Sketch and Prototype Tools Review - Part - 6 - And the winner is...

Over the past couple of weeks I've been reviewing a number of Sketch and Mockup Tools. You can find the complete series here:

For now I won't be reviewing any other tools as I haven't worked with them (extensively) enough to say something useful about them. Thanks to everyone who contributed suggestions for additional tools to review.

To close off the series, I'll briefly recap the five tools and give my opinion of the one(s) I liked best.

The Contestants

In total, I reviewed five tools, each with their own advantages and feature set.

Balsamiq Mockups

Balsamiq is an excellent tool for quickly creating UI sketches. It comes with a number of great productivity tools making it easy to create mockups in no time. It lacks programmability options so interactivity is mostly limited to linking screens. You can find my full review here.

Axure RP Pro 5.6

Axure is great for both simple and more complex UI sketches. With its Interactions feature it's relatively easy to create rich and interactive demos. Learning how to use these interactions for complex scenarios may take some time. You can find my full review here.

Microsoft Office Visio 2010

Microsoft Office Visio 2010 is a full blown diagramming tool with sketching UIs as just one of the diagram templates. It's easy to use and the ability to mix and match stencils from other diagram templates enables you to create great looking diagrams. The lack of programming support makes it difficult to create highly interactive mockups. You can find my full review here.

Pencil

Pencil is an open source tool that comes as a plugin for Firefox or as a stand alone version for Windows and Linux. It's a bit limited in functionality but that might change in the future as the product is still actively developed. It has a number of useful productivity features (such as setting up grids) but lacks in usability and stability. You can find my full review here.

Microsoft Expression Blend 4 + SketchFlow

SketchFlow ships with Microsoft Expression Blend as part of Expression Studio. It enables you to create sketches of applications using either Silverlight or WPF. Since proven technologies such as XAML and the .NET Framework are used, it's easy to get started with SketchFlow for those already familiar with these technologies. If you're new to this, you'll face a pretty steep learning curve. The programming capabilities are very powerful, but may result in over-engineered mockups. You can find my full review here.

The Verdict

My favorite tools of these five are Balsamiq and Axure. I like Balsamiq because I can create a design in minutes using the UI elements that ship out of the box. It also has a very decent price tag. I use Balsamiq for most of my UI sketching needs.

Axure is cool because of its ability to design interactivity, something that Balsamiq (intentionally) lacks. I use Axure whenever I have the need to design complex interactivity.

Pencil and Visio dropped to the bottom of my list. Pencil is just not ready enough to use on a daily basis. It lacks too many features and documentation and has too many issues to happily work with it. Visio is nice if you already own it for other diagramming needs and don't want to spend more money on other tools. However the lack of programming support brings it down to "just a sketching tool" that simply can't compete with the easy of use of Balsamiq.

I am not sure what to think of Expression Blend with SketchFlow yet. It has a lot of potential power, but I found the learning curve a little too steep for my liking. Obviously that's caused by my limited experience with Expression Blend 4. If you already know how to use this tool, SketchFlow has an excellent feature set.


Where to Next?

Wonder where to go next? You can read existing comments below or you can post a comment yourself on this article .


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Feedback by Other Visitors of Imar.Spaanjaars.Com

On Tuesday, August 03, 2010 1:52:07 PM Heather said:
This was a great over view of these products! Thanks so much. Have you ever used Justinmind Prototyper? I evaluated it quickly a couple of months ago in comparison to iRise and I really liked it! I would love to hear your thoughts on it.
On Tuesday, August 03, 2010 1:56:13 PM Imar Spaanjaars said:
Hi Heather,

No, I haven't. That product was brought to my attention by a reader of my web site, but I never found the time to properly use and review it.

Do you like it? What are its strengths?

Imar
On Tuesday, August 03, 2010 2:05:04 PM Heather said:
It's been a few months since i've used it but the price point is way more affordable than iRise and it has features on par with iRise and Axure. I thought the User Interface and design was a cleaner than Axure and it was super easy to start using without much learning time.

I'm trying to dig into Axure more right now so your review was very helpful. I would definitely recommend taking a look at Justinmind when you have the time.
On Tuesday, August 03, 2010 2:07:03 PM Imar Spaanjaars said:
Hi Heather,

It's on my Todo list, again.... ;-)

Thanks for your answer.

Cheers,

Imar
On Monday, August 23, 2010 8:44:15 AM Matthew said:
Thank you for the reviews. It's really nice job.
I also like Basamiq Mockups, but it becomes slower with bigger number of opened mockups and there is no option to open two windows by side (for quick comparition).
I've found more alternative programs, but didn't test them yet. Here they if you are interested in - http://www.w3avenue.com/2010/02/03/guidelines-tools-and-resources-for-web-wireframing/
On Thursday, November 18, 2010 8:14:51 AM Tomek said:
Hi,

I would like to add something to the Microsoft Visio option - VisDynamica.com offers full-featured rich interactions for a Visio prototype.

Best regards,
Tomek
On Thursday, April 21, 2011 1:50:05 PM Avi said:
Nice reviews. Thanks.

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