So a little while ago I posted a few entries on prototyping tools for software or web applications. I decided to try Axure (vs. iRise) for one simple reason: I wanted to be able to draw a box on the screen. It’s really important to be able to group things on a screen. iRise, the enterprise wireframe and collaboration tool (that goes for $6000 for a 5-user license) couldn’t do that one simple thing, so I decided to try out the $599 Axure instead. I really love the iRise blog and the way their people think, but that one little feature was the deciding factor for me. I can find other ways to collaborate (there are all kinds of collaboration tools out there–we simply hosted the pages and walked through them one by one on a conference call), but I can’t do without the ability to group things on the screen. I’m down to 9 days on my trial of Axure and it’s become such a part of my daily work routine I can’t imagine life without it anymore. Before we buy, though, I wanted to see if there’s anything else out there. Anybody know of anything that compares with Axure? (besides iRise?)
So here’s what I think of Axure.
What I like about Axure
Overall, it’s a fantastic tool for quickly mocking up screens and working out the basic layout and functionality of a web site or application. It’s a simple drag-and-drop interface that allows you to drag widgets onto the screen and define some simple interactions–and it even gives you some simple tools for mocking up web 2.0 interactive functionality. The great thing about it is it’s quick. You can show your customer (and the software engineers) an interface they can relate to, get feedback from your customer, make changes, and turn it all around in a matter of minutes or hours (instead of days or weeks). What a fantastic way to communicate and work! The time saved in getting that done is way worth the price tag. You have to think about it in terms of labor hours instead of the cost of the tool–is it worth it to be able to turn around changes in a few minutes or hours vs. days? How much is your time worth? It doesn’t take long to add up to $600 of labor time.
My boss also looks at it this way: he can hire a designer who understands how to design layouts and interactions, but is not necessarily an XHTML/CSS guru. They don’t have to know diddly squat about the technical side of this to make a usable(and even beautiful) design. Then once we have the design figured out, we can pass the design off to someone who does know how to code. This type of tool gives us flexibility in hiring as well as design.
Other things I love about Axure:
It allows for dynamic interaction in an AJAX world. You’re no longer stuck with static screenshots for wireframes. You can actually interact with a page, have panels show and hide based on some actual conditions (like “if this box is checked, show this panel”)
You can make notes about how a page should work as you design it. Sometimes you don’t have time to sit down and put in all the interactions. Axure handles that situation beautifully: with page notes. When you generate the prototype, Axure shows a list of all the pages in a frame on the left, the page notes in a small frame on the bottom, and the main page. You can close those extra frames if you want to, but I found them to be a lifesaver.
You can generate interaction flows that show the logic as well as specifications from your designs. The specs show all your page notes along with the screens.
The best part is just being able to mock up a screen quickly and beautifully and really illustrate how the web site or application will work. Most users don’t know what they want–they need to see it in action first to really understand.
What I don’t like about Axure
It makes really messy, heavy HTML code. Every graphic on the page, even if re-used, is saved as a different graphic. Every page in the mockup comes with a folder full of “stuff”. They take forever to load on a real web server. You really have to throw away the code and create your own HTML (assuming you don’t want heavy, grossly awful HTML behind your site).
It has styles, but doesn’t make use of CSS. You can define styles in Axure and apply them to text, but those styles then get hard-coded in the HTML separately. Every line of text has it’s own style.
You can only put text in a table. On “real” web pages, you can put ANYTHING in a table cell, a graphic, a form element, anything. Axure lets you do that only by putting a div placed in a certain place on the page. The form element or image is not actually “in” the table cell, so if the table cell gets resized, you have to move all your images or form elements back into the right places.
When I draw a box, it always wants to snap to the grid instead of the right edge of the header graphic. To get them to line up, I have to set the zoom level to 200%, line them up, then zoom out again. I haven’t found a way to turn off the snap to grid “feature”
Other reviews of Axure: