-use mockup system to build prototypes for your clients in a more fast and efficient way so that you can spend more of your time in your real work: developing the project.

Most mockups are usually made in Photoshop, GIMP, or maybe Visual Studio to build representations of what the client’s project will look like when completed. Sometimes some Flash or Visio might be used too.

Regardless of how it’s done, it’s time consuming and tedious and very often repetitive. Especially if you jump back and forth between apps to do it, so you can’t import/export layers or mods that are configurable in other apps.

Balsamiq Mockups changes that by offering a single solution for the mockup design. At first try, the site seems kind of kindergartenish. The prototypes have Post-Its on them, for hell’s sakes. Unlike traditional mockups, though, Balsamiq is attempting to combine standard prototype looks with the “sketched this on a notepad to make the change” feel.

balsamiq-mockups_fpa

In the end, it does a very good job of it. Clients will immediately see the usefulness here, since they too can ad sticky notes to your mockup to make suggestions or change the wording on a menu item or page. Or rearrange some elements themselves, to show you what their vision is.

Even better, Balsamiq Mockups has templates for common app types, like iPhone apps. So instead of building a page and hoping your client can “see” it on an iPhone screen, the template starts with a mockup of an iPhone and you ad elements inside the phone’s screen.

There are a lot of good points about how Balsamiq Mockups works. It’s highly intuitive, makes it very easy to drag-and-drop basic elements, and has integration with Flickr to make some things easier. You can also export to a file or your clipboard for mobile presentations too (these can’t be edited).

Of course, the app isn’t perfect, so there are some downsides to Balsamiq. It uses Adobe Air, which some systems don’t like and it doesn’t have any freehand drawing tools, which is a real obvious missing element, I think. Some things can’t be changed to “blend” with the style being created (some control colors, for instance) and charts can’t be customized much. If you aren’t using a really nice screen to view the app, some of the elements of the edit window will be near-invisible.

With all of that, this app is very likely to become a replacement for many a designer’s usual repertoire of mockup tools. It’s definitely worth looking at. The desktop app is $79, but a free online version for trial is available as well.

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3 Comments
  1. rainwebs

    July 22, 2009 at 1:33 pm

    Balsamiq is pretty flexible. Have a look at the http://www.mockupstogo.net/ or if you like to use it for UML:

    http://blog.rainer.eschen.name/mock4u/

  2. Efraim

    August 13, 2009 at 4:34 pm

    I love Balsamiq mockups! Use it almost weekly!
    However, software UI tools don't seem to solve the 'first ideas' or 'napkin drawings'. For some reason, I can't bring in software until the idea is a little more clear, since all UI software (incl. Balsamiq) only allow pre-set controls.

    To solve the early stages, I use:
    http://www.MockupMagnets.com
    Very fun magnetic UI widgets for prototyping on a whiteboard. You should try them!

  3. Efraim

    August 13, 2009 at 9:34 pm

    I love Balsamiq mockups! Use it almost weekly!
    However, software UI tools don't seem to solve the 'first ideas' or 'napkin drawings'. For some reason, I can't bring in software until the idea is a little more clear, since all UI software (incl. Balsamiq) only allow pre-set controls.

    To solve the early stages, I use:
    http://www.MockupMagnets.com
    Very fun magnetic UI widgets for prototyping on a whiteboard. You should try them!

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