Sunday, July 11, 2010

Balsmiq Mockups vs Axure RP Pro - and some other Interface Wireframing Tools

Working in the web, I've often had to use prototyping software to draw information architecture diagrams and screen mockups and wireframes to help convey interface concepts to clients.

In the past I had used Microsoft Visio flowcharts and diagram templates and even MS Word's form builders or Open Office Draw, however more and more specialised and useful tools are beginning to emerge and be used by professional information architects.

I began using Axure RP Pro ( a couple of years ago.  However this software can be expensive and a little over featured.  I also found the HTML prototyping features to more time consuming.  Effective creation of links can nearly take as long as building the output and I've found myself sometimes even achieving more using Firebug to manually hack and re-export stylesheets and HTML.  The output screens are clunky looking even for low fidelity mockups.

An alternative is Balsamiq Mockups (, by the makers of Confluence the Enterprise Wiki and Fogbugz issue tracking software.  Balsamiq is simple and easy to use and has a deliberate "hand drawn" look to its interface which can help excuse the amateur look of these sort of diagrams.

Both these tools have a full complement of form widgets to create interfaces and allow you to snap objects to a grid.  Balsamiq has a smaller price tag but doesn't offer the prototyping features.  Axure offers a greater deal of sophistication, but can also be complicated.  From my experience a lack of HTML prototyping is not really a showstopper and these tools are not as effectively implemented in Axure as they could be anyway. 

So for now, the scales are tipped in favour of Balsamiq in terms of usability, feature and price and I am using it the most regularly.