When it comes to web development, it's important to remember that results are everything. You could have the best design this side of the globe, but you won't know how effective it is until you've found a way to see it in action. Prototyping and wireframing tools are the solutions that developers use to bridge the gap between the finished product and the first design. Basically, it's like giving yourself a rough idea of what works on your website.
Wireframing and prototyping tools are becoming increasingly popular in the DevOps world, as creating powerful websites becomes a more complicated process. Usually, these solutions make it much easier for people to communicate complicated ideas and minimise project costs. However, it's worth noting that prototyping tools can come in a range of different shapes and sizes.
So, how do you choose the one that's right for you?
Choosing Prototyping Tools
Sometimes, you'll need to test a tool out for yourself before you can know for sure whether it's going to work with your style and method of development. However, most of the time, you can help yourself make a more informed decision by simply asking the following questions:
- How difficult will it be for me to learn how to use this tool? If adapting to a new prototyping tool is going to take you too long, then you might need to think about using something simpler or more familiar.
- Are you going to need to use any collaboration features, and will your prototyping tool allow you to work seamlessly with other people in your design group?
- What kind of project are you doing? Prototyping a website is very different to building a wireframe for a mobile app, for instance.
- Can you manage this level of complexity? Sometimes, you need to think about how much experience you have as a designer. While some prototyping and wireframing tools are built for beginners, others are specifically intended for those who have spent decades creating code.
With those questions in mind, you should be prepared to consider some of the most popular tools on the market. To help you make your decision, we've narrowed our choice down to five of the best options in our opinion.
InVision is a prototyping tool that gives web developers the tools they need to transform static mobile and web pages into interactive mock-ups. You can upload images from a range of environments including DropBox, Google Drive, and more. Additionally, you can share the link to your prototype with other people via text message, to improve collaboration. Benefits include:
- It's easy to use and learn
- It's simple and fast to add screens and design new hotspots
- There's support for transitions and gestures
- Collecting feedback is easy
However, InVision is intended only for use with existing prototypes, and there are no features available for editing and crafting elements.
Fluid is an innovative web-based wireframing tool, which is excellent for anyone who wants to make a mobile app prototype. You can create your wireframe from an existing mock-up, or you can build screens yourself using a built-in range of widgets. Additionally, Fluid can give developers the chance to build out screens to map their ideas and show a project on a single page. The benefits of this particular tool include:
- It's very accessible, with an intuitive and simple interface
- It has built-in libraries for Android, iOS, windows, and wearables
- It supports transitions and gestures for pages.
Unfortunately, Fluid doesn't support adding interactivity to elements on a page, and the editable elements of widgets are somewhat restricted.
Axure is a web development tool designed mostly for professional developers. It's one of the most robust and popular tools for prototyping around today, and it's great for people who want to develop desktop software or web applications. You'll need a great deal of programming knowledge to make the most out of this system. However, if you're skilled, then you can enjoy a range of interactivity benefits with Axure, including dynamic panels and variables. The benefits include:
- A huge library of third-party and built-in widgets
- An excellent selection of interactive prototypes
- Professional training and support
The only problem with Axure is that it's very difficult to use if you're a beginner, and it may not be ideal for mobile app building either.
MockPlus is a relatively new tool for wireframing and prototyping that has been gathering popularity lately. It comes with a huge range of vector icons and standard components, which is great if you want to get started as quickly as possible. The interaction design is very impressive in MockPlus too. The system will allow you to add page links and interactions for components through a drag and drop design. Some of the most compelling benefits for MockPlus include:
- It has a very low learning curve, which makes it ideal for first-time developers
- Comes with a wide range of components and icons to enjoy - prototyping is quick and seamless
- Interaction design has been visualised through the addition of drag and drop elements
- Plenty of great ways to preview and share updates on a project, as well as exporting to HTML, exporting demo packages, and more.
Unfortunately, if you do have any problems with MockPlus, then there aren't a lot of help documents available. Additionally, the system comment and collaboration features need a lot of improvement.
Finally, a desktop-based tool for wireframing and prototyping, Pixate allows you to build your own interactions and animations. You can build your system from images out of existing mocks that you need to import into the software yourself. There aren't any UI elements in the tool, only actions, layers, and animations. However, this can be a useful way to build mobile prototypes. The benefits of Pixate include:
- Ability to add animations and interactivity to individual elements
- Support for gestures
- Plenty of mobile usability.
However, you can only view your prototypes in the desktop environment, and Pixate has a particularly high learning curve. What's more, you can't create or edit elements yourself within the app.