What Is the Best Tool for Fast Prototyping?
Overview of our hands-on experience on using various prototyping tools
It is hard to overestimate the importance of prototyping in a startup development process. Every time when our clients address to us to develop any kind of product we insist on making prototypes first.
There are various tools for designing prototypes. Some of them help make only low-fidelity prototypes while the others allow to create high-fidelity prototypes and show real interaction between the pages.
In our own experience we have used several of them. Each tool has a certain number of pluses and minuses, and in this article we are going to tell you about them.
The first one is Mockingbird.
The platform is famous and popular among designers. It allows creating simple low-fidelity wireframes and mockups.
On the screens below you can see an example of a mockup made in Mockingbird:
As you can see, the mockup is very simple, though it looks pretty close to a real web-site and can help the customer grasp the main idea. But like any program, Mockingbird has both advantages and disadvantages.
Let’s consider its pros:
user-friendly interface - even if you have never done any wireframing before, it will be easy to do it from scratch within just a few hours;
ability to share the design with other team members and clients as well as make the corrections in real time;
ability to link several mockups together in order to simulate the user workflow - thought this option looks quite primitive and doesn’t show how the work of the web-site will look in a real HTML format, it may give an overall idea of the user workflow;
works well on different browsers and different operating systems.
As you can see, Mockingbird is rather comfortable and easy to use. However, there are some minuses that should be considered.
Among the cons we can list the following:
only low-fidelity prototypes;
works only in a browser - well, on the one hand, it’s an advantage (allows a real-time correction), on the other hand, different users can have different browsers, operating systems, and thought, the programs is quite flexible, the image can be distorted somehow, if different browsers are used;
the list of drag-and-drop elements is rather limited, moreover, there is no ability to customize them;
cannot be exported to a real HTML;
no ability to design mockups for mobile devices.
Cost: the trial period lasts for 7 days. The price range for the further using is the following:
Having weighed all pluses and minuses of Mockingbird, we decided to move to something new. Therefore, the next tool we paid our attention to was Balsamiq.
Balsamiq is another quite popular platform for UI design. It allows fast prototyping in a simple and clear way.
Here is an example of a mockup made in Balsamiq:
As you can see, the mockup is rather simple and looks more like a draft, but again, it can give the general idea of the web-site.
So, let’s have a look at the pros of this program:
a bunch of drag-and-drop elements that are easy to use;
clear and simple mockups in the form of handwritten sketches - it allows the designer to concentrate rather on the key feature of the application than to be distracted by pictures.
Even though Balsamiq is quite effective, it has its cons, among which we can name:
the design can be shared with the team members or clients only in the PDF format;
the presentation can be done only on the device where it is installed;
not very comfortable for big projects.
Cost: Balsamiq can be downloaded on the desktop for free, however, it has a trial period that lasts for 30 days. In order to continue working in it, you should buy a subscription. But, the creators of the program give an opportunity to its users to get it for free (you can find the information on how to do that here: https://balsamiq.com/free/):
We had been using Balsamiq for quite a long time, but lately, we came across the next tool - UXPin. And it has become our main prototyping tool.
UXPin is a designing platform that allows its user to create low- and high-fidelity interactive prototypes.
Here is an example of a prototype made in UXPin:
As you can see UXPin gives an opportunity to design high-fidelity prototypes.
Let’s consider the pros of the program:
full interaction of the web-site pages in HTML format;
ability to share the design with other team members, the customer and leave comments;
great variety of drag-and-drop elements;
constant update of the program;
ability to customize the element according to your needs;
can be used in any browser;
library not only for web-devices, but for mobile devices as well.
Despite all obvious pluses of the platform, we would like to tell some words about the cons that are desirable to be resolved:
not easy to use for the first time;
accessible only in browser.
Cost: the program has a 7 days trial period. However, you can easily expand the trial period showing on the social networks that you’re using UXPin (here is a detailed guide on how to expand the trial period: https://www.uxpin.com/community/tutorials/trial-accounts/):
One program for high-fidelity prototyping we’d like to pay our attention to is - Axure.
This program is, probably, one of the most popular choices among professional designers. It allows making prototypes which are very close to the look of a real web-site.
Have a look at the prototype made with the help of this program:
Among the pros of Axure we’d like to mention the following:
online libraries of icons and widgets (even smartphone templates);
the icon can be easily customized;
realistic HTML look without a single line of code - the program gives an opportunity to design prototype that can be easily transported to HTML;
you can keep your prototype in a secure website - the only thing you need is to provide other members of the team with the password and the link;
works in different browsers;
ability to leave notes about any element;
the latest version Axure 8 is available on both Windows and Mac;
good for complex projects.
Even thought Axure sounds like an ideal tool for prototyping, it has some cons:
unless you are an experienced designer, the program is really complicated to use; so, be ready to spend some time reading forums and watching tutorials;
the additional libraries of the elements are not free.
Cost: the trial period of the program lasts for 30 days. Meanwhile, if you are a teacher or a student, you can make a request for a free educational license (click here to find more information about the free educational license: http://www.axure.com/edu):
As far as you can see, every tool has its own advantages and disadvantages. The choice of the platform basically depends on the type of the project you want to develop, as well as time scope that you have for prototyping, your experience and, of course, your customer’s wishes.
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