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Review: Balsamiq Mockup For Desktop

July 25, 2008 4 comments

 Yesterday I received a license for Balsamiq Mockup For Desktop. Thanks a lot for that Peldi! As creating mockups is an important part of a functional analysis / workshop, I figured I would give it a try and see if it fits my needs. As you launch it you get a nice interface, and honestly, in less than 5 minutes I created a standard SharePoint Team Sites mockup. Cool! 5 minutes later I had the mockup of two of my SharePoint Pages, and a little later the InfoPath form design was done as well. Great! Fast! But now what? I got my mockups, I can talk about it with the customer, change it and finalize it. Or even better, you give your customer a license of Balsamiq and send him the files for verification, adaptation and approval. No need for Visual Studio, Visio, … This is a great advantage of the product. Instead of sitting in your ivory tower designing everything, sending it back, receiving it, sending it back again, you can INVOLVE the customer in the creation of the screens. And at the end, when the screen looks exactly as they designed it, the satisfaction will be there as well. Due to the basic look and feel of the controls in Balsamiq, you can easily separate the logical design of each page from the sexy webdesign that you need to provide as well. You define what is displayed on each page, and where it is displayed. And up till here, all is great in Balsamiq world. And in my opinion, this is where the tool should be used for, to sit in a meeting or a workshop with the customer, and decide what we are gonna put where on each page and give them the possibility to make minor improvements in the design themselves.  After this phase, I found Balsamiq quite lacking, but in my opinion the potential is there. You got the concept all worked out, and now you can go into your Visual Studio or SharePoint and do the exact same thing, again? That is what struck me as rather odd. Yes, Balsamiq mockups are xml files, and you could write atool to to read the xml from the file and convert that into a WinForm or a WPF Form. But why not provide that functionality out of the box? I mean, the program IS great, sometimes a little bit sluggish but that might be my pc, how insane would it be if you could select : Export to WPF, .Net WinForm, Java Form, PHP, ASP, … No matter what technology you are developing in (idealism striking again 😉 ),  you could use one tool to design your screens and export them to your development environment.

You would be able to create your mockups easily, and just have it exported into code in your project. Right now, although Balsamiq is great, doing the mockup in Visual Studio from the start onwards will still save me time. The workshops will be going a bit slower, but I won’t have to do the design twice. (Note: this of course depends on the project/customer as well. There will be a point where you had to make so much changes to your design that making use of Balsamiq may have been the better choice) In case of paper mockups it is of course better to use Balsamiq during the workshops as it will save you quite some time. So, on to a little wrap up:
 
Advantages:
  •  Fast mockup design
  • Basic layout completely ignoring the graphical aspect of a website/application
  • Mockups are XML Files
  • Low license cost, easy to provide to your customer and have them collaborate on mockups
  • Low complexity, easily useable by business users
  • Did I mention you can create mockups fast?

Disadvantages

  • No real export functionalities : would be nice to be able to export to WPF, WinForm, ASP, ASP.Net, PHP, …
  • No possibility to add your own controls (in case of custom webparts/controls it would be nice if you could create your own mockup control)
  • No hierarchy in mockups (workaround through folders possible) 
  • No possibility to add your own controls (in case of custom webparts/controls it would be nice if you could create  your own mockup control)

Last but not least I would like to stress that I tested the Desktop version of the product, I have no clue if certain functionalities that are now lacking are available through the JIRA integrations or other integrations. Will I use Balsamiq Mockups for functional workshops. Yes I will, depending on the type of project. Would I use it if the export stuff was there? Yes, but then for each project.

Link : Balsamiq Mockups

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