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The Tools to Use

Several tools are designed to make it really easy for you to whip up wireframes and storyboards. A couple of them even offer the ability to create a simple prototype from your wireframes (although explaining how to do this is beyond the scope of this article). Here’s a quick, annotated list:

  • Microsoft Visio. Many people swear by Visio. I personally find it clunky and counterintuitive, but I do still use it (mostly because I have to). Regardless of its difficulties, Visio is the standard tool for creating flowcharts and wireframes, and there are tons of tutorials online about how to get the most out of it. To help get things going, hit Garrett Dimon’s site for some cool stencils and templates.
  • OmniGraffle. If you’re a Mac user, download a copy of OmniGraffle. It’s light, fun to use, responsive, intuitive, and generally very effective. OmniGraffle Professional has the added benefit of exporting Visio-compatible documents, as well as HTML files, JPGs, and plenty of other formats so you can reuse your work any way you want. Garrett Dimon has some stencils for Graffle as well, so hit the link above to go grab them.
  • Axure. Axure is a great idea with a slightly bigger price tag. It costs around $600, but in addition to being able to create wireframes with it, you can link pages within a project to create a quick click-through prototype. The prototype won’t look anything like your final product—it’s just a bunch of wireframes, after all—but you can simulate how users will get from one screen to another, or one application state to another, and this click-through functionality is a fantastic way to see exactly what it is you’re planning to build.
  • PowerPoint/Keynote. I’ve never actually used PowerPoint to create a prototype, but I’ve heard it can be done quite well by those who master the techniques. But PowerPoint is a viable alternative to the preceding list of tools, as it can be used (albeit in a less speedy way) to create all the same things you’d create with Visio and OmniGraffle. It’ll take longer and it may be a little more frustrating than you’d like (because you need to extract these powers from an interface designed primarily for presentations), but you probably already have PowerPoint installed as part of your Microsoft Office suite, so you could be up and running in...well, you may have tried it out before you even got to the end of this sentence, so you know what I mean.
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