Getting Real with Balsamiq – Amazing Mockups in a Breeze!




I am sure that if you are a web/IDE/UI developer, want to communicate your ideas visually or even just need to visualize something more complicated than an empty rectangle now and then, you are yearning for a simple tool enabling you to create high-level mockups easily and fast. Photoshop sucks in this regard – it’s neither fast nor simple and not easy to use by any means. Other typical tools (MS Visio for example) are too heavy/bloated/… as well.

Balsamiq mockups to the rescue! Finally a tool with zero learning curve (you don’t even need to have any design skills), is dirt simple to use, and knows exactly the things you need to create beautiful mockups / sketches. Finally you can get real with sketching your thoughts!

Of course this is not to say Balsamiq is just for toying around – quite a few serious designers prefer Balsamiq to MS visio and other, more standard tools out there, so it is definitely a wise choice for more complicated mockups too.

Thanks for the raving, but what’s so good about it?

You have to try it out to get the hang of it, I can’t do that instead of you – but I can try to summarize the things I like the most:

Widget selection: You are creating the mockups by drag and dropping & configuring widgets. The selection of widgets speaks for itself:



It is just great to have widgets like a browser window, different charts, buttons, tabs, tables, stickers, callouts, scratch-outs… you name it.

Widget configuration: setting up the widgets to look ‘real’ is very intuitive and quick. For example setting up a data grid / table: after drag and dropping the table to your mockup, you can set the data up like this (on the left side you can observe the grid data you are entering ; on the right side you can view the result)






Configuring the other widgets is similarly intuitive and easy. You have a box called ‘property inspector’ where you can set up the widget, as well as bring it to the front/send it to the back etc. If the selection still does not meet your needs, request new widgets at balsamiq’s getsatisfaction customer center – indeed the author is extremely focused on customer satisfaction!

great hand-drawn icons – one of my favorite widgets are icons – you get these great ones below out of the box:






laying out the widgets – I really find the auto alignment of widgets with regard to each other super-intuitive and helpful. It totally speeds up the process that you don’t have to care much about the placement of the widgets – it will just look right with minimal moving around, even with a big number of widgets.

simplicity and intuitiveness – you really have to try it yourself, I can’t describe this point. After about 10 minutes of playing around, everything was intuitive and easy, I didn’t even notice and my mockup was ready, because it’s actually fun to work with balsamiq!

outstanding support – I emailed the author, Peldi a few times, and his answer was prompt, kind and 1000% on the ball – solved all my problems instantly! Try to do the same with MS visio :-) (just kidding, please don’t)

So What’s the Catch?

There is no spoon! Err… catch. Whatever. Balsamiq is a tiny little bit rough around the edges, but I didn’t find a show stopper bug or missing feature. I ran into really little things, like

  • no “check for updates” feature which is omnipresent on the Mac
  • couldn’t edit charts at all (so if you have 4 separate charts, they are always 2 red/blue lines looking the same)
  • missing minor options for other widgets as well
  • would really like to have the ability to draw with a tablet/mouse (freehand drawing);
  • create custom widgets, by drawing them with a tablet (ok, this is probably too advanced for now)
  • more widgets and icons (though the existing selection is really, really good – had almost anything I needed so far)
  • minor bugfixes (the property editor vanished once and couldn’t bring it back – had this error just once)

If you want to know more

Definitely check out the not-even-2-minute balsamiq screencast to get a better idea what I am babbling about here – then head over to the balsamiq mockup homepage and check out their offer. If you are an open source contributor / blogger / speaker willing to write / talk about balsamiq, you might get it free for free with a great chance (I got it, so it’s definitely possible without publishing a blog that’s read by 100k people).

Conclusion

If you want to communicate your ideas visually, create a quick sketch of a webpage you are going to prototype, a concept of an IDE, or just want to jot down something non-textual quickly, balsamiq is your thing. Definitely try it out – you’ll be hooked in no time, promise!

20 thoughts on “Getting Real with Balsamiq – Amazing Mockups in a Breeze!

  1. Requires Adobe AIR, unfortunately. I find Flash based apps incredibly unusable, though it seems impressive from the screenshots (less when using the web demo).

  2. URI: This app is really, really intuitive and user friendly (at least the desktop version on Mac I tried and reviewed here) – I didn’t notice AIRness at all (in the wrong sense), it has a beautiful UI.

  3. Love this thing. Wish they would add iPhone doo dads to it. Couldn’t be simpler to use and they are extremely cooperative. They have a great offer for not for profits and schools. I would recommend it to anyone.

  4. It’s seems a great program.

    I used to draw sketches on papers to overview the initial design concepts, then prototyping it in pure HTML/CSS. It’s save a lot of time, and more fun (I always hate to use Photoshop). And using some static web micro-frameworks like Webby even faster the prototyping. Then you can show it to customer who can checks its overall working by clicking through pages, and more importantly you can refactor codes into the final project.

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