Rapid design ideation with Balsamiq Wireframes

We have been a huge fan of Balsamiq Wireframes and have been using it in tons of scenarios from explaining ideas during a client meeting to quick low fidelity ideation to quickly visualise whats on our mind.

You might wonder, Balsa.. what?!

Yes, you heard it right. Balsamiq Wireframes.

Quick and Easy Wireframes that gets everyone on the same page! Really?

Who uses that these days? Aren’t we suppose to use the likes of Figma, Sketch, Axure, UX Pin, Invision, Marvel and blah blah?

For those who aren’t familiar with Balsamiq Wireframes:

It is a rapid low-fidelity UI wireframing tool that reproduces the experience of sketching on a notepad or whiteboard, but using a computer.

It really forces you to focus on structure and content, avoiding lengthy discussions about colors and details that should come later in the process.

Wireframes is FAST: you will generate more ideas, so you can throw out the bad ones and discover the best solutions.

From the Balsamiq Wireframes website.

Here are 3 reasons why we kept going back to Balsamiq Wireframes despite all the great tools out there:

1. Speed of ideation

It’s no doubt that the fastest way to put an interface together for visualisation is by sketching it out on paper or whiteboard. Balsamiq is almost as fast all thanks to one quick shortcut, the “/” key.

Screen Recording 2020-01-12 at 11.43 PM.gif

Instead of selecting a component such as a button or image placeholder, simply press / and type a keyword eg. image. This will trigger the search and show you the most relevant component. Simply hit Enter and the component is on the screen.

While many tools provide a whole library of components to select, navigating through them is like going through a maze.

2. Easy to pick up by anyone

Because of its simplicity and focus, Balsamiq can be easily picked up by anyone. A Product Manager or your stakeholder who doesn’t have a design background, Balsamiq is one simple tool that they can roll up their sleeves and get their hands dirty putting down ideas in their head.

Would you prefer to get something from the left or right?

Of course, don’t expect those screens to be production ready, thats not the purpose. The idea is to get them to put their thoughts down into tangible forms that can be understood. This works perfectly if your stakeholder is remote and you can’t understand their whiteboard sketch photo.

3. Cheap enough to throw away, iterate as much as you like until you find the sweet spot

One of the intangible benefit that many don’t know is how the sketchy look of Balsamiq Wireframes actually affects designing solutions.

You might have heard of quantity over quality especially at the ideation stage, Balsamiq gives you the impression that the designs are cheap and easy to put together, and this means you can throw it away without feeling hurt that you spent tons of hours on it.

That’s really the sweet spot of Balsamiq Wireframes. It makes you iterate as much as you’d like to and try many design ideas so you can identify the better ones to elaborate over a higher fidelity.


Caveats…

Balsamiq Wireframes is not without its issues. We recently used it to build an elaborated set of wireframes on Balsamiq Cloud and the whole app just slows like nuts. While Balsamiq Cloud allows multiple users to edit the same wireframes like Figma, do not try it with a page with full of components as it can take up lots of resources.

We also had an issue with the Desktop version where the max canvas size is limited to 5000 pixels. This is especially limiting if you’re working on a landing page or a mobile screen that can exceed 5000 pixels height at times.


Do you enjoy using Balsamiq Wireframes like we do? What are some of your favourite tips of using it?

Concept testing through paper prototypes

We recently completed an interesting concept testing for a client in the travel industry. The entire test was made up of printed wireframes which we designed and cut into small components where we ask users to piece up the page based on their needs.

The test setup with a make-shift microphone holder + IPEVO document camera hacked together with GoPro mounts.

Participants were asked to go through a series of tasks that helped us understand their mental models when thinking about a travel destination.

Top view of what was captured.

Overall fun learning experience introducing some analog components into the testing process over the usual digital prototypes.

Sharing my product design journey with the IxDA Taiwan community

Earlier in Jan 2019, I made a trip to Taipei to visit the IxDA Taiwan local group which was one of the oldest IxDA local group in Asia, established in 2010. Next year, they’ll be celebrating their 10th year anniversary and it’s awesome to see how they’ve grown over the years.

I did a sharing of my design journey over the last 15 years and gave some insights to the UX landscape here in Singapore. It was heartening to see such a group of passionate and engaging audience that evening asking many thought provoking questions around Startups in Asia, working in Singapore, advice for those who wish to work here etc.

Lovely folks from IxDA Taipei and thoughtful space for the event 👏🏻

They wrote a Medium article about what I shared and you can view it right here. Heads up, it’s in Traditional Chinese 😬.