Wireframing/prototyping in Axure: Pluses and Minuses

So a little while ago I posted a few entries on prototyping tools for software or web applications. Axure RPI 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

  1. 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).
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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:

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10 Responses to “Wireframing/prototyping in Axure: Pluses and Minuses”


  1. 1 Victor April 6, 2008 at 10:34 am

    Hi Ann,

    Thank you for the review.

    You can toggle snap to grid in Axure RP in the Grid dialog (Wireframe->Grid in the main menu). The shortcut to toggle snap to grid is Ctrl+Alt+G. You can also use the arrow keys for more precise movement or use the Location and Size dialog (Ctrl+L).

    Feel free to send an email to support at axure dot com with any questions.

  2. 2 Tom April 18, 2008 at 11:07 am

    Ann,

    iRise can definitely draw boxes on the screen – and group things.

    In fact, Onespring (one of the iRise alliance partners) created a simulation of the iPhone. You can find the simulation at this link – http://www.onespring.net/videos/iphone.html. Can you do that in Axure?

    You should give iRise another chance…

    Tom

  3. 3 krauseann April 18, 2008 at 11:20 am

    I tried to view the iphone simulation and got a broken image link?

    If iRise can draw a box, why couldn’t the iRise salesman tell me that? Is it a new feature? The iRise salesman kept telling me “it’s not a graphic design program, so that’s why you can’t draw a box.”

    I may revisit this sometime in the future, but for now, I’m an Axure gal … it’s already ingrained in my workflow. I’m prototyping in Axure right now, in fact … and I love it! You’ll have to give me a stronger reason to switch now that I’m stuck on Axure.

  4. 4 Denial Sohn July 2, 2008 at 5:48 am

    Hi, Ann

    I enjoy your review of Axure Program..very good!

    Now I try to use axure and make a manual in Korean.
    That’s right. I’m Korean that work for Project Manager.

    In Korea, Many people have used PowerPoint with planning website, Intenet System and other web system…
    It’s a very hard working and I find more better software that easily changed for my customer.

    The point that you like and unlike is very important information to me. thanks.

    ASAP, I want to show you my first Axure manual in Korean.

    from another Axurer,mediamen

  5. 5 Garth September 11, 2008 at 8:09 pm

    I dunno, Ann. iRise is a wonderful product if you can afford the $6k price tag, but I wasn’t that impressed with my trial version of Axure.

    I have SmartDraw and it has Web templates you can use to start from scratch, a great UI, drag and drop objects, one-click PDF generator, etc, and you can also simply the dynamics of a web page by creating links on objects to either a web page or another SmartDraw drawing.

    And for about $200 for one user that beats Axure for price.

  6. 6 Salman November 5, 2008 at 5:58 pm

    Hey,

    iv been using axure for just about two years now and i must say its made my life incredibly easier…

    i took a look at iRise and i believe that like a lot of other people on the market – the price point was RIDICULOUSLY more then i would be willing to pay even for the best prototyping software (particularly considering that im working from Egypt at the moment).

    Axure is good – theres definately a LOT of room for improvement – i would love if the HTML generated code was cleaner and CSS was incorporated to streamline the prototyping -> web design -> UI development process…

    oh and while im writing a wishlist – if it could handle animated interactions (particularly for navigation but in general as well) that would just make my day…

  7. 7 Aida Kenyon July 28, 2009 at 11:50 am

    Hi Ann. I’m curious if a year later if the 4 downsides to Axure are still true or have they been resolved?

  8. 8 krauseann July 28, 2009 at 2:46 pm

    Hi Aida,

    Thanks for asking! I have updated to version 5.5 of Axure, but # 1, 2, and 3 are still true. I have learned to live with them, but still hold out hope that Axure will fix them. I know they are difficult things to implement (especially the messy HTML code)and it may not be worth it for Axure to spend engineering time on them.

    I still use Axure daily and I love it even though there are those 3 drawbacks. It’s become an integral part of our standard development process and it helps so much.

    Thanks again, Aida,

    Ann

  9. 9 Deb Kaiser December 21, 2010 at 11:23 am

    Here it is the end of 2010 and I would like to know of any updates that resolve any of the issues described above. My company has SmartDraw and I need to learn more about it based on the discussion above, but am wondering if anyone else has compared the 2 products.
    Thank you.
    Deb

  10. 10 Victor Conesa January 3, 2011 at 10:08 am

    Hi Susan,

    I think it would be great to have a review of Justinmind Prototyper too.

    Regards


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