Software Smackdown: Balsamiq vs Keynote vs Omnigraffle vs InVision

  • Balsamiq Mockups for Desktop, Version 2.2.19
  • Keynote 6.1
  • Omnigraffle 6 Pro
  • InVision (cloud platform, 03-19-14)

Today I focused on creating the same low-fidelity iPhone 5 prototype in 4 different applications: Balsamiq, Keynote, Omnigraffle and InVision.

My end product was a login for an e-commerce store.  By developing the same clickable prototype in all 4 softwares, I was able to getter a richer understanding about which one(s) I want to fall back on when needing to rapidly prototype a product.

Here’s what i learned …

• very quick & easy to learn

• have to drag/drop an image
• no mask abilities
• no layers (a workaround is to make an object “markup”)

awesomely simple and quick


• very quick & easy to learn
• simply hyperlink buttons (versus creating “hotspots”)

• no iphone 5 artwork
• no layers: using master template is less intuitive then using layers

also quick and easy to use

tough to figure out, but quite robust
• has layers
• has precise info on grid positioning

• doesn’t come with iPhone 5 stencil artwork (only iPhone 4)
• in preview mode, I got an awful hover highlight over the entire main content
• hotspot navigation falters when using masked artwork in combination with layers

robust feature set, including layers

• very, very quick and easy
• don’t have to mask overflowing content, as the software handles it for you
• preview is phenomenal
• comes with iPhone 5 artwork

• no layers – so you might have to merge some artwork
• resolution is confusing (uploaded artwork gets stretched)
• can’t edit device once past the selection screen

very simple for quick drafts, but tough to edit


inVision and Balsamiq: both are easy to learn, with inuitive flows and ready-to-go artwork; thus, allowing us to focus on the task at hand (quick prototyping, low-fidelity) rather than thinking about how to use the software

Web Forms as Conversations That Don’t Suck?

In the words of Luke Wroblewski, one of the leading voices in form design, “forms suck”.  In my opinion, they are the most often used and inconsistent convention in the web and software realm. For that matter, RedBeacon – a service for finding contractors – has produced a compelling argument for forms that are conversational.  The forms on their site gently ask us to fill-in the blanks, or select from the suggested choices.  By serving up these forms that play on the metaphor of the form as a conversation, they also succeed in creating a human connection with the user.  And that’s a big success in UX — when we can make a user forget, even momentarily, that they are interacting with a piece of hardware, then we (as product developers) have  taken a step closer to creating a bond with them. Conclusively, if our product has created a bond with them, they are less likely to walk away from that experience thinking “forms suck”.

conversational web form
RedBeacon’s conversational form

Landlords Do UX, Too

Recently I moved into a new apartment, and I realized my landlord was practicing UX … probably without realizing it.  Simply put, he rented us an apartment that had brand new appliances – and he left all the “hey, I’m a new appliance” stickers and stuff in tact.  As I was pulling off the stickers and the plastic and tucking away the warranty cards, my enthusiasm for the apartment spiked.  I found myself feeling giddy, realizing I was proud of my new place, and confident with the deal we’d struck.  And actually looking forward to doing a load of laundry.  So, hey, landlord dude, good job, and thanks for the UX.

Ask Matthew Magain: What the #$%@ is a UX Designer?

Thru the use of a very succinct animation, UX Designer Matthew Magain has defined the role of the UX Designer. You have to watch his video, but the key takeaways for me are:

  • ux refers to what, when, why, how and who of using a product
  • ux must also help the business achieve its goals; must hit the sweet spot where user needs and business needs overlap
  • tools are used by UX Designers to take the user’s needs into account during every step of the product life cycle (including mobile apps, web and even physical products)
  • ux design applies the scientific method to humans and their behavior in order to optimize the product
  • ux is the design behind the visuals: you don’t have to be a great visual designer to be successful in a job as a UX DesignerHe also defines what is means to have a career as a UX Designer, and encourages people to pursue it.Here’s a link to the video on YouTube:  What the #$%@ is a UX Designer

UX is Not Simply All About the User

Wouldn’t it great if we could just forget about making money, and about cost? Then we could concentrate entirely on making products that users love and enjoy. But really, that’s not the world we live in. Business owners (also called “stakeholders”) expect User Experience Designers to meet the needs of the business.

Thus, an additional notation to our definition of what exactly is a UX Designer must include the following: a synthesis between the needs of the stakeholders and the users. They should both get what they need out of the domain (product).

A wonderful book that helps define the role of User Experience Design is: About Face 3: The Essentials of Interaction Design, by Cooper, Reimann and Cronin.

Here’s a link to that book on Amazon.

What Exactly is a UX Designer?

Formerly a Front End developer who also advocated usability and accessibility, in 2014 I made the bold choice to pivot my career and become a UX Designer for good. For years I had been coding user interactions; prototyping animations (Zinio); architecting user flows in web applications (Harvard Lampoon) and all-in-all, advocating for web experiences that were delightful.

However, I was still titled a Front End or UI Developer (Walmart); rather than a UX Designer. And, of course, I was still expected to code web and mobile products – rather than design them.

Well, finally, in 2014, I discovered General Assembly, and it’s intensive 10-week, 40 hours per week UX training program and I’ve never looked back. The program combined theory with project-based UX activities; and we did this day-in and day-out for 400 hours, resulting in a collection of various UX deliverables – from card sorting results to personas to complex user interface prototypes.

This is my first blog entry, and throughout, I will make efforts to constantly clarify what the role of a UX designer is; and how company’s can practice UX on a day-to-day basis. It’s not simple; and should not be taken for granted. One of the most common errors companies make is hiring UX staff – but burdening them with extra roles, such as development or UI graphic design. Whereas those are fantastic – and necessary – aspects of digital products, they are often implemented at the expense of the user, i.e., the UX staff is busy visual designing and coding, rather then building malleable models and testing them with users.  Hopefully, by reading this blog, my users will embrace the same facets of UX design that I tout – and push push push for user advocacy – so we all find ourselves using delightful products regularly – not just every so often.