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Why interactive prototyping and Balsamiq Mockups can live together in peace

Balsamiq Mockups’ new manifesto includes a chapter about prototyping. Here’s an excerpt:

Wireframing + real running code is way better than prototyping

We consciously decided not to let our users specify interactivity other than the ability to link wireframes together into a storyboard.

Two reasons:

  1. We’re not huge fans of building large prototypes.
  2. Letting you specify behaviours and click-actions would inevitably turn Mockups into a much more complex tool

Geez, Peldi! We’re hurt! ;-)

"It is possible to live in peace" - Gandhi

Who knew?

Unsurprisingly, we don’t completely agree with this. Mockups is a fantastic tool, and one of the reasons it’s fantastic is because of its focus: it does a specific thing very, very well. If you want to make wireframes, wireframes + real code is indeed a great way to go. But you know what’s even better? Wireframes + interactive prototypes + real code.

Let’s get one thing straight

Last year we made an effort to clarify our thoughts on where interactive prototyping belongs in the process. One thing we can all agree on: wireframing is not the same as prototyping. Wireframes are a great way to explore and visualise an idea in order to start a conversation.

But they’re not the best way to figure out whether something actually works or not. Interactive prototypes are. They’re a way to put something together quickly and get them in front of users, customers, peers or anyone else who can give you feedback based on real use. You can’t model everything in an interactive prototype, sure, but you can get closer than if you were to use a non-interactive wireframe – something Balsamiq Mockups specifically focuses on.

It’s about return on investment

One of Balsamiq’s criticisms of prototypes is that they take a long time to create. That’s true to a certain extent – it depends what you’re prototyping. If you’re building, say, a travel search engine, then yes, it will probably take you a while to mock up everything you need to prototype. But if you’re just designing a website, then things can take a lot less time.

However, even if you spend a lot of time on something, just because there’s a big time investment doesn’t mean it’s time lost. The return on investment exceeds that of a wireframe: you get feedback from real use. Wireframes just give you superficial feedback based on hunches. Like the manifesto states, the next step after wireframes is implementation. What interactive prototypes do is allow you to get as close to implementation as possible but still stay far away from the cost of implementation – that is, all the coding and server-side work involved beyond creating the interface.

Just because Axure sucks doesn’t mean prototyping does

That said, we feel that most interactive prototyping tools don’t do the job. So when Balsamiq namechecks Axure, Flash Catalyst, and Sketchflow, they’re only showing you part of the picture. Quplo was designed intentionally to not be another one of those hard to learn, expensive, enterprise-driven “prototyping tools”.

Think of us more like the Balsamiq Mockups of prototyping, because if you read the rest of the manifesto, our values are reflected quite accurately: lean and agile, minimalistic, focused on making things easy and fun, opinionated, etc. “Low in cost, high in quality, built with love” is certainly a good description of how we feel about what we do.

We agree that adding interactivity to Mockups would be a bad idea. But that’s because Mockups needs to be a wireframing tool. It needs to focus on being the best of breed in that niche. Adding prototyping would confuse things, just like how adding WYSIWYG wireframing features to Quplo would ruin the product.

Having said that, Mockups is awesome!

Mockups not needing prototyping features doesn’t mean prototyping itself isn’t useful. And pointing to the existing products who don’t do their job as well as they could is also not proof that the act of prototyping itself has no place in your workflow. It even feels a little like the correlation does not imply causation fallacy!

Being fanatical Mockups users ourselves, and after having spoken with Peldi and putting Michael’s plug of Quplo on our homepage, it’s disappointing that Balsamiq takes aim at the status quo of prototyping without acknowledging that there are new options out there. We respect strong opinions: we have them ourselves. So here’s our rebuttal. What do you think?

1 Comment

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  • In case you want to add interactivity to your static designs, ClickThru can be the ideal tool. Since ClickThru focusses on adding interactivity layer to existing designs, you can use your favorite design tools and hence you can decide the visual fidelity of your prototypes.

    by Sleekbitz • Feb 24th 2012 • 12:02

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