Assist a top-notch interactive agency with redefining the information architecture and user experience of a major global corporation’s flagship website, integrating the content and functions of multiple external sites, and designing over 400 screens within an aggressive timeframe. Read more…
Information architects (IAs) and interaction designers have many tools at their disposal, but pull one of them out of the toolbox most often. Microsoft Visio has been the been the IA’s nail gun since the profession’s early days, however this tool was never designed specifically for interaction design and instead is an all-purpose diagraming tool.
Visio has served us well for many years, however, we here at Molstad Consulting have recently made the switch to Axure RP Pro, a tool that is rapidly gaining momentum within the user experience design community.
The first and most notable benefit is that Axure was built by user experience designers for user experience designers. Elements are measured in pixels allowing an IA to know exactly how much space is available resulting in wireframes a developer can really use. Lack of pixel measurement was always a severe shortcoming in Visio, so we’re particularly pleased about this feature. Also, default spacing can be set to a certain number of pixels (10 by default) so shapes can be dragged and snapped to these ruler marks, giving everything natural spacing which can be exactly replicated when the site goes to development.
Lacking in the early days of Axure, widget libraries are now readily available and extensive. Frequently used web modules such as calender pickers, carousel photo galleries, form elements, buttons and tabs, even iPhone user interface elements, can be downloaded for free and easily dragged into your prototypes.
Another game-changer is the ability to export prototypes in HTML format. These can then be zipped up and either emailed or uploaded for review. Depending on the prototype’s level of detail, the result can be a fully navigable website complete with drop down menus, active form fields, and even dynamic error messages (through the use of dynamic panels). These exports can be used for stakeholder review or even for in-depth user testing exercises. You are also not limited by height so prototypes can naturally scroll to reveal all included elements and content just like a web page.
Try one out yourself.
Masters can be created for repeating elements such as global navigations, footer navigations or any other module that’s used in a variety of places on the website. Through creative use of backgrounds in Visio, this was achievable, but the position of the module would be have to be the same throughout the prototypes. In Axure, you can place these modules anywhere you want, yet still make global updates to the module in one place.
Often times, prototypes need to be annotated to explain operations behind the scenes or to give more details for development teams. Axure has built this right into the tool. Simply click an element and a form appears allowing for entries such as specifications, status, benefit, risk, assigned to, and more. Once exported, a small graphic appears over the element. When that is clicked, a popup window opens revealing the annotations.
In the interests of building a user community, a lively discussion forum demonstrates the breadth of the user base and keeps everyone connected, sharing ideas.
It’s great to see tools specifically designed for web prototyping reaching maturity. Consider this tool for your in-house user experience staff. Even if you don’t have information architects or interaction designers on staff, those in charge of communicating requirements to your external agency can use Axure to relate ideas and concepts quickly and cleanly. With every one literally on the same web page, the development phase will sail along.