Balsamiq Mockups

By Deane Barker on March 9, 2009

I had a really great time this morning doing some actual work with Balsamiq Mockups (if you followed me on Twitter, you would know about this by now…).

This is an Adobe Air app for making quick screen mockups. It’s a blast to work with.

It’s rock simple, and therein lies its strength. There are pallets of common interface elements, for Web sites, client apps, and even iPhones. You drag stuff onto the canvas, then double-click it to edit. Drag them around, group them, resize them, etc.

I read no instructions. I just opened the app and it was kind of obvious how it worked. There are hardly any menus, no wizards, no…cruft.

When I was done with my mockup (I spent about five minutes on it), I clicked “Mockup…Export to PNG.” And here’s something else I liked: it didn’t ask me where I wanted to save it. It just saved it as “mockup.png” on the Desktop. I assume you can configure this somewhere, but it’s a good assumption for the software to make, because most people don’t care — so long as they can find the image, they don’t much care where it is or what it’s named.

Here is my mockup I made in five minutes. I gave this to Josh to show him how I wanted this screen to look. This probably saved me 20 minutes of explaining and fixed when it didn’t come out quite like it looked in my head. Josh looked at the picture for 10 seconds and understood exactly what I wanted.

This is in addition to the core benefit of doing mockups at all: in actually drawing the screen, I was forced to make some decisions. I would stop for a second, think in my head, “That won’t work…” then backup and re-do it. This benefit is well-known, but it often gets ignored in the face of actually doing the mockup, which, for a programmer, is sometimes complicated (e.g. — I am forbidden by law to even open Photoshop, much less Illustrator).

The only drawback of Balsamiq Mockups is that you run the risk of getting a little cutesy. Everything in it is of this “sketch” style, which might get old after a while. I don’t know what capacity the software has for importing other elements.

It’s only $79. It’s worth a couple times that amount.

Disclaimer: Balsamiq provided me a free license key to use the software to write this review. Trust me, however, when I say that if it sucked, I’d have told you just the same.