With the internet now accessible anytime, nearly everywhere, across a plethora of devices, the ability to demonstrate a fluid interactive experience is quickly becoming a “must do” on any project. While static wireframes are still useful in initial design stages, they fail to communicate motion and movement which are integral to the user experience of today’s websites and apps. (Among other aspects.)
Fortunately, more and more wireframing and prototyping programs and tools are entering the market, so you don’t have to have be a front-end developer in order to create some pretty good, proof-of-concept examples to demonstrate the a feature, animation, or flow, instead of trying to describe it and leave it open to interpretation. Many offer a 30 day free-trial period, monthly or annual subscription options, reduced fee for inactivity (park the account), superb documentation and other perks.
Unfortunately, there doesn’t appear to be one program that can do everything you might need or want. I use about 5 different programs depending on what exactly I think will work the best for whatever it is I’m trying to accomplish. Or my team is trying to accomplish. And I still continue to research, experiment, and compare programs and tools as I go.
Below are some brief thoughts regarding the various wireframing/prototyping tools that I’ve been playing around with and incorporating into my projects. (Please note: this is not a soup-to-nuts audit and write-up of each program – just my observations and takeaways from personal use and team member input.)
For client presentations with polished comps demonstrating IA design or animations:
Invision requires zero coding and is super easy to pick up and use. It’s a browser-based software so you can log in anytime and work on your project. For client presentations I upload static comps and use hot-spots to create a task or scenario flow for demonstration in context of the device. However, if you want to do more advanced things, (e.g., locking a reduced menu to the top of the screen on scroll/swipe), you may find yourself limited.
In addition to a presentation platform in device context, my team and I use it for what we refer to as the “Thumb Test.” We’ll upload screen comps into Invision, create hotpots, transitions, then shoot the designs out to our smartphones or tablets to see how the designs “feel” in context of an actual device.
Proto.io becoming a team favorite because it offers features for both user experience and creatives. It offers layer-based tools with action, motion and minute control without requiring code knowledge. You can either upload assets and/or use the provided libraries. While it can be a little confusing getting used to the Proto.io nomenclature, once you’ve got it down it’s fairly straightfoward and streamlined.
I just started playing around with Marvel and my first impression is pretty positive. My team and I equate it to a free version of Invision, but it offers more in the way of features and capabilities to demonstrate more advanced ideas. The jury is still out, but my team and I are feeling good about using this one.
For low-to-high fidelity interactive wireframes and/or vetting a particular concept or patterns:
Yes, I’ve listed Proto.io twice. I’ve started using Proto.io to quickly vet IA and patterns on the fly to make sure the recommendations I’m making are solid, such as scroll fatigue in a product catalogue and associated calls to action. I’m able to quickly create a screen and then publish it for viewing on a particular device.
Proto.io is very similar to Invision, in that it requires zero coding and is easy to start using, but I’m of the impression that Proto.io is charging ahead with more advanced animation prototyping, adaptive capabilities, Sketch integration, and other features that currently Invision makes difficult or unwieldy.
UXPin is a fantastic wireframing tool. It’s like a friendlier version of Axure and the libraries are PHENOMENAL. It’s has a relatively low learning curve, and asset editing is done in context. I use it to quickly vet content (images, text, buttons) at various breakpoints because UXPin dynamically displays the changes. The styling and animation features are really good too.
For hi-fidelity prototyping needs, such as user testing:
Axure is one of the most widely used original wireframing and prototyping software tools. I’ve used it off and on, depending on project requirements, but am not a “super-user.” Axure is a program that requires planning and thoughtful use; you just don’t inject Axure into a process arbitrarily. There can be a relatively steep learning curve if you need to go beyond click-through mockups into rich prototypes with conditional logic and dynamic content.
Macaw is another program I just started playing around with and liked so much I invested in it almost immediately. It’s like “dev-ing” in photoshop, and vice versa, so it’s a good idea to acquaint yourself with HTML and CSS (or reacquaint yourself, if you’re a bit rusty like me). What I am thankful for is the fluid grid testing it allows me to do – I create my initial grid and it does the math for me at all the other breakpoints I set. With a little more use, I’m certain to uncover more gems in this one, it’s looking really good.
Like I stated in the intro to this post, I haven’t gone out and tried every wireframe and prototype tool out there. The programs listed above are what I’ve been using in my projects and team processes. Naturally, the competitive nature of these tools means iterations, features, and improvements. As well as new tools. Today’s tool may not be in the tool box tomorrow. It’s not difficult to try and test what’s out there – just remember there may be no “one” tool or program you use.