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 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 post a comment on this article.

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Written by Imar Spaanjaars
Date Posted 06/25/2010 15:28


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