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.
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.
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.