The boys in the lab needed a new tool for making some power measurements using an Ethernet programmable signal generator and a serial port based Power Meter. I’m going to create this tool in C# using Visual Studio. While I could just design the interface in Visual Studio and then take a screenshot of it. It was much easier (not to mention more fun) to create it in Balsamiq, a UI wire framing (aka mockup) tool. I drew the following in about 10 minutes and was able to use it as the specification for starting the project. Using Balsamiq actually saved me time in the long run and made me more willing to make changes to the UI since I didn’t have any “real” work invested in it.
You can try Balsamic for free and a desktop license is only $79/developer. It runs on Windows/Mac/Linux and there are plug-ins available for a number of collaboration tools. If you work with non-developers (like the boys in the lab) they can use either the web demo (click Try It Now on the Balsmiq home page) or download the free demo to tweak your design and send you feedback using the export xml feature. The main Balsamiq web site has a great screencast that teaches you how to use the tool in about 5 minutes. There are also a couple of powerful hidden features (like Alt-dragging with and without objects selected) that you have to read the online help to uncover. I’ve only been using it a short while but I haven’t found a single thing about it I don’t like. When it comes to low fidelity wire frame tools, I guess you can catch more programmers with vinegar than honey.
Two days later the application was finished and looked like this: