First impressions are important. I was asked by someone at Generic Frame to look at their prototyping tool, so I wrote down the impressions I got after using it for about a half hour.
Here is the story of my first 30 minutes.
Why do I have to give you my email address AND a username? Can’t I just give you my email address? Why do you need both. It’s just a pain in the ass. And even having a password, can’t I just login with GMail or Twitter or some other OpenID provider? Jeff Atwood says you should and he is pretty smart. After I got over my annoyance, I was logged in.
The User Interface
This is built in Flex/Flash. Seems like an anachronism at this point, doesn’t it? Who thinks Flash has a long term viability on the web? Adobe doesn’t seem to. Seems like HTML5 is the better choice.
Looking directly at the UI, I was struck by how there was no big logo anywhere. I could have been looking at anything. There was a tiny icon on the top left, but I had to search for it. This is a branding fail. An app needs to have a presence. It needs to be recognizable from 10 feet.
Trying to Use it
Arrghhhh. This was frustrating. It looks like PowerPoint with absolutely positioning, but really didn’t have an interaction design model anything like it. For instance, you drag on a Canvas and it creates this thing to move around. See below
Notice how you can’t drag the item from the body of the item like most systems. You have to grab that middle + and drag from that. This became highly annoying.
I started to get confused by the different panel types and other things I could drag on. It seemed like there were fewer interaction components than I typically needed.
Slowly Getting the Gist
After a little while I could understand what they were going for. It didn’t make me like prototyping tools any better, but I remembered what I experienced with Axure and JustinMind. There are clearly a ton of details in here and you wouldn’t be able to get value out of it until you got the hang of it. I was able to make something with a grid and tabs after a little while.
I am a right-clicker by nature. I want to right-click on something and manipulate it. I don’t want to go to some property sheet and click buttons that are far away from the object I care about. I think, more than anything else, this bugged me the most.
I couldn’t tell how to create reusable objects, although I assume you can. I could see how there were different views, but it wasn’t simple of lovable. Generally, I wanted to stop using it after 30 minutes.
Seeing your handy work
I wanted to see what this thing looked like, so I clicked File-Export. It gave me a warning of some kind and I clicked OK. It brought me to a page with XML on it. I was confused, so I clicked back. All of my work was gone. Are you kidding me? How could the system not save my work? How could export not use a different window or tab?
Save-as-you-go is the best way to handle a web application. Stop asking me to save, just do it for me. This is the modern web! That experience was brutal. Losing your work is about the worst thing that can happen in an online prototyping tool.
Prototyping takes too long and has too little value. This tool is an online version of desktop software like Axure. It’s complicated and limited just like the other competitors. It’s not lovable like Balsamiq and not ubiquitous like PowerPoint. In my judgement, the UX of this product is pretty poor and it is destined to be a bit player in a small market.
I really wanted to like the software. I went in with a positive attitude. I apologize to anyone offended by my critique. I encourage anyone/everyone to use it and see for themselves.