The UX of Justinmind Prototyper 3.0

Justinmind Prototyper 3.0 is released and they state on their blog that a UX review of the product gets you a free license.  I was contacted by someone at their company as well.  A positive review is not required, so I feel free to be completely open and objective.  No conflict of interest, I think.  I currently use Balsamiq for mockups, so I use that to compare in the review.  Judge the review with these facts in mind.  Here we go, the good, the bad and the ugly.

The Good
Right away, I could see that this had alot more features than Balsamiq.   The most valuable feature I saw centered on re-usability.  I think this is the core strength of Justinmind.  They have these concepts called Masters and Templates which make a prototype more than a collection of mockups.  My main limitation of Balsamiq is the lack of components that I can edit in one place and use in multiple places.  JustinMind nails this feature in spades.  I was quickly able to make a foundation for a prototype for our group.  I read Balsamiq is working on this for the future.

The next big positive impression was around “events”.  It was pretty easy to make a link/image/form do something dynamic like change the visual or link to another screen.  You could do things onload, onclick, ondoubleclick, etc etc.  It was really robust.  We could see multiple strategies around building a complex prototype without having to go crazy with coding.  You could add change events to drop down boxes, etc.

The last huge happy moment was its export and simulation engine.  It really was a snap to turn the prototype into an HTML version or just change modes. I loved that part.

As for comparison with Expression Blend or Flash Catalyst, Justintime was MUCH easier to grasp.  Those other tools just were too steep of a hill to climb.  I couldn’t get it.  Justintime was pretty easy to grok in the first hour.

The Bad
I noticed a significant lack of love in this product.  There were tons of rough edges.  I got lost several times and didn’t know what happened.  The details were lost in favor of more features. Here is an example:  They have a whole comments feature to allow people to talk about the prototype or some object inside it.  It creates a tiny little comment bubble.  However, there wasn’t a way to see the comments in simulation mode or in the generated HTML.  Plus, there was no arrow object or sticky note object.  How am I, the designer, supposed to communicate to the engineer that they should be aware of something?  This might seem like I am making a mountain out of a molehill, but I am not.  Designers need to annotate the prototypes in a flexible way.  The comments system didn’t do it for me at all.

Just to beat it to death…no arrows??  No sticky notes??  Come on.  However, we were able to get around this limitation by using out own arrows and sticky notes as images on the pages.  One minor flaw, but highly annoying, is … well here are the steps:  1. copy an image in photoshop that has some transparency.  2. paste into Justinmind.  It will basically dither the background to white. (Lost alpha channel) PowerPoint does this too (yuck).    However, if you save the file as a 24-bit PNG file, then import it into the system then you maintain the transparency.  OK, minor issue right?  Wrong.  I had to do it 10 times in the first half hour.  It’s a bug, they should fix it.

One thing that really stuck in my head was a question on how I would work with my fellow designers on the team.  We can’t open the same file at the same time.  How can we work on different parts of the app?  How do we maintain consistent masters and templates?  The system is fine for 1 person, but I am really nervous about rolling it out to 3 designers if we don’t have a plan for this.  They have an enterprise version, but I don’t know if that would solve the problem.  It definitely would jack up the price.

Overall, the love factor often comes from doing fewer features, and spending more time on the details.  Simple things like, I couldn’t reorder the pages on the right hand side.  Why not?  I couldn’t select a link placed on a template when I was looking at a page.  Translation: it didn’t give me any affordance to know I was trying to do something impossible/stupid.  This product does ALOT of things.  They may be over achieving.

The Ugly – Price Tag
The tool is way too expensive.  Before I even installed it, I saw the $500 price tag and gagged.  (Balsamiq is $80 in comparison.)  They have a 15-day free trial license freely downloadable for Mac or PC.  The UX of the price tag is important.  For $500, I have to be “oh so sure” that this is the right tool.  I have to use it alot before I buy it.  15 days might not even be enough, especially if I have other deadlines.  At $150, I would only need to pass the bar of “cool” to buy it.  I could do that in less than an hour.  $500 is going to severely limit their ability to get people to just try the thing out.  At $150, trying would be much more common.

Suggestion:  Change the trial expiration to be more flexible.  Maybe have it give you 15 days of actual use.  In other words, if I open it only once in a whole week, it would have 14 days left.  Also, change the price to be cheaper.  My hypothesis is that they would sell alot more at a cheaper price.

I am in a funny period with my mockups and prototyping.  Balsamiq has been great, but I am ready to move to a higher fidelity based on the progress of the application designs.   Re-usability is huge for us.  A tool with more power is totally good for me now.  However, this has too much power.  It has built in requirements…why would I need that?  It exports to Word for documentation….so what?  It has all kinds of features I don’t need.  Should I get it anyway?  It’s pricey.  This review buys me one license (supposedly), but I would need to get a few more for my team.

Balsamiq has so much love built into it, I couldn’t stand not to use it.  But I need more.  Justintime has more features, but I couldn’t use it for sketch drawings at all.  I am torn.

Overall, I give the product a good grade.  Lots of features with decent quality.  Nothing to jump for joy, but a very usable and powerful tool for prototyping.  I am going to give it further usage and see if our team wants to use it full time.

If any other prototyper tools want to give me a license for a review, I would be happy to oblige.  Hopefully, this review was helpful and objective.  It’s good strategy to do this.  You will get way more people to try your product.  Smart marketing.

4 Replies to “The UX of Justinmind Prototyper 3.0”

  1. Honest reviews are most helpful to everyone, Glen. I just want to mention we’ve nearly baked reusable components into Balsamiq Mockups, and we promise to have the love there, too.

  2. Glen, I think you hit it on the head when characterizing Balsamiq as full of love, but needing just a little more. I recently came on board to help guide the UX of the product, and one of the reasons is because I saw that in the product immediately after using. The other is that I started to talking to this team and saw that he got it, and that their quest to find the wireframing sweet spot meant a better experience for me.

    We use the product to get things done–almost every kind of ideation we do in Mockups. In using the tool to do that work we can obsess over the details and get the experience right.

    To your points about fidelity–I am working on a higher fidelity alternative style for the UI components. It’s more like high fidelity concept drawings you find in product design/industrial design. Think of concept car drawings, sneaker drawings. I’m going to posting about what I’m thinking there in the Balsamiq UX blog soon.

    Shared components is what we call our masters/templates thing. It’s a hybrid of reusable library components that are edited from the master so that changes will affect instances. It’s a high priority and we’re working on it. You’ll use this for page masters and for individual component masters. It’s going to be great and it will come very soon.

    myBalsamiq takes the process from idation to collaboration and testing. It’s the glue that tell the bigger UX story, and we’re making sure we get it right.

    I feel like making Mockups feel right is all about the details. We’re all heart, and taking care of customers and building excellent tools is our passion, so we care about how we execute. If you want to, take a look at our GetSatisfaction discussion to see what we’re thinking in response to people’s pains and needs. And feel free to contact me directly if you have any concerns or questions. -Mike

  3. Hi Glen,

    I’m the Product Manager of Justinmind and I want to personally thank you for your honesty. That’s what we were looking for when we decide to give free licences in exchange of reviews. I’d like to comment the bad issues about the product (thanks for that!), they are the most valuable for us because is the only way to make a good product.

    I completely agree that the product has to be polished yet. In fact we are still developing things that we think are the core of the product. One of those things is to work many users with the same prototype at the same time. That feature is going to be available around July 2010. So, you’re right, there are still rough edges in the product, but the reason is not that we don’t care, is just we want to finish some important things before. Maybe is not the best way…

    Regarding the use of Balsamiq for doing wireframes, well, we don’t really want to fight with them, we really think is a good tool to make sketches. Justinmind is focused on the development of an interactive and detailed prototype in a very few time. Our dream is to have a tool that allow the user testing at the very beginnig of an IT project. But, I don’t know why, it seems some Balsamiq guys are offended by your review (I had to move the scroll bar to see the comment form and there were just 2 comments!). I just want to point out that Justinmind Prototyper is not a tool to make sketching, even when we have a sketching library.

    Well, the only think I’d like to make clear is that we really want to make a useful and a good tool and we love that anyone tell us what are the things that they don’t like in Justinmind so we can fix them. We will certainly take a look on the transparency issue between photoshop and Justinmind. Please don’t hesitate to tell us anything about the tool.

  4. Ten years ago, a review like this never makes it to the PM much less has feedback. I love that. (Go Web!)

    @Val: I’m looking forward to the reusable components. Can more than one person leverage them at the same time or no?

    @Mike: When I read about your new job, I have to say I was jealous. Balsamiq does “get it”. I continue to be a big fan, no matter what software I use.

    @Victor: I’m glad this was helpful. I don’t think the Balsamiq guys were offended. I just have big fonts. Regarding the product…it’s an important balance to strike between functionality and elegance. I think your product is viable and better than a bunch of other similar products, but that balance is like taking out credit card debt. It’s hard to pay it back because of high interest rates. Don’t bury yourself in a mountain of debt.

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