UIEtips: Prototyping – Picking the Right Tool

Jared Spool

March 18th, 2010

User experience professionals know that prototyping should be a key part of the design process. You generate design concepts. You test them. You discover what works and what needs improving. You find opportunities for new ideas.

But when it comes to prototyping tools and methods to use, many of us are unsure what to do.

There’s lots of tools to choose from. It’s often a mystery as to which one will work best for you and what’s best to use based on your situation. That’s where Todd Zaki Warfel comes in (cue the Superman music).

Todd is a thought leader in the user experience design world, as well as the author of the acclaimed book, Prototyping: A Practitioner’s Guide. Thanks to Todd and his publisher Rosenfeld Media, today’s UIETips article is a reprint of chapter 5, Picking the Right Tool, from his book.

In this article, Todd explores what tools people are using and  what kinds of prototypes they make. I’m sure you’ll find this book excerpt of great interest.

Read the article, Prototyping: Picking the Right Tool.

On March 31, 2010, Todd is presenting the next UIE Virtual Seminar on his Eight Guiding Principles for prototyping. Whether you’re just starting with prototyping, or you’re a seasoned veteran, I’m sure you’ll get a lot out of this webinar. And when you register, thanks to Todd and Lou you’ll be sent a pdf copy of Todd’s entire book. Learn more about it Todd’s seminar, A Practitioner’s Guide to Prototyping.

What tools do you use for prototyping? We’d love to hear your experiences below.

6 Responses to “UIEtips: Prototyping – Picking the Right Tool”

  1. Doren Berge Says:

    For most of my web work I now prototype in Drupal. Unless you are working on a unique, custom web app, Drupal will manage almost any commerce, content or community requirement with ease. Drupal’s taxonomy system is extremely powerful and the custom content and display capability is almost limitless. Little or no coding required.

    There are many starter “themes” available. I have a custom CSS framework and Drupal package that I begin with based on my personal workflow. In many instances I can go from whiteboard sketch to functional prototype and user testing within hours. The system is so flexible that iteration can happen very quickly. With little or no scripting.

    If the clients production environment is built on a different stack, platform or CMS, Drupal’s flexibility allows you to emulate almost any scenario for testing and feedback. If it’s implemented properly Drupal will scale well and often times the Prototype can migrate directly to production.

    Drupal’s flexibility comes with a learning curve. The admin workflow has some usability issues (The upcoming version 7 is a marked improvement). But like any system, familiarity begets comfort. Like learning to play an instrument. For me Drupal makes design iteration fast, fluid and cost effective.

  2. Fred Vandaele Says:

    Nice article. I was also a big fan of Visio to build prototypes but I have discovered a better alternative named Pencil. Pencil was initially a Firefox add-on (multi-platform) and is now also available as a stand-alone application. It allows building interactive prototypes and provides a growing collection of shapes and templates provided by the community of users. Pencil is Free and open-source – all that I like …

  3. Nathalie B Says:

    I am surprised that there is no mention of the prototyping tool GUI Design Studio from Caretta.
    for our organization – over 3000 IT employees, we needed to find a prototyping tool that could handle design of Web and desktop prototyping. we also did not want to restrict the use of the chosen tool to only those who knew HTML and CSS. We were looking for a user-friendly, ease to use “drag-and-drop” type of tool. Axure was very high on the list but its focus is on Web applications for the most part. Then after a lenghty prototyping tool evaluation, we chose GUI Design Studio.
    It is VERY ease to use. It creates clickable prototypes in no time, has storyboarding capability and offers the functionality to print UI specifications. In my opinion it is a prototyping tool worth considering… http://www.carettasoftware.com

  4. Tom Carter Says:

    Wow there’s so much. I’ve used software as simple as Powerpoint and hefty (but simple, powerful) as iRise.

  5. Robert Says:

    I am very new to software developement. I am not a programmer myself. I was faced with the task of designing a windows based software application. I found the same tool, GUI Design Studio by Caretta Software. Very reasonably priced and very easy for someone like me to use in order to create an interactive GUI quickly. It has really paid off. I am glad to see someone else mentioned it.

  6. Amir Khella Says:

    Great write-up, Jared!

    I’ve been using Keynote lately to prototype iPad and web applications. I can create a click-thru mockup in less than 30 minutes and test it with users. I find it very interesting to be able to send a prototype to someone within a slideshow and have them play with it.

    Here is a quick write-up about how I used Keynote to build a prototype and test it on an iPad: http://bit.ly/bCA8W3

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