The Right Tool at the Right Time

Someone on the Interaction Design Association’s LinkedIn group recently asked how other people were using wireframes at work. This inevitably led to the age-old question of what is “the best” wireframing tool. Not only is there no best tool, but it’s not really a good question to begin with. The question should be what tools are best for the different phases of a design project.

For example, I use iRise on my job at Cars.com. iRise is an extremely powerful prototyping tool that allows you to build dynamic prototypes with real data records behind them. It’s one of the best prototyping tools available, but it’s also time intensive to use and not geared toward the early exploration of ideas.

For early product ideation the good old sketch pad or white board still work best. Sketching is fast, cheap, easy, and accessible to your business partners so they can participate in design exercises.

Balsamiq is also great for rapid idea generation, but you need to have a computer handy with the software installed. And it won’t work for impromptu design sessions in a conference room or coffee shop. The mechanics of working with the program can get in the way of the creative design process.

OmniGraffle and Visio have their place when you need to create annotated wireframes that can be easily printed or shared electronically. Where wireframing fails is in showing interactivity. To demonstrate rich interactions using Ajax or HTML5, it’s probably best to code it in HTML or create a quick Flash prototype.

And, of course, time and financial constraints will also influence what tools you use. For a more comprehensive look at the many wireframing and prototyping tools available, see Holger Maassen’s recent post on UX4.com.