Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Axure: wireframing and prototyping

Last week I got my hands on a licence for Axure, a wireframing and prototyping tool that has been getting quite a bit of buzz in the UX community. I’ve used Fireworks for this purpose previously which I have always felt comfortable with: likely because of its similarities to Photoshop. But where Fireworks was lacking, Axure seems to pick up. Although, at this early stage, I’d be reluctant to use it for visual design; managing (nested) pages and prototyping has already saved me many hours. I thought I’d list a few pros and cons in this post for those looking at investigating this tool for their team(s).

Pros

  • Rapid wireframing with ample flexibility for all sorts of interface layouts and interactions.
  • Masters: recycling commonly used elements/sections which only need to be modified once for site-wide changes. Much more versatile than shared-layers in Adobe Fireworks.
  • Rapid prototyping: It’s almost like a programming-for-dummies type interface allowing you to set conditions, events and interactions very easily. Interactions can even be animated with simple slides, fades etc. I’m still getting my head around some of the more complex interactions, but from what I see it’s entirely possible and the learning curve isn’t too steep. Obviously the code created is not at all meant for production use.
  • There’s a Mac version that is (so far) very stable, unlike Fireworks.
  • I’ve been building an eCommerce site and prototype in Axure and simply thanks to the speed we can create, we spend more time on deep discussion on interactions and usability, which has already led to some good decisions that we may have missed otherwise.

Cons

  • There are still a few little bugs and inconsistencies, e.g. onMouseOut events don’t quite behave like expected.
  • Z-index management is still a little difficult, i.e. when elements are stacked over other elements, such as hover menus, the underlying elements can be difficult to get to and modify without moving things around or modifying foreground/background positions. This is where layers are ideal - viewing, hiding and locking layers. Axure’s ‘locking’ of elements still covers elements that you may need access to.
  • Automatically generated UI specifications are not really readable when you get to complex projects. A table of contents 40 pages long is not human-friendly in my world, but I’m working hard to show that the prototype can replace documents entirely.
  • Collaboration: I’m yet to try Axure with an SVN hooked up, but otherwise it’s a one-driver program. We’ve tried splitting a site into three files covering different sections, but this has proved nothing more than a headache.

As I’m still getting to grips with the software, I’m sure I’ll discover nice little tricks and tweaks to maximise my use of it. So far I’m quite impressed and will likely be using it on projects from here on.

Notes

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