There are lots of wireframing tools available in the market place at the moment from web based applications such as Balsamiq and Hotgloo, to desktop applications such as Axure (Mac and Windows) and Omnigraffle (Mac Only) not to mention more traditional tools such as Adobe Photoshop (yes you can wireframe in photoshop, but I wouldn’t personally recommend it).
With the plethora of tools available to UX’ers these days selecting the correct wireframing tool for a project isn’t as easy as it once was. For me, the two best players on the market are the old stalwarts Balsamiq and Axure. I often get asked, which do I prefer? or which of the two would I recommend? for me, this is not a straight forward answer, it’s a matter of context.
Balsamiq vs Axure — The Checklist
Whether you’re looking to produce wireframes in Balsamiq, Axure or one of the other wireframing tools available, you should firstly ask yourself some key questions.
I’ve provided a quick checklist of things you might wish to consider below.
Ease of Use
- How easy is it to set up and get started?
- Can I drag and drop preset widgets or do I have to build them from scratch?
- Will I need any training on how to use it?
- Are there tutorial videos out there?
- Do any of the team have any experience in using the tool?
Accessibility & Scalability
- Will I need any custom software installing? Or is it a web based solution?
- How does the tool fair when working on multiple projects for different clients?
- Will the tool allow team members to work on the same file at the same time?
- Does it have version control? How does it work?
- How can I share my work with clients and colleagues?
- Can I wireframe for desktop as well as mobile devices?
- Can I make my wireframes responsive?
- Can I implement interactions such as validation logic, swipe gestures, sticky headers and parallax scrolling?
- What type of fidelity wireframes can I produce? Low fi sketch based layouts or high resolution prototypes for user testing?
- What level of fidelity wireframes are my clients/colleagues expecting?
How do they compare?
Now lets see how both tools compare against our checklist.
Name Axure (http://www.axure.com/)
Platform Mac & Windows Application
Price Axure RP8 Pro — $29pm | Axure RP8 Team $49pm | Axure RP8 Team $99pm
Ease of use Not the easiest to use for beginners, preset UI widgets are limited and getting used to dynamic panels and interactions can take time. You can however create your own custom libraries or purchase one of the many libraries available in the Axure Community.
Scalability Team Projects’ allows multiple team members to work on the same file by ‘checking in and out’ pages to make edits whilst the ‘Team Project History’ feature allows you to produce a log of what was updated when by whom and recover previous versions within a set time frame. To learn more about team projects see my post on Team Wireframing and Version Control
Features Advanced range of features from the ability to produce responsive wireframes, custom interactions (from parallax scrolling to swipe interactions) conditional logic, validation and more.
Fidelity Grey scale low-fi wireframes to High-Fi prototypes ready for user testing Axure is flexible enough to support your every wireframing need.
The above shows how easy it it is to create wireframes in Balsamiq Mockups by simply dragging and dropping the preset UI widgets onto the canvas
Name Balsamiq Mockups (https://balsamiq.com/)
Platform Mac & Windows Application as well as a web-based option
Price $89 Single User Account
Ease of use Extremely easy to use thanks to preset UI widgets and a drag and drop interface.
Scalability Provides version control and branching making it easy to incorporate client feedback.
Features The UI widget library makes using it to produce wireframes a breeze whilst solid sharing features make it easy to collaborate and share your work with others.
Fidelity Low-fi hand drawn looking prototypes
Conclusion — So which is best Axure or Balsamiq?
Think of Axure as the Photoshop tool for UX’ers, it’s big, it’s powerful and it has a long list of impressive features. Using Axure you can build responsive wireframes, implement custom interactions, add conditional logic and validation along with implementing new web design patterns such as parallax scrolling, sticky headers and footers and various touch interactions. However much like getting to grips with Photoshop with Axure there is a steep learning curve. If you’re new to Axure i’d recommend getting familiar with the keyboard shortcuts and exploring custom widget libraries as they will speed up your workflow no end.
Balsamiq meanwhile is very popular amongst start up UX teams and product development teams. Balsamiq’s wide library of pre built UI elements allows users to simply drag and drop elements onto the canvas to validate and iterate ideas quickly and efficiently. The basic premise behind Balsamiq unlike Axure is to keep the mock-ups intentionally rough and low fidelity, in order to encourage as much feedback from clients and users as possible. It’s for this reason some experience UX’ers still favour Balsamiq when initially shaping concepts before moving to Axure to add fidelity.
There are many factors to consider when choosing which wireframing tool you should use, from ease of use and scalability to features and fidelity and more. When choosing which tool you’re going to use to produce your wireframes think about who else in your organisation will need to use the file, their skills sets as well as client expectations. In short Balsamiq will give you much quicker low fidelity outputs, however when working on larger projects for more established clients and in larger teams Axure is the way to go.
Originally published on my UX Blog www.kyecass.com