Thursday, October 8, 2009
Snake head eating the snake on the opposite side...
You know, it really had to happen. One of the hot button design items is the sketching process, where you draw (on paper, you know? with a pencil?) ideas quickly and crudely in an attempt to understand systems before you commit resources to development. It has become widely recognized as The Right Thing, primarily due to Bill Buxton's relentless support and PR. It is a formalization of work most people have done, but never really thought through, and is responsible for keeping designerly activity relevant in the age of RAD development and speed-to-market nervousness.
So you know that someone had to come up with a product that would eliminate the "ooooh, scary" drawing part of the equation while maintaining the low-fidelity output of the sketch. Welcome Balsamiq Mockups, a program that is about as user-friendly as the UI for Visual Basic, but with the scratchy output of a hand-drawn sketch. It's delightful to watch the company spokesman pop off an iTunes clone sketch in a manner of minutes, but watching the video also gave me pause.
How does sketching change when you have a toolbar/palette with 75 items? Will all of your sketches use standard interface tools (maybe with the addition of the occasional Cover Flow)? Isn't the point of the sketch that you might want to break out of the mold of conventional software design and do something radical? Somehow, I can't see Buxton buying into this product.
In trying to remember the sitename for Balsamiq, I had to Google it again this morning. Of course, one of the Google ads is for a new competitor, called Protoshare, that is a Web 2.0 version of roughly the same thing. I'm sure these guys would get in a fistfight over me saying that, but you've got to wonder about software that is designed to remove the user's fear of a pencil...
(title thanks to I Palindrome I from They Might Be Giants, the greatest band in the world...)