After trying JustinMind Prototyper 3.0, I felt that it definitely was time to move the designs I have been working on to the next level of fidelity. We needed to be producing realistic looking prototypes for sales and research uses as well as deliverables for engineering. This is similar to when, at Marketo, I changed from PowerPoint with generic UI to PowerPoint with realistic UI. It made the whole thing seem more realistic. You can only do this once you finalize your graphic design. Balsamiq has been awesome and I will continue to use it for low-fi mocks.
Yesterday, I downloaded Axure to give it a try. It’s a desktop application, similar to JustInMind in scope and price. Axure is one of those products that if you search for “prototyping tools“, they are always on the list. Here is the Good, the Bad and the Ugly.
Almost from the first click, I was working faster than in JustInMind. The product is much snappier in responsiveness. But more importantly, the learning curve seemed shallower. Axure doesn’t have the strange template/master system. There are just masters and you could put masters inside other masters as long as you didn’t create a circular reference. (It was cool that it detected the circular reference so smoothly). This masters-only system allowed me to architect my objects how I saw fit. This is blessing and a curse. On the one hand, you have ultimate flexibility; on the other hand, you can’t follow a best practice. You just have to experiment.
The most compelling feature is that the whole system is designed to be used by multiple people at once. It works just like a engineering code repository (e.g. SVN, MS Source Safe). You check-out and check-in different elements and work on them. This really helped me in my current gig because we have 3 designers working on the same overall product. So far, this is working extremely well.
Overall, I felt the system made it relatively easy to get a prototype up and running. The concept of the dynamic panel is really powerful. I thought of immediate uses for it. Lots of keyboard shortcuts. This app has had some blood, sweat and tears poured into it. (In a good way)
This is not an easy system to just dive into. There are alot of features. Simple things are not as simple as they should be. For example, it took me a while to learn how to link one page to another. Additionally, I wanted to do something with a menu and there were so many different ways of thinking about it, it was actually difficult to produce. I ended up just taking the easy way out.
Overall, the system had the feel of an old version of Photoshop. It was good and really powerful, but you needed someone to help you get up to speed to become really proficient. This isn’t entirely bad. People who use Axure on a regular basis clearly woudl be able to whip through things. Making a powerful, very realistic prototype is clearly the sweet spot for this app.
$500 is still pretty hard to swallow. They don’t have an official Mac version, but the beta seems to be working well enough. I am also worried how this product will scale as we get more and more functionality into it. We need to make sure that we don’t adopt a tool that slows down the process.
Overall, my first day impressions have been favorable. I don’t know if I will use it ongoing, but I am going to give it a try and drop JustInMind for the time being. Hopefully, my feelings won’t diminish after a few days.
I wonder if Axure would give me a free license for this review? (Wink, wink, hint, hint!)