One of the things I think all projects need, even more importantly that detailed requirements (since no one seems to read those) are screen designs. Every time I have to do this for a new project I open up Visual Studio and drag controls onto the page and use HTML to lay them out. It’s not bad, but it sure can take a while. Especially when you want to just move something around during a meeting. I tried Expression Web, but it really isn’t any better.
I know you can do it in Photoshop and Fireworks, but, for one thing, I don’t have the money. For another, it’s pretty complex.
Then I was reading Tim Heuer’s blog post on Software Mockups using Balsamiq. Balsamiq Mockup is a tool where you simply drag elements onto a page and put them where you want. It also uses a pretty obvious hand drawn style which makes clear that both, this is all for demo purposes, and that anything can be changed.
One of the amazing things is that Peldi, the founder of Balsamiq, is willing to give away licenses for free to non-profits or people who develop open source software. I’ll probably never get to the point of contributing to open source stuff, but we are planning to redesign the church Web site. Heck, for $80 it’s really pretty affordable anyway, and I will probably purchase a license at some point. For now though, I will stick with offering a tiny bit of free publicity (nothing like Tim Heuer can offer).
I sent a quick e-mail and within a half an hour I got a response with the license key. So, now I’ve been playing with it, and I think I’ve found my new permanent mockup tool.
One of the best parts is that I can create the mockup, send the XML to anyone, and they can open it in a free Web based version of the tool (you can only generate an image in that case, not export).
So, if you’re planning to redesign or build requirements for an application, I have to recommend Balsamiq. It’s been so easy to use, and I’m really hoping it will make the user buy-in and design documentation a lot easier.