Digital creativity tools are easier to use than ever. Almost anyone can design websites or simple applications these days, with the right applications. But user interface design is a more demanding and complex process than many people assume. It’s best to iron out problems early. See also Group test: what's the best web-design software?

The professionals use a process called ‘wireframing’. This enables you to quickly prototype website, application or multimedia designs without building the real thing. Wireframing can be very simple, with prototypes cobbled together using image creation tools. Visit Adobe Dreamweaver CS5.5.

Then there are programs like Balsamiq Mockups, which make the practice even easier. With Balsamiq, you can not only quickly sketch page and app layouts using standard drawing tools, you can also drop in standard elements from a library of symbols. Text elements, forms and buttons can all be dropped into place. See Artisteer 3.

That’s not all. Balsamiq also enables you to add simple interactivity to the elements in your page. For example, let’s say you’re creating a website with several sections. You can use buttons (or other elements) to link between those sections - so that when you come to testing the wireframe, you can explore it as easily as the finished article. That makes it an an ideal tool for designing user experiences, without application coding or the complex process of building a website.

Balsamic Mockups review

Easy to Mock: Balsamic Mockups is one of a suite of tools, deployed differently, that together are the best set of prototyping apps you’ll find at the price.

Balsamic Mockups: Specs

  • System requirements:
  • Windows
  • 2.33GHz or faster x86-compatible processor, or Intel Atom™ 1.6GHz or faster processor for netbook class devices
  • Microsoft® Windows® XP, Windows Server® 2003, Windows Server 2008, Windows Vista® Home Premium, Business, Ultimate, or Enterprise (including 64 bit editions) with Service Pack 2, or Windows 7
  • 512MB of RAM (1GB recommended)
  • Mac OS
  • Intel® Core™ Duo 1.83GHz or faster processor
  • Mac OS X v10.6 or v10.7
  • 512MB of RAM (1GB recommended)
  • System requirements:
  • Windows
  • 2.33GHz or faster x86-compatible processor, or Intel Atom™ 1.6GHz or faster processor for netbook class devices
  • Microsoft® Windows® XP, Windows Server® 2003, Windows Server 2008, Windows Vista® Home Premium, Business, Ultimate, or Enterprise (including 64 bit editions) with Service Pack 2, or Windows 7
  • 512MB of RAM (1GB recommended)
  • Mac OS
  • Intel® Core™ Duo 1.83GHz or faster processor
  • Mac OS X v10.6 or v10.7
  • 512MB of RAM (1GB recommended)

OUR VERDICT

Balsamiq belongs to a class of wireframing tools, that can be accessed as an online service. Mockflow and Mockingbird offer similar toolsets but are less fully featured. There’s also an online application - myBalsamiq - which enables you to to design sites and demonstrate them online. If you subscribe to the online service the desktop app can be bought for a reduced rate.

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