Review: Mockups from Balsamiq

written by Geoff Bowers on Thursday, 24 July, 2008 @ 07:38 PM

Rob Rohan is the Winner by Crom!
After consulting the oracles, it has been determined that Rob Rohan is the winner of the Mockups masterpiece. The answer to the conundrum was of course, "FarCry".

Balsamiq's "Mockups" tool is ideal for throwing together the straw-man, discussion point, come... well mockup, for application development. It's the perfect "electronic napkin". Quick. Intuitive. And if you're a scribbler, doodler, or back of the envelope kinda guy then this is the perfect app.

Daemon is big on blueprints for application development. Annotated wireframes are a whole lot easier to share between stakeholders and developers than word docs with "thump factor". It's a big part of taming the client. Traditionally we use Visio for larger documents in house -- you know, the ones that keep pulp mills in business. And if I'm on the Mac I'll usually mock things up in Omnigraffle -- the Graffle is good with workflows.

But what I like most is the freedom of a good lead pencil -- I always have one about. The ideal mockup is something I can scratch out on a piece of paper and pass around. Beyond the visceral, a hand-drawn wireframe conveys a different vibe; by its very nature it's imperfect. You're not sweating the "look and feel", instead you're focused on the form and function. Recently I stumbled across Mockups from Balsamiq, a tool that just might be the digital pencil I'm after.

Mockups is the brainchild of Peldi -- one of the genii behind Macromedia Breeze (now Adobe Connect). Built entirely in Flex and deployed through AIR, Mockups for Desktop is a marvellous little cross-platform wireframing tool. It's one of those cute apps that's fun to play with and gets you hooked from the get-go.

You can download a trial (for Windows, OSX and Linux), minus save and export options, and give the software a good work out before you buy. Mockups for Desktop is a bargain at $79USD -- not to mention free for open source and non-profits -- and discounts are available for multiple user licenses.

Mockups is probably not suited for large scale documentation. The UI doesn't handle lots of related wireframes all that well (just yet) and your print options are limited. That said, your finished diagrams look fabulous and can be easily exported to PNG and embedded in email, word, or your document of choice.

Mockups: myTube Knock Off

There's an entire library of UI elements you can drag onto your stage, all painstakingly crafted with an authentic hand drawn look. Peldi has a range of wireframe knock-offs of well known web and desktop apps to show off the versatility of the library: Boogle, myTunez, and Bahoo Maps just to name a few.

Mockups: Text based sample data.

Most diagramming tools are a nightmare to populate with relevant sample data. You’re typically stuck with some sort of lorem ipsum or worse for form controls. Mockups excels at sample data. Every relevant control can be easily populated using plain text. And better still you can choose exactly what element to flag as active, and the UI responds.

Mockups: Layout options.

Guides, snap to grid, grouping elements, auto-alignment options, locking regions and layering are all features, appearing to you only when appropriate. Perhaps most surprising for a Flash app are keyboard shortcuts supporting all the standard key combinations you'd expect in a classic desktop app.

Mockups: Attention to details.

It's the attention to detail that gives the whole app a surprising degree of depth. For example, call out circles consist of an array of different hand-drawn elements, giving the illusion of human variation. Elements are appropriately configurable; here my icon can be selected from a library of choices, then labelled, coloured, sized - even set to a disabled state.

Mockups: Export/Import.

Behind the scenes everything is mastered in an open XML data format. You can "Export" to clip board, email, experiment, whatever. Importing is a simple cut and paste of the XML block back into Mockups — though there is currently no merge option. Importing overwrites your open wireframe.

Mockups: Mystery Mockup

So by now you're eager, no doubt, to get your hands on your own copy of "Mockups". This might be your lucky day. Email me (modius-AT-gmail.com) the name of the open source platform this mock-up is based on and be in the running to score your very own Mockups for Desktop license - winner to be divined by a tea leaf reading next week.

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