Review: Balsamiq Mockups

Review: Balsamiq Mockups
Back at my previous job, I was using a piece of software called “Axure” to generate mockups of web applications. When I started at the new job and they asked me what software I needed, I suggested that one. I nearly had a heart attack when I realized it’s $600 for a single user license! That’s nuts. So I started looking around. I toyed with the idea of using Visio (it’s just so clunky!) before somebody recommended Balsamiq Mockups to me. It looked like just the thing I needed, and the license is only $70. I was debating on buying it when I noticed that they offer free licenses to “do-gooders” and bloggers. I sent them an email, and they wrote back with a license the very next day! I was floored by the business and I hadn’t even started using the software yet. Of course, I wasn’t going to give them a glowing review for nothing. I’ve spent the last month or so putting Mockups through its paces.The software: I was a bit dubious about this whole “Adobe Air” thing, but the installation proved painless. (I tested it on both PC and Mac.) Within 10 minutes of launching it I was generating mockups for both web pages and mobile phone handsets. I wasn’t sure how technical people would react to the deliberately hand-drawn look of the diagrams, so I showed it to a couple developers for their opinion. They all liked it and said it was more fun than getting a PowerPoint or Visio drawing. I’ve been using it extensively for a few weeks now and I’ve got zero complaints. (The only bug I found was fixed a few days later.) It’s so quick to create something from scratch, and changes take hardly any time at all. People have literally stopped by my desk to point at what was on my monitor. This app makes you look like you spent a lot more time/effort than you really did!

The business: Like I said, I was predisposed to like them just because they sent me a free license. Still, I’ve been hugely impressed by how the husband-and-wife team support and promote their software. Releases are free and having been happening every week or two. (The most recent one has custom iPhone interface elements, which will be *very* useful to anybody doing mobile stuff.) They’ve got a blog that gets updated frequently, and the developer is a frequent Twitterer. I really can’t say enough good stuff about them. If you find yourself trying to figure out what a website should look like, you should definitely try this one out. (And I think they’re working on an online version soon…)

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11 Comments

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  1. God bless that somebody who suggested Balsamiq Mockups to you!!!

  2. I knew you’d catch me for not giving you credit. 🙂

  3. I’ve got you in my feed reader now baby.
    On a different note, your blog only ever asks me “What colour is an orange?”. Not hard to spam.

  4. The technique is more effective than you’d think. Most of the spam bots just search for any form with a textarea input, and then put spammage in every field.

    On a high-profile/high-traffic site you’ll have people writing bot plug-ins just for you, but until then you can be pretty low-tech about it.

  5. Yeah, I’ve had that in there for more than two years now and it’s been extremely effective. I would’ve thought I’d have had to change it by now, but spammers are stupid, I guess.

  6. Hey Rodd, I guess I was more alluding to the idea that if tomorrow I start hating Kris, it won’t be hard for me to spam it :p but yep your point is valid.

  7. Ah, well, you just gave away your nefarious plan, now didn’t you?

  8. Looks interesting, cheers for the info on the program. The other free one i know about is called Pencil, http://www.evolus.vn/Pencil/Home.html but it lacks some components.

  9. Nice, WeeB. The thing I’m really looking forward to in Mockups is the ability to link screens together to make clicable prototypes. Apparently they’re working on this. Axure did it, but it was pretty complicated. I’m hoping Balsamiq can do it in a way that’s easy and quick to configure.

  10. I was going to ask about linking screens together. I had a play around with it yesterday and found it lacking in a few areas – screen linking being one and the ability to easily have what Axure called “masters”. Those reusable collections of elements were really handy and it seems that the only way to do that in Mockups is by using images or saving the XML out and importing it back it. At this stage I’d say it’s really good for fast single-screen mockups, but I wouldn’t want to use it for anything big (more than two or three screens say). But you’re right – anything is better than Visio!

  11. Yeah, screen linking is one of the big features I’ve seen requested, and the developer has said it’s definitely in the pipeline. Did you see the Mockups To Go site? People submit collections of elements and you can download them and import them into your own mockups. So far there aren’t a lot, but I can imagine that being a really helpful resource in the future.

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