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).
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!