With all the focus people are putting into the prototyping phases of UX, it’s no surprise that people start to see a need for rapid prototyping tools. It’s easy to get sick of paper prototypes, sketches and card sorted models, before you start wanting something to build more intrinsic, digital prototypes that makes it much faster and more effective.
Before SaaS made niche software practical, the pickings were slim in this department. Some existed, but not too many existed. Now, rapid prototyping tools are fairly numerous, and they have their distinct personalities and target demographics they are best suited for.
Now, most will cite the few big names that have been around for a while, like Balsamiq, and leave it at that. I’d like to go a step further and look at other tools that are available, and see what this market really has to offer.
So, today, while it’s still the number one item on the list, we’ll give some love to others as well.
#1 – Balsamiq
Like I said, most people put this at the top of the list, and it still deserves it here. Balsamiq is the quintessential rapid wireframing and mockup creation tool, and has also been ported to a number of devices and carriers, even a Google Chrome app.
It offers low-fi sketching, click through prototypes, UI components, PNG and PDF exporting, quick adding, import and export, drag and drop simplicity, full offline capacity and keyboard support.
Balsamiq is great, but its mobile mode is a bit dodgy. We’ll get back to mobile in a bit.
#2 – Mockup Tiger
Aside from a kind of cute name, Mockup Tiger shows potential to compete with Balsamiq, though it’s got its work cut out for it to truly pull that off. Still, it’s a decent solution, and since it’s affordable, it’s a good option to consider if Balsamiq is too costly or overpowered for your needs.
This one can do dashboard mockups, desktop or hosting on custom domains, hand-sketching, automatic versioning, drag and drop design, speedometer gauge creation, crosslinking and scalable vector icon libraries.
I think it looks nicer than Balsamiq – I never cared for Balsamiq’s deliberate sketchy line style of stuff. It’s unnecessary and … pretentious. Mockup Tiger’s a bit less stuck up and high on itself, so I want to see this succeed.
#3 – Proto.io
We said we’d come back to mobile, and as I said, the mobile compliance of the other two (as in prototyping for mobile), the other two aren’t that proficient. Proto.io is designed explicitly for mobile prototyping, and boy does it work.
It offers fully interactive prototyping, interaction that mimics real apps, pure web based architecture, dag and drop, realistic, sharable prototypes, high fidelity prototypes, and screen transitions.
So, not only does it work great for mobile, but it again refrains from lo-fi stylization, which is my one big gripe about Balsamiq besides its obvious mobile shortcomings.
I like Proto.io, and I think if you’re working with mobile, you’ll soon perish the thought of not having this to help the job along.
Rapid prototyping tools are fairly bountiful, and more keep coming out. Balsamiq is the popular favorite, but maybe you want something less … full of personality, or maybe you want good mobile prototyping allowances. If so, I’ve got you covered now, too!