Looking Back at 2016

Hello friends of Balsamiq!

Peldi here with our traditional yearly "state of the union" post.
Older editions are here: 2015, 2014, 2013, 2009 and 2008.

team

Once again, this is going to be an epic-sized post.

Summary

We continue to truck along nicely, executing on our vision one step at a time. As usual, a large part of our efforts happen behind the scenes, both in product development and in general company growth. Revenue-wise, 2016 was yet another record year for us, with sales almost reaching $6.6 million. We continue to grow organically, just the way we like it.

If the sentence before sounds like I copied and pasted it from last year's post, it's because I did! 🙂 I just had to tweak it a tiny bit. I consider this a sign of success: nice and steady progress is exactly what we're aiming for.

The biggest effort of 2016 was to finish rewriting our product in Javascript (bye bye Flash!) and to build a whole new web application to go with it.

We are SUPER-excited for 2017: in just a few months we will ship the new web app, after which we will bring the native editor to the desktop app.

The Details

Let's jump in!

Our Products

Balsamiq Wireframes and Balsamiq Cloud


Rewriting the application from scratch
really made us think. We're basically taking everything we've learned over the last 8 years about what makes the perfect low-fidelity wireframing tool and putting it all together in a sweet little package.

In many ways, this feels like a big reboot for us. To paraphrase DHH, we built a product in 2016 to compete with our best ideas from 2008.

Since we're rebooting, we decided to give the product its proper name. Our product was never for making mockups, that's just what I called wireframes because I didn't know what they were called back in 2007. So instead of calling the native version Balsamiq Mockups 4, we're going to call it Balsamiq Wireframes.

We have also rebooted myBalsamiq, our web app. We took everything we learned about what a collaborative online wireframing tool should do, and built that. We removed a bunch of unnecessary features, and built the ones everyone wants instead. And we're giving it a clear name as well: Balsamiq Cloud.

Inspired by Basecamp, we decided that we're going to treat Balsamiq Cloud as a new, separate product from our existing web app myBalsamiq.

People will be able to move their data easily, but we have no intention of shutting down myBalsamiq any time soon. People don't like change, we shouldn't force it on them.

I CANNOT WAIT to be able to share more about these new products. Give us another couple of months! Subscribe to our newsletter if you want to be the first to know.

Balsamiq Mockups 3

While the bulk of our dev team was working on the new stuff, we definitely didn't rest on our laurels when it came to Balsamiq Mockups 3 for Desktop.

We did 14 releases in 2016. Here are some highlights:

  • 3.3.1 introduced hierarchy to the wireframes navigator, "Big Boy Arrows", the "Back" meta-link, and a bunch of other little features and bug fixes.
  • 3.3.5 introduced the "Resize To" feature, super-quick site maps, and more.
  • 3.3.9 introduced the full-screen "Project Centering Rules" feature.
  • 3.3.11 finally fixed an annoying autosize behavior, as well as a lot of other little bugs.
  • 3.3.14 made it easier to access alternates, and introduced some more Android-y controls.
  • 3.5 introduced better material design support, a generic mobile phone control, and improved the custom icons feature.

Overall, we're very happy with Mockups 3. Even if it's getting to be a little long in the tooth and will be replaced by Balsamiq Wireframes this year, the app is solid, easy to support, and has most of the features people need.

Oh, and it's still our best selling product! 🙂

If you still haven't updated, you're really missing out. Just head over to our download page to get your free update!

Our Plugin Versions

This was a good year for our plugin versions. We shipped two new plugins for Atlassian Cloud: Balsamiq Mockups 3 for JIRA Cloud and Balsamiq Mockups 3 for Confluence Cloud. Both include the Mockups 3 editor, and have been well received by our customers.

We also made Mockups for Confluence Server compatible with Confluence 6, and are almost ready to open a private beta for the new version of Mockups for JIRA Server, which includes the new native Balsamiq Wireframes editor.

Mockups 3 for Google Drive is trucking along nicely, and passed the $100,000 yearly revenue mark. We have big plans for it in 2017, and we finally have a team in place who can execute them.

We're already at work bringing the native Balsamiq Wireframes editor to all of our other plugin versions. We hope to ship an update to all of them with it this year.

To help us with all these efforts, we added a developer in testing to the team: Stefano Gozzi!

Exciting!

myBalsamiq

The biggest change in myBalsamiq was releasing annual subscription options for it, a highly requested feature.

Other than that, our focus was to make our infrastructure more scalable and resilient to possible security attacks.

As I said before, even if Balsamiq Cloud will be the new kid on the block this year, we have no intention of shutting down myBalsamiq any time soon.

Hosting almost 170,000 projects, it clearly works very well for many of you. If you're happy with it, nothing will change.


Operations

Once again, I'm really proud of our uptime numbers for the year:

uptime

There is A LOT of unseen work in keeping those numbers so high. Huge props to our ops and dev teams.

Keeping our infrastructure solid and secure is never ending: we're constantly doing updates in order to include the latest operating system security fixes and patches.

This year we also adopted two new tools for Ops. One is Logmatic, a very nice way to gather the logs from our different services in a single, powerful interface.

The other is Convox, a layer on top of AWS which helps us manage all of our services. It's really well done and powerful, you should check it out.

To keep these standards high and to make them even better, we hired a second DevOps this year: Drew Lafferty!


Support, Docs & Sharing What We Learned

This was a big year for our tech and sales support teams: we grew the team 30% by hiring Liz and Phil, and set ourselves up for providing even better support going forward.

  • Early in the year we launched a whole new Support Portal.
  • We set up toll-free phone numbers for Tech Support (we only provided Sales support via phone before).
  • We started having "All Support" Monthly meetings, with both tech and sales support teams.
  • We started monitoring and replying to Google Drive reviews.
  • We joined the Designer Hangout Slack as a sponsor, with our own channel.
  • We built a tool that uses the Pivotal Tracker APIs to help us figure out what our customers' top feature request and issues are.
  • We redesigned the tutorials page on our support site with more emphasis on videos and Udemy and Skillshare courses.
  • We did a BIG restructuring of our documentation site to make things easier to find, and to set us up for future versions of our products.
  • We wrote a few FAQs, tutorials and docs, and updated existing ones.
  • We made our support site and docs site open-source, and incorporated some improvements from the community!
  • We published a Wireframing for Newbies video, and accompanying blog post.
  • We changed the way we give our products for free to schools. Instead of giving myBalsamiq sites, we now give professors extended Mockups for Desktop trial keys. Check it out.

Marketing and Website Updates

The biggest change in marketing in 2016 is that we hired Jessica to help us with it! 🙂

Our theme for Marketing in 2016 was "play to learn". In 2017, we'll transition to "play to win". 🙂

With that in mind, here are some of our marketing projects from 2016:

  • We considered starting a Medium blog but haven't started yet.
  • We started boosting Facebook posts.
  • We cleaned up our YouTube presence.
  • We purchased balsam.iq to use for short URLs via Bit.ly.
  • We started using GIFs much more on Twitter.
  • We got our Twitter account verified.
  • We updated our Twitter background.
  • We ran a series of crazy ads on the MegaMaker podcast.
  • We made all of the blog posts responsive (we had to update hundreds of images in old posts).
  • We finally managed to get the Balsamiq Wikipedia page updated.
  • We started using Edgar to schedule posts.
  • We made a demo reel for the Atlassian Summit.
  • We updated how we use Google+.
  • We shipped the UX Apprentice German translation!
  • We prepared to have our own newsletter, which we launched TODAY! Join it now!

As for our balsamiq.com website, other than regular maintenance, we only made a few changes:

We plan on doing a full revamp of our website in 2017, to reflect our new product line.


Conferences, Interviews and Press Mentions

These are the conferences we attended this year. Bold means one of us spoke at the conference.

  • NoSlidesConf Bologna (we had a booth!)
  • AWS re:Invent Las Vegas
  • Reactiveconf Bratislava
  • Elevate Summit Palm Springs
  • Atlassian Summit San Jose (we had a booth!)
  • Business of Software Boston
  • ReactEurope 2016 Paris
  • React Meetup Amsterdam
  • Atlascamp Barcelona
  • Write the Docs North America 2016 Portland (video)
  • dotSecurity Paris
  • Write the Docs Meetup San Francisco
  • React Conference Amsterdam
  • SmashingConf San Francisco
  • An Event Apart Nashville
  • Codemotion Techpills Meetup Amsterdam

We were interviewed a few times:

Here are the most notable press mentions from 2016:


Philanthropy and Sponsorships

Our Donation Policy is one of our favorite perks. In 2016, we split over $61,000 (3% of our profits) between 24 different charities. It's SO GREAT to be able to give back to our communities and help those in need.

We replied to over 2000 requests for free software, pretty much the same as in 2015.

We also continued with our policy of sponsoring events and resources we want to see succeed, because they're making the world a better place.

Here are some sponsorship numbers and highlights from 2016:

Sponsorships 2016

Here is a list of the biggest sponsorships we did in 2016:

Admin and Finance

Our little multi-national keeps on growing, and making sure it runs smoothly, efficiently and safely is no small task.

Luckily, we have an amazing Admin and Finance team in place.

The many recurring tasks Natalie, Joy and Anna perform would take way too long to write here (but maybe we'll do a separate blog post about it if you're interested!), so here are some highlights:

  • We signed an Advance Pricing Agreement with the IRS. We're so fancy!
  • We withdrew from Utah, we no longer have a nexus there.
  • We started having "All Admin" bi-monthly meetings, instead of separate ones for our Italian and US companies.
  • We organized an amazing retreat in California and are hard at work planning for our 2017 one, which will be in Florence, Italy.
  • We finally switched Dropbox from many personal Pro accounts to two big Business accounts.
  • We reviewed and tweaked our investments, and invested some more of our reserves.
  • We improved our insurance coverage in Germany.
  • We fixed an issue with our French leave policy.
  • We improved our 401k program for our US employees.
  • We changed the Italian employee's contract to one with better benefits.
  • We now reimburse mobile Internet mifi's for employees on the go.

Looking ahead

We're VERY excited about 2017. In many ways, it feels like a "reboot" year: new codebase, new major product versions, new company policies to fit our new 25-people reality.

Our goal is to keep on growing and learning as we go. Honing our craft, one deliverable at the time.

We're truly blessed to be able to do it with such a great, smart, and supportive community of customers.


If you're still reading, thank you! You must be a true fan. 🙂

Have a comment, or a question? Post it below, or ask us directly via our brand new Slack Community!

Onward!
Peldi for the Balsamiq Team

What? No Financial Graphs this year?

Thanks for asking! We're just starting a newsletter for our super-fans. Our goal is to share the best info there first.

We will update this post with our detailed financial results, what we did to improve our company and learn about the projects that failed in 2017 in a month or two.

If you want to read that info TODAY, just subscribe to the newsletter below. We hope you will want to join the inner circle! 😉

· Posted by peldi in Company · Add a comment

How Game Designers Rapidly Prototype Ideas Using Balsamiq

Game design rapid prototypingRapidly prototyping game ideas (Jay Bennett's design)

We've got a few gamers here at Balsamiq, but nobody who actually designs or builds their own games. Most of us have backgrounds in web or desktop app design and development, which is the core of our customer base. But over time we've discovered the breadth of domains that rely on Mockups for their daily work.

We've already written about how Marketers and Content Writers use Balsamiq Mockups to visualize how their content will fit into the apps or sites they write for. In this post, I'll describe how game designers use Balsamiq Mockups and other rapid prototyping techniques in their workflow.

Getting to Know the Community

I remember working on our booth at the Interaction 15 conference in San Francisco and being approached by some game developers who were fans of our tool. They said that they tested their game wireframes with exported PDFs and had game controller buttons mapped to specific keys. What they really wanted was native Balsamiq support for navigating through our Full-Screen Presentation mode to cut out several steps in the process.

I found that idea fascinating. That was the first, but not the last, time I learned about game designers and developers using our product.

A few months later we heard from Jay Bennett, who made some awesome videos of his rough video game concepts that were constructed using both Balsamiq and Unity3d. We thought they were so cool we reached out to interview him.

Check out this awesome video Jay made combining Balsamiq wireframes and Unity3d renderings!

Since then we started hearing regularly from other game designers and developers via Twitter. Here are a couple:

Why Balsamiq?

It turns out that video game developers use Balsamiq Mockups for pretty much the same reason that other developers use it. Writing code is a lot of work and re-writing code should be avoided when possible. Game developers, like all software developers, often don't know what the idea in their head will "feel like" when it's done, or whether customers will like it.

They've learned that it's wise to create a rough sketch of it before writing the code to make it fully functional. This is the idea behind rapid prototyping and is part of the "lean" process.

Amar Singh, a UX Designer, wrote an excellent essay about the parallels between game and software design, in which he describes how game designers approach rapid prototyping, taken from the book The Art of Game Design: A Book of Lenses by Jess Schell.

The author of the book discusses prototyping in a chapter on Risk Mitigation, which is another way of justifying taking the time to create a wireframe or rough prototype before diving deep into code.

Amar drew a great sketch of the lessons that Jess Schell wrote about here:


Source: "Lessons in Prototyping from Game Design"

These were written in the context of game design, but are equally applicable to any kind of software development.

Another game designer, Luna Cruz, works at Altitude Games. In her talk at Casual Connect Asia, she describes how she uses rapid prototyping to find the fun in games. She explains how she can draw and share quickly a whole game's idea in just a few minutes. “Without touching any art or code,” it's possible to make something playable for everyone to review.

She also talks about how to use Balsamiq in an exercise to keep designers' skills fresh.

Another benefit of wireframing is the ability to quickly get feedback. Game systems designer, Dylan Jones, finds that he gets much better feedback with wireframes that look like a rough sketch. This is why he loves Balsamiq's sketch-style wireframes which help focus the conversation on content and interaction.

We’re Just Getting Started...

Adding wireframing to your game design workflow can be more than just a time saver. It can reduce the amount of effort needed to convey complex ideas and avoid jumping into artwork or code too soon. It can also yield better feedback sooner. And many other benefits unique to game design that we're not even aware of.

We’ll keep exploring and sharing how Balsamiq can help you design and build great games.

In the meantime, if you want to share your story or have a specific question you’d like us to focus on, leave us a comment or reach out to us in any of our channels. We’re thrilled to learn with you.

And, if you're into game design and want to contribute, check out this list of open source game projects on GitHub!

· Posted by leon in Case Studies · Add a comment

Welcome Stefano Gozzi and Philip Nittenberg!

Hello friends of Balsamiq!

I am really excited to introduce to you the two newest members of the Balsamiq family!

Stefano Gozzi

Stefano is a developer in testing. He is here to help us with all of our testing needs. He's going to focus on testing our plugins and the next major version of our products.

Since he's the third Stefano to join Balsamiq, we're just calling him "Gozzi". 🙂

Gozzi is from Modena, Italy (the land of balsamic vinegar), and plans to work mostly out of our Bologna office.

Philip Nittenberg

Phil is our third Customer Champion, helping our customers with whatever technical need they might have.

He is based out of San Raphael, in the San Francisco Bay Area, which helps us cover EVEN MORE support hours.


We are really excited about having both Gozzi and Phil on board. We are already seeing great benefits for our customers because of them.

Please help us welcome Gozzi and Phil by leaving a comment below.

Onward!
Peldi for the Balsamiq team

· Posted by peldi in Company and tagged · Add a comment

Finding The Human: The Customer Support Starter Pack

I get voicemails.

Now, if you're like me, you read that voicemail message and probably felt a little twinge in the pit of your stomach. Hopefully, you were wiser than me and didn't read it while you were celebrating Taco Tuesday with your wife at your favorite taco stand in suburban Chicago.

It's pretty rare that we see angry voicemails and emails, which is a blessing and curse. On the one hand, almost every correspondence ends with a smile. On the other hand, I was almost completely unprepared as to how to approach this voicemail - and it was all I could think about.

Turns out, reading voicemail transcripts can be an effective way to ruin Taco Tuesday, as hard as that is to believe.

"Yeah I'd like to talk to somebody about your idiotic program but apparently every time I call there's nobody there so thanks so much no help."

So let's try a little exercise. Read that transcript again, and imagine that you had to call this person back.

How do you feel?

Are you uncomfortable?

Apprehensive?

Defensive?

Angry?

While you hold on to that thought, I want to shift gears a little bit and tell you about a dude named Patrick - one of our customers.

Patrick is in his late 40s. He lives in middle America with his wife and two high-school aged daughters. For the last 15 years, Patrick has been a software engineer for a farming tools company, but he doesn't really enjoy it anymore. He has had an idea for an app for a long time and is finally ready to start exploring it in the little free time he has. He has already gotten the interest of a couple of investors, and he wants to run a demo for them. He signs up for an online wireframing software suite, sets up his wireframes to demonstrate his app, and then sets off to run the demo for his potential investors.

Except that he cannot figure out how to invite his investors to view his app. He has poured over the documentation and found nothing, and time is running out.

So he calls me and leaves a message.

"Yeah I'd like to talk to somebody about your idiotic program but apparently every time I call there's nobody there so thanks so much no help."

Think about how you felt 2 minutes ago, and how you feel now.

Compassion?

A desire to help?

Excitement?

Why the sudden change in feelings?

Because you've found the human.


We are constantly reminded that our "customers are people too".

Two talks at last year's Elevate Summit in Palm Springs focused on it. Helen Shaw's "Friendzone your Customers" and Michael Labrecque-Jessen's (more directly named) "Customers are People too". Both excellent talks, but the fact that we needed them (and the fact that I felt the need to write this) speaks to the problem: the idea refuses to sink in.

"People" is a weirdly abstract term, when you think about it. There is almost no emotional weight to it - it is a harmless word. For those reasons, I think it is a word that is really hard to empathize with.

I vastly prefer "human". "Human" almost carries the weight of our species. To my ears, the word "human" sounds more complete. A "person" merely exists - a "human" has endeavored. So that's what I try to do with every email: I try to find the human. Once you find the human, customer support becomes a lot easier, much like it did in Patrick's case.

Admittedly, I changed some of Patrick's details because I didn't get his permission for this. But he is based on a real person - an edge case in terms of our normal interactions, but a very real person. You won't get to know all of your customers that well, but that doesn't mean that each and every one of them isn't a Patrick-level human being. They all have a whole world that exists outside of the email/voicemail they sent you. You don't have to find all of it, but finding some of it will help smooth all of your customer interactions.

So how do we go about doing that?

1. Act Like a Human

This is the first step. To find the human in the person you're talking to, you must act like a human yourself. Convincing them that a human being has answered their call for help, and not a robot, will help them open up to you.

Say you're sorry. Fall on your sword, even if it's not your company's fault.

Read their request until you are sure you understand it (or until you are sure you need more information) and then be genuinely invested in fixing the issue.

Lay off the text expanders. My personal rule of thumb is that text expanders should be used for purely informational purposes only. Don't try to bake in any emotion into them - just the facts. When you add a pre-baked emotion to them, you can turn the email into a weird tonal rollercoaster, where your written tone doesn't match the tone of your text expander. Beyond that, and on a human level, emotion should be coming from you, not text expanders. You should be feeling the emotion you're putting into your responses, otherwise it's disingenuous.

On the other side of the text expander sword, try to avoid becoming a text expander yourself. We see so many emails on a day to day basis that it is easy to fall into a pattern of answering them the same way. If you find yourself typing the same greeting every time, or closing out emails the same way, try to make an effort to mix it up. It will keep you feeling fresh.

When I feel my responses starting to feel stale, I often will set up a goal for myself: for the rest of the day, start each email differently. Not only does this help me come up with new ways to greet folks, but it also keeps me present in the emails I am writing. It stops my robot brain from kicking in. After all, if I'm writing the same thing over and over, I should just make a text expander. 😜

2. Use Language That Makes Them Feel Like You're on Their Team

Writing into support is akin to shouting into the void and hoping for a response. Customers write the email, send it, and then hope that someone on the other end is listening - that they will reach out and snatch their message from the ether. It is a lonely process.

One of the best things you can do when replying to support mails is use words like "we" and "us", especially if you're giving your customer steps to walk through.

When you say "Here is something I'd like us to try" (rather than "..something I'd like *you* to try), it makes the customer feel like you are working towards the same goal as they are. They have a teammate, and you're both working to resolve their issue.

3. Above All Else: Do Your Best

Lastly, and most importantly, try and do your best. The amount of tickets I do in a day is going to differ from yours. The amount of tickets I have in the afternoon differs from that in the evening.

Scale is a very real thing for us, and it can be real hard to read "mix up your responses" when you're staring down the barrel of a 30 ticket queue. Don't worry about point 1 and 2 if you're buried in tickets, just worry about trying to do your best. Customers will be able to see that.

Doing your best also means making sure that you are taking care of yourself. Mercer Smith has a wonderful talk on self-care (including a selfcare-pizza) that can help you understand what it means (and what to do) to take care of yourself. It's a lot easier to do your best when you're at your best.


This is just a starter pack of ideas on how to find the human in your customers - you're going to develop some techniques of your own along the way. Some of them will probably be even more effective than the ones we have listed here (so, please, share them with us!) We'd also love to hear your customer stories because it will help us do better as well.

Together, we will find the human. 🙂

Brendan for the Balsamiq Team

· Posted by brendan in Company and tagged , · Add a comment

Justin Witz on Standing Out in a Rapidly Growing Industry

Justin Witz

We met Justin Witz at the 2016 Atlassian Summit in San Jose, CA. He's a customer, fan, and entrepreneur. His enthusiasm and sincerity endeared him to Val and now we're all fans of him too!

He used Balsamiq Mockups to design his custom financial solutions software called PlanTools.

He's got some great lessons that he generously shared with us below. Read on for our interview.

Q&A with Justin Witz

What industry do you work in, and what is your title or job description?

Financial Services. I am the Chief Technology Officer at FRA PlanTools.

What kinds of things are you excited about in your industry?

Is it ok to nerd out? If so, I am very excited about a new regulation "Definition of the Term "Fiduciary"; Conflict of Interest Rule" we have launching in April 2017. Why? Well, I own / run a Financial Services SaaS company, and a part of that business is developing custom solutions for our clients. This new rule creates a plethora of opportunities to build new solutions. Which means I get to do my favorite things: lay out a concept using Balsamiq, project manage my development team in India, and deliver a product that saves people time, makes them more effective and increases their revenues. Their happiness is my happiness.

What suggestions do you have for someone looking to succeed in your role or industry?

Do everything others won't do.

Do everything others won't do. You have to stand out, and with the FinTech industry booming, you have to find a way to make yourself attractive.

Why and how do you use Balsamiq Mockups?

The WHY is easy - a simple product that delivers a big WOW. When I open Balsamiq Mockups, I have a blank canvas that allows me to become my own artist for each specific task. I am able to lay out conceptual designs for the UI and provide details on the UX creating a streamlined workflow that can be discussed with my team of developers to verify it's the best course of action.

Balsamiq is a language we can all understand.

I love working with my team in India, and to avoid language barriers we leverage Balsamiq Mockups to express our stories in a language we all understand. This leads to a higher success rate in development with minimal questions. It also makes us more effective with our time since we're not worried about the notorious "Did you understand me" statement. For companies with mixed backgrounds, Balsamiq is a language we can all understand.

An early mockup for The Principal's Target Date Analyzer

Do you have any feature ideas or suggestions for how we can improve our product(s)?

Control over pie/bar chart colors, interactive drop downs (an area I have struggled with) and in the Desktop version, sharing a web-based version that clients can view, add comments and a sign-off option.

What trends do you see in your industry, and do you see them as good or bad?

The biggest trend in the Financial Services industry right now is the fast adoption of technology into everyone's daily business practice. Financial Advisors need to be equipped with information on their clients prior to meetings, follow-ups need to be streamlined, and reporting (something an Advisor does for their clients) needs to be automated and delivered electronically.

Companies are now adopting this fast-paced life-cycle, which is why companies like Principal Financial Group, Vanguard, T. Rowe Price, TIAA, and Charles Schwab have dedicated $1m a month for the next 18-24 months in building out a better ecosystem and/or acquiring the right partners.

An early mockup for The Principal's Target Date Analyzer

How do you measure your success, and how do you know if you've hit the mark?

I believe for us at PlanTools, success is measured differently than most companies. Of course, we measure by Net Revenues, but my team focuses on project completions, milestones hit and as few and minimal bugs, issues, errors, bottlenecks as possible during a build-out phase.

What mistakes or missteps have you made, what did you learn, and how did you recover?

I'd say the biggest misstep we had made recently was doing a project for a friend's firm. We didn't lay out the contract ahead of time, we just dove in. Knowing each other for over 5 years, we felt comfortable taking this approach, but this ended up backfiring. As experienced as our company is, we learned that we can't do projects for our friends on a basis that is different than any other client. Put your contract in place before you start the work.


Thank you for sharing, Justin. You are a Champion!

Are you a Champion who wants to be featured on our Balsamiq Champions blog? Send an email to champions@balsamiq.com with your stories or blog posts!

· Posted by leon in Case Studies and tagged , , · Add a comment

Learning to Wireframe: a Quick Guide

Mobile App Wireframe - Ideation PhaseMobile App Wireframe

Wireframing is becoming more commonplace in the product and design industry for a good reason: it works.

Creating wireframes helps you think and communicate better about the structure of the website, software or mobile app you are building. They are representations of ideas that can be quickly discarded and iterated upon until you find the best solution for your customers.

If you are looking forward to getting started with this important UX technique, keep on reading! ?

1. Learning to Wireframe

Watching videos is a great way to quickly pick up new skills.

Wireframing for Newbies is a 19-minute in-depth introduction to the practice of User Interface Wireframing that will guide you through the main concepts of this technique and how it fits into the design process.

The video covers three main topics:

  1. The role of UX in the software development process
  2. What wireframes are and how they compare to other UX artifacts
  3. The two phases of wireframing

Wireframing is a skill that can be learned and honed. To complement the video tutorial above, this article on Wireframing for Beginners will help you reinforce the basic ideas and start improving right away.

Here are some useful tidbits from the links above:

Successful wireframing makes it easier to solve two problems:

  1. how to help customers accomplish their goals
  2. how to find out if your solution will work

Wireframing addresses these problems in two phases:

  1. the Ideation Phase. To generate as many ideas as possible.
  2. the Validation Phase. To determine whether your proposed solution can be agreed upon by the stakeholders.

The two keys to making progress and designing better wireframes are practice and carefully integrating feedback in your iteration process.

2. Choosing a Wireframing Tool

Wireframes can be created with pen and paper, but "these days, the software available for creating interactive wireframes makes the task quick and easy to do." (from UX Mastery) If you decide to go with software instead of pen and paper, choosing a tool can be daunting.

We've created a resource to ease up this task on you. In How to Choose a Wireframing Tool you will find a set of questions and recommendations to evaluate different software. It includes:

  1. What is the tool's main purpose?
  2. Does the tool fit your preferred workflow?
  3. Is the tool actively developed?
  4. How is the tool supported?
  5. Who’s behind the tool? Will they stay in business?
  6. How much does the tool cost?
  7. What do others think of the tool?
  8. Where can I find a list of wireframing tools?

It's a smart resource that will give you a head start on exploring the landscape of wireframing tools.

3. Diving Deeper Into UX

Wireframing will help you achieve important goals in the initial phase of your projects. However, the UX process is made up of several stages that will require the mastery of a variety of techniques and concepts.

We have partnered with Theresa Neil to develop UX Apprentice, a learning resource for people interested in getting a broader understanding of the basics of UX Design.

Thanks to our awesome community, UX Apprentice is now available in 7 languages. Use it to explore all the resources available to you on your journey as a UX Designer. You might even want to collaborate with us translating it if it's not yet available in your own language.

UX Apprentice

This is it. We hope these resources give you the confidence to start making awesome wireframes!

Let us know what you think once you try this out! What else should we include in this quick guide? Is there any part of the process we can help you improve? What tool did you choose and why?

Tell us here ⬇️ in the comments.

Happy wireframing!

- Jess

· Posted by jessica in User Experience · Add a comment

UX Apprentice in multiple languages

Part of our mission at Balsamiq is to spread the knowledge of User Experience.

We have been tweeting more about it (both at our @balsamiq and @uxapprentice accounts), sharing useful resources via our social channels, writing blog posts and interviewing Balsamiq Champions to inspire you with their awesome work.

And here is another piece to the puzzle.

UX Apprentice

UX Apprentice is a web site that covers some of the basics of the practice, teaches you the basics with an easy process to follow, and provides links for digging deeper and perfecting the craft.

We developed this learning resource to help people who want to begin a learning path in User Experience working with Theresa Neil, an author and consultant who educates companies about UX Design.
ux-apprentice-home-page

UX Apprentice in Multiple Languages

Making UX Apprentice available in multiple languages was a natural next step to help people all over the world take advantage of it. We even heard that the site is being used in schools to teach the basics UX, we wanted to make sure that all kids around the world can understand it fully!

We've already translated UX Apprentice from English into

  • German
  • Spanish
  • French
  • Italian
  • Portuguese
  • Swedish

Click on the world icon at UXApprentice.com and you'll find all the available languages.

ux-apprentice-languages

Other languages are already on their way!

We need your help!

We are looking for volunteers to translate the UX Apprentice in as many languages as possible.

If you want to be part of this UX educational project, just follow these simple instructions.

It's not a huge amount of effort, and you'll truly be making a difference in helping rid the world of bad software. You'll probably learn a thing or two in the process, and will forever be enshrined on the UX Apprentice Credits page. 🙂

We're looking forward to working with you!
Francesca

· Posted by francesca in User Experience and tagged , · Add a comment

Nathanael Coyne on Getting UX the Respect it Deserves

Nathanael CoyneYou may know our latest Champion, Nathanael Coyne, from his top-notch UX blog purecaffeine.com. In it, he chimes in on many of the hot topics in UX discussions today, often with well-reasoned arguments against conventional wisdom. This post on the role of empathy in UX design is a good example.

One post that had me nodding my head in agreement is his advice for designers on how to be effective in the real world of UX. I also enjoyed his thoughtful take on what's broken with the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) model and how to take a better approach.

In our interview below he offers even more advice for UX designers looking to get traction in more traditional development environments or just wanting to level up their skills. Read on!

Q&A with Nathanael Coyne

What industry do you work in, and what is your title or job description?

I'm a Senior UX Designer currently working as a consultant in the public sector predominantly for Australian Federal government departments and agencies. At the moment I'm working with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority helping with the software aspect of a significant organisational change.

What kinds of things are you excited about in your industry?

Working in the public sector typically means sizeable well-funded projects where I have the opportunity to improve the delivery of government services to citizens, business, and visitors. Unlike commercial projects where it's all about customer conversion and maximising profit, the objectives and metrics for government are often about making online services easier to access, useful and less bureaucratic to facilitate transactions and build trust; metrics that I feel good about.

I've worked across many sectors in government - health, business and industry, taxation, education, welfare, tourism, law enforcement and now maritime safety. I've found meaning in all of those roles and feel they provide opportunities to make a difference in a way that commercial roles don't.

I am emotionally invested in what I do for a living and it's important to me that I feel I'm doing something worthwhile; I don't go to work just to earn a salary.

What suggestions do you have for someone looking to succeed in your role or industry?

Digital product design as we understand it is still a largely unknown profession here in Australia and even in 2016 often conflated with what graphic designers do. People talk to me about "look and feel" and colour palettes, icons, typography. Being an effective designer requires tenacity and an unshakable belief in the value of what you do.

Being an effective designer requires tenacity and an unshakable belief in the value of what you do.

Good designers help their teams develop empathy with users. Get out of the building. Grab your co-workers and drag them out of the building. Go do user research and get actual quotes from real people to demonstrate what they're struggling with day to day. If you can't get officially-endorsed research off the ground then go do guerrilla research. If you can't do that then lean more heavily on your usability heuristics, but put people at the centre.

Share your findings. Don't expect people to read reports, so stick quotes up on walls, organise presentations and storyboard what might happen if the team ignores user-centred design. Balsamiq with its bold strokes and exaggerated component shapes is great for printing because it's legible at a distance.

You need excellent skills in communication, persuasion, storytelling and formulating logical arguments based on empirical evidence. You also must have the fortitude to fail and come back the next morning bringing all your creativity, curiosity, and determination.

Once you win people over and start focusing on people instead of technology it's exhilarating. Get over that hump and you can start to work freely, collaborate with your team, speak the same language and more readily get support to conduct user research and user testing. It's a beautiful thing when even a developer won't accept something as done until it has passed user testing, and Scrum sprint reviews look at what is valuable to users rather than bolting on more functionality.

Nathanael's Pyramid of Quality diagram based on Gojko Adzic's work

Expand your toolkit. Learn a range of design, research and facilitation methods and understand where to apply them from exploratory and formative phases through to validation. Choose the right tool for the job whether it's contextual inquiry with five users, a survey with five hundred users, participatory design workshops with a dozen users and your team, paper prototyping, polished slide decks for executives or whiteboard sketching sessions.

Why and how do you use Balsamiq Mockups?

I've been using Balsamiq for years! It's my favourite tool for rapid low-fidelity wireframes. I'll often churn out a dozen iterations of a screen over a couple of days before I'm even ready to share it with my team. The relatively recent feature of alternate versions is very cool for that, although usually the final version pulls bits from multiple iterations of a design.

I'll often churn out a dozen iterations of a screen over a couple of days before I'm even ready to share it with my team.

No other tool - software or analog - supports that mode of work as effectively as Balsamiq. Most of the time attaching Balsamiq Mockups files to JIRA issues contains sufficient guidance for developers to implement new or modified screens and flows.

I also use the linking feature to create clickable prototypes to help demonstrate flows and conditional logic to clients and developers. It's much easier to implement and test than more advanced prototyping tools that you spend more time configuring and debugging than actually designing.


One of Nathanael's recent wireframes

Do you have any feature ideas or suggestions for how we can improve our product(s)?

Responsive design. We don't do desktop and mobile versions anymore, we do breakpoints, grid layouts, media queries. Some wireframing tools have started having a go at it and I haven't been impressed with any of them. It's a tough one and so far the only satisfactory way I've seen to design fully responsive layouts is to design straight in code with Bootstrap or Flexbox.

I'm sure the Balsamiq team have thought about it and whether it's appropriate to tackle potentially complicated functionality with a simple tool like Balsamiq Mockups, but it's inevitable that it'll have to support it and move away from static fixed width design artefacts.

There are a host of other things that sometimes I wish Balsamiq would support but then I remember why I love Balsamiq; because it's simple, it knows what it is and doesn't try to be more. I know where it fits into my process and it's perfect for that role.

I would love to see Bootstrap components support natively. I know it's available as a Mockups To Go download, but it'd be much more convenient if components could be configured via the Inspector rather than pulling apart symbols.

I've already mentioned a fixation on static layouts, but there are other seemingly small things like placeholder images and lorem ipsum text. I still regularly use both, but often I see them used out of laziness on par with user stories that read "As a user I want to create a thing because I want to create a thing". Is the text important or not? Does the image add anything to the content or is it just to fill in some whitespace?

I think Balsamiq could encourage designers to think about the purpose of user interface elements. If they don't want to write copy, fine use lorem ipsum filler text but prompt them to describe what they expect to be written and if high-quality copy can't be provided to suit that purpose then maybe it should be yanked out of the design, unless you're designing generic templates to sell on TemplateMonster.

What advice would you give to someone on a very reactive team that feels it has to implement everything that a customer asks for, even at the expense of usability for the broader audience?

On small projects there's rarely time to build rapport with a client and develop a relationship as a trusted advisor, so for the small and fairly inconsequential jobs you end up just being a pixel pusher. I prefer the longer-term projects where I can educate clients about usability over functionality, simplicity, recognition instead of recall, learnable patterns and idioms.

By sharing knowledge and demonstrating the benefit of a user-centred approach to design, clients will be more trusting of your expertise and recommendations.

The goal isn't to win an argument at any cost but to ensure that you and the client can deliver a measurably better outcome for users than if you weren't involved at all.

But even on the small projects I have no problem with pushing back on requests that are counterproductive and will undermine the product or service's effectiveness and desirability. It's best to have evidence to back up your argument against something, just as your should have evidence to support your recommendations and remember not all arguments are won through logic. The goal isn't to win an argument at any cost but to ensure that overall you and the client can deliver a substantially and measurably better outcome for customers and users than would be achieved if you weren't involved at all... which might be the outcome if you fight too hard and find yourself unemployed.

You should also approach clients and stakeholders the way you do customers with research. If it helps, imagine yourself as a journalist or forensic psychologist and seek to uncover why they're asking for specific things that run contrary to establish patterns and recommendations. Do they feel like they're losing control or haven't had enough influence in the design? Are there latent assumptions and motivations you need to expose and discuss? Who are they feeling pressure from and what are they really wanting to accomplish?

Designers should be proficient at looking under the hood and not accepting anything at face value. Analysts call it root cause analysis and fishbone diagrams; Our approach is less structured and more about empathy and curiosity.

What are some quick or easy ways to educate other members of the software team about the value of UX?

I don't think there are any quick ways. I recently delivered a presentation to a new project team with a slide deck that challenged all sorts of perceptions about what my priorities should be and how I spend my time, about value and impact over deliverables and how wireframes and user interface design were a small part of the role.

That presentation had the biggest impact in getting UX properly integrated into the approach and methodology but really it was just another nudge. I felt like a bit of a nag, but it was absolutely necessary to keep the pressure up or risk fading into irrelevance and fall back to being the wireframe guy.

UX design is still relatively new in government and other public service projects. What are some examples of great UX work happening in the public sector right now?

There's very few design-led projects happening in government. There are thousands of UX'ers employed in government but most agencies are fairly low in the usability maturity model and designers have limited success. The truly design-led projects in government at least here in Australia are coming out of the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) who has been tasked with establishing approaches and criteria for design-led projects and coaching agencies through a four-stage approach of Discovery, Alpha, Beta and Live using agile methods, a strong experience design and user research stream, getting feedback and deploying incrementally.

It's a wonderful opportunity for government right now but also incredibly difficult for most to get their heads around, especially for those who have zero experience with either agile or user experience design and design thinking. The DTA is doing some great work and has hired awesome people including most of my friends to build that capability and expertise.

I don't know how successful the new business.gov.au has been but I trust the process and it's certainly stark in its difference from typical government websites and online services with its clear alignment to business lifecycle and goal-oriented content.

Where do you look for inspiration? Are there some websites or designers you follow? What else inspires you?

For visual design I get inspiration from nearly every website I visit and every app I use. I take a lot of screenshots of things I like, things that jarred, quirks and errors, designers trying new things (and then often discarding them months later). LinkedIn falls into that last category a lot - they struggle with design consistency and seem to invent a new pattern for everything, sometimes the same content on different screens. I don't know what's going on over there but they need to take a leaf out of Spotify's book.

My collection of screenshots in Evernote is now over 2,000 and great for getting ideas for form layouts, home screens, faceted search filtering controls and introducing new features. It's important to be confident in your ability to unobtrusively and clearly highlight changes in sites and applications if you want to persuade your team to deploy frequently and get feedback from users.

I get inspiration from nearly every website I visit... I take a lot of screenshots of things I like.

I also refer to my collection of inspiration to highlight the dangers of trying to cram all the features and controls that can be imagined onto a screen or dialog, and I use contrast to show how two similar organisations implement the same feature with one following a "simple is useful" paradigm against one who believes in "control is power", for example requesting email notifications in Australia Post (one checkbox) versus USPS (three text fields, a text area, two drop-down lists and three checkboxes).

I also look for inspiration for how to think about design, how to explain design and how to become a better well-rounded designer on top of the technical skills of research techniques, responsive design and accessibility. Dave Gray, Jon Kolko, Marc Stickdorn, the Google Ventures team. I've been thinking about Gordon A. Mackenzie lately, author of Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool's Guide to Surviving with Grace (1996). He was eccentric, experimental, out there. He had fun and did some great work but is largely frowned upon. I want to bring some of that back.

We need more creative people who disrupt the status quo.

I think designers are often too conservative, too much like business analysts. We have enough analysts, we have enough people who sweat the details and documentation. We need more designers, creative people who disrupt the status quo, ask the awkward uncomfortable questions and bring something different to the table. Not just produce design deliverables or do design but be designers in everything. If a meeting isn't being productive, then design a better one even if it means rearranging the room or getting people off their bums and in front of the whiteboard. Push boundaries and norms, don't get comfortable. People hire designers because the existing way of working isn't getting them the results they want. Be that X factor.


Wow! Thank you Nathanael for all the great advice!

Are you a Champion who wants to be featured on our Balsamiq Champions blog? Send an email to champions@balsamiq.com with your stories or blog posts!

· Posted by leon in Case Studies and tagged , , , , , , · Add a comment

Balsamiq Raffles: Free Tickets to Great UX Events

We are always exploring new ways to connect with our community and reciprocate their love and support. We give free licenses to educators and do-gooders, we open-source part of our software, we sponsor lots of events in the industry, and much more.

Sponsorships are particularly important to us. They allow us to help the community grow and educate the world on User Experience (UX), which is one of the reasons our company exists.

Occasionally, the events we endorse come with free tickets in the sponsorship package. Since we rarely use the conference passes for ourselves, we've decided to raffle the free tickets to our community as another way to give back.


How We Run our Conference Ticket Raffles

It all starts when we decide to sponsor an event. We ask the organizers if there are free tickets included in the package and if we can raffle them. We get a positive answer almost every time, and most organizers will even offer their help publicizing the raffle.

The next step is to check how and by what date the winner(s) should collect their prize. With that information, we’re ready to create the raffle.

The Raffles Page

Not so long ago, we used to prepare a Google Form to collect the participants’ entries for each raffle. We’d give general information about the event and ask for two pieces of personal data and two feedback questions:

  • Name
  • Email
  • What's the single most frustrating issue you encounter when you use Balsamiq Mockups?
  • What's the most important feature missing from Balsamiq Mockups?

Balsamiq Raffle in Google FormsThis is what our Google Form Raffle used to look like

This quick-and-dirty solution was just that: quick, but dirty. It didn't fit in with our brand.

Also, we weren’t able to add as much detail as we would have liked so that the potential winners could make a well-informed decision about their participation in the raffles.

The form itself also presented some restrictions: we weren’t able to apply some advanced settings like conditional logic to ask customized questions.

Another important drawback was that the forms were not accessible on our website. It was impossible for our visitors to find out about the raffles.

Given all of this, we decided to work on a new strategy to bring the raffles to our site and align them with our brand and company goals.

Now we have a customized, in-house tool that allows us to offer these opportunities to all our visitors. We accomplished the task by employing available resources in a smarter way: Balsamiq Mockups for the wireframes, Google Sheets and Google Drive for the Admin UI and a robust React-powered front-end.

Wireframe vs. Raffle PageFrom the wireframe to the live page

We also made the raffles more inclusive. Before, the feedback questions were only for Balsamiq users. Now we can ask people if they use our tool or not, and ask them more relevant questions.

It’s too soon to quantify the results. However, the changes have already had a positive impact on the quality of the interactions. We have received more and richer replies, whereas in the previous form we got very basic answers or no answers at all.

We Always Have a Winner

Picking a winner is the hardest part: we would love to have tickets for everyone! ?

To choose the person we'll give the ticket to, we use Random.org. This service helps us sort the list of participants in random order. We assign the ticket(s) following the new order of the list.

If the winner is not able to go to the conference, we contact the next person in line. In case no one can go, we give the ticket back to the organizers with the request to donate it in our name to someone they know will appreciate it.

An example of randomized list with raffle resultsAn example of a randomized list

How To Find Out About New Free Tickets Raffles

Each time we open a new raffle, we share it via our Twitter account and our Facebook page. It's also possible to access them directly from our Company page.

We keep the raffles open for at least one month and close them early enough to allow the winners to make arrangements for travel and accommodations, in case they need to. (Travel, accommodations, and workshops are not included in the prize.)

Sounds interesting? Don't wait any longer! Check our open raffles right now, there might be one for that great event you'd like to attend.


Getting Better

Since we started organizing the raffles, we have introduced countless changes with the scope to offer a better and better experience for our participants. Each raffle teaches us a new lesson and helps us improve our products and our internal process.

If you have any tips for us on how to make this kind of giveaway better, we're all ears!

So, did you check the open raffles yet? Go, do it now, and good luck! ?

· Posted by jessica in Company · Add a comment

Remote Work: What's Hard, What's Great, and How to Stay Connected

More and more companies are embracing remote working. For those who are considering it or have just made the leap, there are a lot of resources to learn from, such as the Zapier's Guide to Remote Work.

Here are some of the pros and cons we've discovered in our seven years of being a mostly remote company.

Working from Home Is Hard

We truly love being a remote team. ❤️ But before focusing on the good stuff, I'll warn you: it's not all sunshine and rainbows. And not everyone is cut out for remote work.

We have been a distributed team since 2009; long enough to uncover many problems we face while working from home.

peldi-before-balsamiqActually, we were remote before we even existed! Here is Peldi working on the foundation of the Balsamiq Mockups codebase in Mexico, back in 2007

You'll Get Easily Distracted

Believe it or not, not having colleagues or a boss within earshot and sight of your desk can impact your productivity. For many of us, the hardest thing is staying focused and avoiding the "black holes" of social media, YouTube, online articles, etc.

Moreover, distractions can come at you from different directions. It may be difficult to focus with your family around, because they might think that you are 'free' from work. This is particularly true for those of us who live within commuting distance from Bologna, where we alternate days in the office and days at home. It can be tough for your family to adapt to this non-traditional way of working, and when you're working from home, they may assume you're available or at least not so busy.

Still, you have to work and get things done!

Your Work-Life Balance May NOT Turn out the Way You Think

So there is no external force (like an office routine) to help you stay focused. The flip side is that when the work day is done, it is harder to log off and stop working when you work at home, since your work and home environments are the same. This can impact your family life.

This is much more difficult for those who have trouble managing their time. You'll need a lot of self-discipline to balance work and family time, to keep "work" and "home" environments apart.

You'll Be Lonely

Working remotely can be very hard if you are a people person.

Val, for example, is probably the most social and friendly person at Balsamiq (if you've ever met Val or talked to her, you know what I mean). During her first few years, she struggled with loneliness. She placed too much emphasis on creating friendships with remote colleagues. She set herself up for disappointment. But, with time, she developed a perspective on her boundaries.

Things aren't that easy for introverts either. They like being alone and rarely get lonely, but sometimes they too miss the small talk with colleagues at lunchtime. And nobody likes eating lunch alone.

eating-lunch-aloneWednesday 26 October 2016, Bologna office: Paolo's lunch. Even at our Bologna office we happen to have lunch alone!

And, it can get worse! You might see your social skills degrade if you go too long without leaving the house. Like Stefano said, "Some days I only get out of the house to throw away the trash."

Teamwork Will Be Affected

Working with your colleagues can be a real challenge.

When we talk about remote working we tend to focus on what happens to individuals, on the pros and cons for their life. The truth is that working with people in a far away time zone can be slow and frustrating. Working on the same project far apart is much more difficult than doing it sitting next to each other.

In fact, the greatest challenge in Balsamiq is not remote work, but working in different time zones, as the two things don't have to go together. There are some benefits that come from working asynchronously, but we are challenged with a very minimal overlap between the US and European teams for real-time conversations.

Working from Home Is Awesome

OK, we've scared you enough. ? It's time to talk about the benefits!

You'll Be Free - in Many Ways

As Peldi said, "The ability to work from anywhere is something I will never want to give up."

working-from-the-hotelThere's nothing weird about working from a hotel, while waiting for your flight

You'll be able to organize your time at will. You can work from a waiting room while they're changing your tires or from the gym where your son is training.

You can wear comfy clothes. ? By the way, we are always looking for the perfect outfit for “office-less” workers: comfy but not too pajama-y. (Any suggestions?)

virgin-remote-workingVirgin's summer office in Biscarrosse (France)

Last but not least, working remotely allows you a great deal of freedom to pick where to live.

leidenRemote working with a view. Stefano and his family moved from Italy to Leiden, Netherlands

No More Commuting!

Stuck in traffic or on the bus with seemingly the entire city going to their offices? Not anymore!

Besides the fact that you'll be more gentle to the earth due to a smaller carbon footprint, working from home leaves you time to enjoy your hobbies and take care of the house. For example, Natalie puts that extra time into caring for her little farm, and to approach life in a slower, more present way.

sunset-farmLovely sunrise from Natalie's farm in California...

love-cucumber...and the lovely products of her land!

Shorter commuting also means it's easier to keep in touch with your family. Agnese, who lives across the yard from her grandparents, can check on them if no one else is at home.

At Balsamiq, those of us who decide to commute (because we live near the Bologna office) are free to choose off-peak traffic times or take a nice walk or bike ride to make the travel more pleasant.

Your Work-Life Balance May Be Better Than You Think

As Val said, "I have been remote since 2009 and love it. I'm completely in charge of my daily schedule, allowing me to fit in personal commitments and professional deadlines. I've kept my gym schedule, regularly spend time with my kids after school, and have been able to adopt a couple of dogs who keep me company during the quiet hours." What more could you ask for? ?

cousteauPets like Cousteau, Natalie's cat, can ease loneliness

agnese-catAnd you can take care of your little friends while working! (If they let you use your computer, unlike Agnese's cat...)

You can organize your time and day, and be close to your family and small children. "They feel that I'm 'always there', and that's priceless." (Stefano)

You Are Responsible for Yourself

You won't feel like you have to "look busy" all the time, which can actually raise your productivity. But this benefit could sound bittersweet to some; it's certainly not for everyone.

The bright side is that you can do whatever makes you feel more productive, even if that's just staring out the window or taking a break to do the dishes.

Jess, for example, starts working early in the morning. She feels more energized, focused, and it's better for her family in general. "Those free hours I get in the evening are the best to share with the kids. You can work some more later, if necessary. But the heavy lifting will be done by then."

Tricks We Use to Work Better from Home

Here are some tips and tricks from your friends at Balsamiq on how to work from home without going insane or becoming an anti-social zombie ?

  • Make the bed before you start working. More points if it's the first thing you do in the morning. You've already accomplished the first task of the day! Well begun is half done 🙂
  • Make sure you have a dedicated space that you (and the rest of your family) can call "the office", away from distractions. That door is what defines the boundary between being "at work" and being "at home". (You can't use the couch.) (Ok, only sometimes...)
  • Keep your desk as free from stuff as possible.

leon-deskLeon's desk (Richmond, CA)

  • Tell your family to act 'as if' you were somewhere else and that you will act accordingly (e.g. not even answering the door bell).
  • Turn off as many notifications as possible on your phone. When it's time to get real work done, quit HipChat / Slack / Basecamp / email / etc., put headphones on, and knock the project out of the park!
  • Take a lot more time away from your computer than you think you should. You think better when you're not staring at a screen.

Advice for Remote Workers

I asked my colleagues what's advice they would give to someone who was just starting to work from home.

Here are their answers:

  • Make sure you include some group social activities in your life: yoga, Zumba, lunch with friends. Humans are social animals!
  • Know how much willpower you have, because you'll need all of it! Monday is still the first day of the week and you will be all alone, nobody will help you get the day going. You will have to keep yourself in check. Sometimes it's easy, sometimes it's not.
  • Work out a schedule and stick to it. Build a habit and be strong when, sometime between the first and second year, you'll feel alone. You'll get over it.
  • Trying to keep work contained can be a challenge when you don't have an office to leave at the end of the day. To do that, keep quite a lot of structure in your work hours and keep your work time focused. At the end of the work day you'll feel content with your productivity, and very easily you'll leave the office behind you (even though it is right there in your living room ?), by shutting down all the work tools you use.
  • Keep a good to-do list going, because obviously there are times when you're not inspired during your work day to move on to some big or unpleasant project. Keeping a list of articles or videos your colleagues have suggested to read will help you break up your day, but still feel productive and happy at the end of it.
  • Be kind to yourself, especially when you've had an unproductive day. It's easy to forget how much time you used to spend commuting and talking around the water cooler. Don't expect to be productive for 8 hours straight just because you're working at home.
  • Working from home is not your only option. Go to a co-working space or a coffee shop or a library. You don't have to be alone!

stefano-coffee-shopAn old-fashion coffee shop, Stefano's temporary office

What We Do as a Company To Stay Connected as a Team

  • At Balsamiq we are optimized for working remotely. This is true even for those who live in Bologna, where we have our office. No one goes to the office five (or even four) days in a week, and that's fine. Super fine, in fact!
  • Communication is crucial for a remote team. We've spent quite some time looking for the best toolset for our team, because we have to rely on it. We currently use Atlassian Confluence for the internal wiki while HipChat is our little digital office space, but we've recently tested other tools, such as Workplace by Facebook, Slack, Basecamp, with more to come.
  • We get together once a year for a week for the annual Company Retreat. The main goals are to strengthen the bonds between the Balsamici, make shared memories and recharge our emotional batteries. And we always have a ton of fun!
  • We also have mini retreats, because sometimes it's more efficient to get a few key people in a room together for a period of time. We could do some much faster training, or attack a tough project together, or couple it with a conference and learn more about a new technology together.
  • We have a budget for Get Togethers. There might be times when we feel the need to spend some in-person time with some colleagues. Not for any particular project, but just to bond and avoid the loneliness that happens when working from home for months at a time. The budget varies depending on the employee's location.
  • We recently set up a software tool called Know Your Company, which helps you uncover insights into your company that you didn't know before. The tool sends us an interesting email twice a week. Questions can be very profound ("Have you ever felt like doing the right thing for a customer would be seen as doing the wrong thing for the business?" or "Do you think the company is the right size?" or "Have you ever been afraid to suggest an idea at work because you thought someone might shoot it down?") or about lighter topics ("Got a favorite recipe to share?" or "Have you ever met anyone famous?"). Answering is always optional. Know Your Company shares the answers with everyone at Balsamiq or just with our CEO, if we prefer. Every week we find out something new about our colleagues and uncover topics we could (or even should) discuss. So far we love it!
  • Another thing we've recently started is "Friday funtimes", which are 30-minute casual meetings with 4 or 5 randomly-selected Balsamici, to freely talk about whatever we want! It's a new way to foster communication and feel connected (smile) (this is an idea stolen from Trello's CEO Michael Pryor.)

Want to Learn More about Remote Working at Balsamiq?


I hope you'll find this useful!

If you have any questions or suggestions, please leave us a comment.

Francesca for the Balsamiq Team

· Posted by francesca in Company · 1 Comment

Simprints - Simple Fingerprint Identification for the Developing World

Tristram NormanTristram Norman is CTO of Simprints, a nonprofit that has created a simple, secure fingerprint identification system for a range of projects in developing countries. Tristram calls it "a social enterprise aimed at solving the identification gap in low resource settings." Simprints uses Balsamiq Mockups for quick, low-fidelity prototypes to test the software they develop with Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) for their fingerprint scanner.

Simprints works like this:
Image credit: Simprints website.

Simprints is "the first fingerprint scanner designed for—and by—frontline workers [in developing countries]." It is rugged, yet affordable and has been validated by use in six countries across three continents in both urban and rural contexts.

One way it's being used is to encourage pregnant women to get pre-natal checkups by making it easier for them to provide proof of identity. You can read about this and other projects on their website.

Tristram was generous enough to answer some questions about his projects and experience. Read on...

Q&A with Tristram Norman

What industry do you work in, and what is your title or job description?

Software and hardware in the developing world. Specifically we build identity solutions for mobile health. I'm the CTO.

What are you working on right now?

We have two big projects currently; one in Nepal and one in Bangladesh. Both projects are working with pregnant mothers, about 30 thousand in each country. The objective is to increase the number and the accuracy of their visits. A pregnant woman is supposed to receive 4 pre-natal visits from a community health worker. They are incredibly important to spot early warning signs with the pregnancy. It's also incredibly important to have the previous records because things like blood pressure change during the pregnancy and you need to rate of change to make an accurate diagnosis.

What challenges do you face working in open source?

We have to think very carefully before we open source something.

Working in open source has many benefits, but it also comes with a large range of challenges as well. For us the biggest challenge is accountability. We have to think very carefully before we open source something about how could it be used for bad instead of good. This year ID4Africa was held in Rwanda to convey a powerful message; Identification is a key bottle neck in allowing people to improve the quality of their lives. But an identification system, such as the ID cards to distinguish Hutus and Tutsis, can be used for malicious purposes.

Simprints MockupsBalsamiq wireframes for the enrollment mobile app.

What challenges do you face working in developing countries with different views and experiences with technology?

Working in the developing world makes you think about technology very differently.

Working in the developing world makes you think about technology very differently. The first thing you notice immediately is that common things that we are used to do not mean the same thing for everyone. For example when we ran our first UI workshops in Nepal the Scanner had a thumbs up for GOOD and a thumbs down for BAD. This meant nothing to the Nepali community health workers.

What challenges do you face working with NGOs and governments?

Working with governments and NGOs can bring a lot of challenges to a startup. With governments/NGOs it's not always about cheaper and more efficient, there are many more factors at play. This makes it necessary to put a fair amount of time into making sure you have aligned strongly with what they are trying to accomplish before pitching or implementing a project. However the exchange here is you get a significant amount of transparency in return.

What suggestions do you have for someone looking to succeed in your role or industry?

Be genuine. It's an industry of people who want to help, but it's easy to lose track of all of that while trying to create a successful business.

What kinds of things are you excited about in your industry?

I am excited about the wide range of open source tools that are becoming available to the developing world.

Why and how do you use Balsamiq Mockups?

The key is to spend as little time as possible creating a wireframe so we can have a quick feedback cycle.

We use Balsamiq Mockups to rapidly prototype wireframe for tests. The key here is to spend as little time as possible creating a wireframe so we can have a quick feedback cycle before creating a rough draft of the screen itself. We use Balsamiq because it is one of the easiest wireframe tools we have found!

Do you have any feature ideas or suggestions for how we can improve our product(s)?

Yes. Balsamiq is great, but it's confusing having a web version and a native version. And they don't seem to link up so it took us a while to figure out who was working on what. The UI is amazing though. [Editor's note: We're working on it; not too much longer!]


Thank you, Tristram, for taking the time to answer our questions and share your lessons learned. We wish you continued success!

Are you a Champion who wants to be featured on our Balsamiq Champions blog? Send an email to champions@balsamiq.com with your stories or blog posts!

· Posted by leon in Case Studies and tagged , , , · Add a comment

Gret Glyer of DonorSee

Gret GlyerGret Glyer is the founder of DonorSee, an app that greatly simplifies and personalizes charitable giving. He used Balsamiq Mockups for the first draft of his app and agreed to share some of his early wireframes with us. I also got to ask him some questions about the origins of DonorSee and what makes it unique.

For a more complete overview of DonorSee, listen to Gret describe it in his own words:

You can also check out DonorSee on Facebook and the Apple and Android app stores. Read on for our interview...

Q&A with Gret Glyer of DonorSee

What industry do you work in, and what is your title or job description?

I'm the CEO and Founder of a new app called DonorSee, which is revolutionizing online giving.

What's the story behind DonorSee? How did you come up with the idea?

How cool would it be to start the Uber for charities?

It just came to me one day. I always thought about starting a tech company, and then one day I was having a conversation and I said, "how cool would it be to start the Uber for charities?" And then the idea flooded into my brain.

How does DonorSee deliver donations to recipients and how did you make that happen?

Aid workers living abroad in different countries post projects, and the money goes to their bank accounts. Then they get the money to the field.

What's your background? What was your path to your current role?

It's a long story. I've been living in Malawi for 3 years, and crowdfunded a bunch of stuff, like this girls school:

How is DonorSee different from what else is out there?

It's basically a crowdfunding app, but we're better because we show people where their money is going.

What challenges have you faced? Have they been mostly technological or other?

A lot of technical challenges, since I am not technical.

Why and how do you use Balsamiq Mockups?

Balsamiq gave me an easy way to talk with developers.

I used them to make the initial design and think through the process of how users will use an app that was, at first, just an idea in my head. As someone with no technical background, it gave me an easy way to talk with developers, and explain what I wanted.

DonorSee Wireframes Made with Balsamiq
Some of Gret's early wireframes for DonorSee

What do you like most about what you do?

I'm excited that DonorSee is one of the most obvious ways to make a tangible impact on the world. When you take part in helping a boy get a wheelchair, or a girl get hearing aids, you get to really see and appreciate the work that you are doing.

What suggestions do you have for someone looking to succeed in your role or industry?

Persevere and listen to mentors.


Great advice and a powerful story. Best of luck to you, Gret!

Are you a Champion who wants to be featured on our Balsamiq Champions blog? Send an email to champions@balsamiq.com with your stories or blog posts!

· Posted by leon in Case Studies, Release Notes and tagged , , , , · Add a comment

[Release] A small bug fix release

Hi friends of Balsamiq!

Have we mentioned how much we love our community lately? You all are awesome, we appreciate your feedback and bug reports so much. You're truly good citizens of the web, taking the time to report your bugs to us so that we can fix them for you and for everyone else.

With that, we decided to do a tiny release today with a few things that were reported recently.

  • We fixed a cosmetic issue in the iPad inspector, where icons and labels were not lining up.
  • We improved our parsing of web URLs to support more crazy characters.
  • We fixed an annoying little bug with the resizing of the left-hand panel. Thanks so much sasmstr for reporting it!

How do I update?

If you're using the Web Demo, Mockups 3 for Google Drive, Confluence Cloud or JIRA Cloud, you're already updated.

For Desktop, simply install from our download page on top of your current installation. You won't have to re-register.

As always, if you hit any snags with the new build let us know immediately and we'll fix it right up! 🙂

For posterity, today's release is build 3.5.4 3.5.5: we just released a fix for a regression where multiple links were broken if exported to PDF. Thanks Martin for reporting it!

Jan 9, 2017 UPDATE: we just did a little 3.5.6 release to improve some under-the-hood features.

What else is going on?

  • We're working on tons of different projects, which will see the light of day sometimes in the not-so-distant future. Can't wait to tell you all about it.
  • On the Life @ Balsamiq blog, we posted a blog post on How and Why We Give Away Swag.
  • We're going to be hiring 2 more people soon! Stay tuned on our Jobs Page for openings.

Onward!
Peldi for the Balsamiq Team

· Posted by peldi in Products, Release Notes · Add a comment

How and Why We Give Away Swag

Giving gifts is a win-win situation. You make customers happy, cultivate loyalty, and get good marketing results simply by being generous and grateful.

Today we want to share our experience about how to and why we give away swag, in the hope that what we’ve learned will be useful to you.

Our Swag Story

Since Balsamiq launched, we've enjoyed offering tokens of gratitude.

We’ve been distributing stickers, pins, and sharpies mostly at the conferences we've attended. It always works as a good spark to start conversations with our fans.

Nevertheless, we wanted to do more to show our appreciation.

Our very first attempt at giving gifts was sending out little bottles of balsamic vinegar by mail, with handwritten notes, to a dozen of our clients.

A bottle of Balsamiq's balsamic vinegarA bottle of Balsamiq's balsamic vinegar

Later on, we've made it more scalable and started designing some t-shirts: less fancy than the balsamic vinegar, but surely a more sustainable way to thank all the love and support our Community's had for us.

And since nothing beats the sentiment of happy customers wearing our tee, it's become part of our way of building and nurturing our relationship with them.

In the meantime, we've kept on crafting a lot of swag apparel and accessories just for us, on special occasions like our annual company retreats.

part of our 2016 Retreat Swag, a bagOur 2016 Retreat Bag

Trying to excel at customer service is our way of doing marketing. Massively distributing company-branded articles wouldn't fit very well with our culture. But here's what happened: after giving away a few t-shirts, people started asking about them, so we decided to make them available at cost, without framing it in a marketing strategy. That's how the Balsamiq swag store was born. Yay!

Who Gets Balsamiq Swag

Our intention is to show how grateful we are to those that go above and beyond as members of our community. We want to keep it unique, and we give away swag only as a form of recognition of something someone did for us that was special, for example:

  • They helped us debug a tough bug.
  • They consistently report bugs or help others in our forums.
  • They gave us great ideas for new features.
  • They are Balsamiq Champions, sharing good practices and knowledge in general about UX.
  • They are do-gooders.
  • They were excellent candidates we met when interviewing for new job positions.

You get the idea ?

We also do it to welcome new hires or just craft new shirts for no particular reason other than our love for our company.

Here are pictures of part of our newbies' gear. Getting them makes us feel special and part of a great company since day one.

Swag for new hiresPart of our welcome swag

How We Send Swag

Joy, our does-it-all COO, buys discount codes in advance from Spreadshirt, the company that makes our swag. When we want to give someone a gift, we just need to tell Val, the heart and soul of all the swag-giving Balsamiq does. She will then email the codes to our recipients so they can choose what they’d like best from our store (design size, color...)

Every shirt, tote bag, or water bottle is a custom order. In this way, our supplier doesn't have any "stock" sitting around waiting to be sold, and we don't have to worry about what size or color the customer prefers.

Our provider sells through two online stores, one for the US and the other one for Europe. The distribution for the rest of the world could be a problem sometimes since it can cause an extra shipping charge to our recipients. But we don't want our friends to put their hands in their wallet to receive a gift! So, if you happen to know a better way to handle it, we are all ears. We'd love to get suggestions to smoothen out this part of the process.

Speaking of Spreadshirt

We like to do business with companies similar to Balsamiq in size and values, and Spreadshirt is a perfect fit. They produce high-quality items, crafted with responsible and eco-friendly practices by people who care about each T-shirt or accessory they manufacture.

They're focused on an excellent customer service, handling every interaction painstakingly with great empathy.

A quick story: on May 2nd, 2016, a sad day for the music world, we ordered new coupon codes under the name PAISELYPARK. It was a very unusual word, definitely unrelated to Balsamiq. Still, that confusing request didn't stop them from making us look awesome. They read our minds, and created the right codes under PAISLEYPARK; they'd understood we wanted to pay a little tribute to Prince using the name of his record label.

In addition to their great products, service and company culture, they're always going the extra mile with every purchase. They handle all the shipping and customs which makes the process cost-and-time efficient for us. They make sure our customers receive their personalized piece, timely and frictionless.

Take a look at how they print your t-Shirt!

They're awesome!

How Much It All Costs

The truth is, we don't know. We have all the data to calculate it, but we believe there’s no point in squeezing those numbers to get more information. We just have to make sure not to break the bank. ? However, if you’d like to know even a tiny bit of hard data, we pay an average of $25 for each item we send as a gift. If someone buys a tee directly from the store, we don’t get a cent.

Why Would Anyone Want Balsamiq Swag

You may ask.

We hope it’s because they love us ?

We make the designs cool and close to our personality without a pushy branding agenda behind them. You can see the Balsamiq Mockups' smiley face, our tagline, and other witty messages, but the focus is never on the name of our company. We'd love that those who wear our stuff feel like insiders, not promoters.

It’s great to recognize each other as Balsamiq lovers and share this sense of belonging.
Besides, who doesn’t love a cool tee? ❤️

Take a look at our store. There's a bunch of goodies, from t-shirts and hoodies to aprons and baby onesies.

Return on Investment

If we don’t quantify the investment, we can hardly talk about a return. Yet, we have qualitative proof that this effort is worth it.

It pleases our customers and strengthens the relationships with our community. On top of that, we’re cultivating arguably the most optimal marketing method of communication, which is word of mouth.

People would most likely talk about us when we reciprocate on their awesomeness. With that gift, we’re giving people a story to tell, online and offline. It doesn’t matter if they are just a handful out of thousands.

We’re trying to do business the most human possible way. This happens in the small honest personal interactions that allow us to build trust. Have you ever read The Thank You Economy?

dominik wearing his balsamiq swag

A mug, a sticker or a pin are a perfect trigger to remind people about our little tool. Who knows? Maybe one day they will suggest Balsamiq Mockups to one of their friends. It’s a simple fun way to go from top-of-mind to tip-of-tongue. Have you ever read Contagious? ?

#balsamiq #prototype #ux #mockup #stikers #good #stuff старая школа 🤘🏻😎🤘🏻

A photo posted by Andrey Zaytsev (@nabash2) on

We’d love to hear your story: what do you give? Or what did you get? What could we do better? Leave your comment below! ?

Jess for the Balsamiq team

· Posted by jessica in Company · 2 Comments

[Release] Mockups 3.5! Improved Material Design Support, iPhone 7, macOS Sierra compatibility, and more!

Hello friends of Balsamiq! Another month, another exciting release!

Improved Material Design Support!

We have added some controls and properties to make it easier to create designs inspired by Material Design.

A new generic Smartphone control!

Check it out! You'll no longer have to use an iPhone or download a stencil from Mockups To Go.

smartphone

Thanks to all the folks that requested this here and anyone else who has written in about this feature.

A new Circle Button control, with lots of options!

circlebutton

Sliders now have three thumb options, and support for color:

sliders

New iPhone 6, 7 option!

There it is!

iphone7

Thanks again bcarlson and others for requesting this.

You Can Now Use Any of Your Image Assets as Icons!

That's right. You can pick any of your image assets as an icon now. Easy and powerful!

We effectively removed the "custom icons" feature. Gone are the days of having to name your assets with the "icon_" prefix!

macOS Sierra Compatible!

We had some users report that drag+drop wasn't working in macOS Sierra, which shipped yesterday. We scrambled to find a workaround, and we did!

Thanks so much to cudatron, Niket_Anand and everyone else for the early reports!

Other Improvements and Bug Fixes

  • Updated the Tree control to use FontAwesome icons.
  • Fixed an issue with creating a text link to a new mockup in the Text control.
  • Fixed an issue with the button icon color when the button is disabled and the background is dark.
  • Fixed an issue with the order of icons returned by the icon inspector. Thanks RaeHanley for the bug report!
  • Fixed an issue with hitting the Enter key after renaming a mockup also opening the text editor.
  • Fixed scrolling to see the selected mockup on project open. Thanks Berthold for the request!
  • Fixed an issue with markdown not getting parsed properly in the DataGrid in some cases. Thanks for reporting it Matthew!
  • Fixed an issue with Flickr integration no longer working in plugins.
  • Fixed an issue when using the recent "Discard all alternates" option. Thanks so much to Mike for the report!
  • In our web-based versions, fixed a real-time-collaboration issue when deleting mockups with crazy characters in their name.

How do I update?

If you're using the Web Demo, Mockups 3 for Google Drive, Confluence Cloud or JIRA Cloud, you're already updated.

For Desktop, simply install from our download page on top of your current installation. You won't have to re-register.

As always, if you hit any snags with the new build let us know immediately and we'll fix it right up! 🙂

For posterity, today's release is build 3.5.1 3.5.2 3.5.3: we just released a fix for this regression and another reported by Andreas F. Oops!

Onward!
Peldi for the Balsamiq Team

· Posted by peldi in Products, Release Notes · 1 Comment

[Release] A Nice Little Summer Release

Hello friends of Balsamiq!

We hope you've all had a great summer and are energized for a productive autumn and winter! 🙂

Some of us took some time off, but that didn't prevent us from fixing a few bugs and adding a little new feature for you all!

Let's see what's in today's release.

New "Discard All Alternates" menu

This is especially useful to clean up when a mockup has been finalized, or after duplicating a mockup that has alternates.

Now you can discard all alternates for a mockup with a dedicated menu command:

discardall

Easy!

Thanks JMT, PhilippQF and Lia for requesting this!

Other Improvements and Bug Fixes

  1. Fixed an issue with the Rename button not updating after pasting text into the Rename Mockup dialog.
  2. Fixed an issue with Quick Add not working in some cases after sending focus to it via the + shortcut. Thank you "usability" for reporting it!
  3. Fixed an issue with pasting values into the Color Picker. Thanks russ for reporting it!
  4. Fixed a typo in the empty symbol library welcome text. Thank you Michael T. for reporting it!
  5. Fixed an error when doing a Save As and using the same name as before.
  6. Fixed an issue when importing assets with special characters in their file names.

How do I update?

If you're using the Web Demo, Mockups 3 for Google Drive, Confluence Cloud or JIRA Cloud, you're already updated.

For Desktop, simply install from our download page on top of your current installation. You won't have to re-register.

As always, if you hit any snags with the new build let us know immediately and we'll fix it right up! 🙂

For posterity, today's release is build 3.4.5.

What else is going on?

Onward!
Peldi for the Balsamiq Team

· Posted by peldi in Products, Release Notes · Add a comment

Jane Portman Cooks Up UI Breakfast

Jane PortmanJane Portman is the creator and author of UI Breakfast, a practical resource full of UX design and business lessons based on her extensive experience with both. It also contains an amazing column called UI Practicum where she tackles common UI problems in a useful and digestible way.

We're big fans of UI Breakfast at Balsamiq because of the clarity of Jane's writing and her love of wireframes. Jane describes her rationale for choosing wireframes over interactive prototypes in this Q&A post about translating an idea into an actual product.

As a developer, you’ll have a natural urge to skip wireframes and jump right into code (I used to be the same way as a designer, doing high-fidelity mockups right away). But wireframes create that 10,000 ft view to objectively revise your functionality.

This wireframe from one of her blog posts demonstrates her expert use of wireframes to convey all the right information.

It's a perfect balance of generic and specific. The use of breaklines and annotations conveys to the viewer what they do (and don't) need to know about in order to build it, without relying on color or interactivity.

Lots more goodies from Jane in our interview below.

Q&A with Jane Portman

What industry do you work in, and what is your title or job description?

I’m a UI/UX consultant who helps SaaS founders build focused, profitable products. My role is to identify critical design flaws in web applications — causing unreasonable churn or high support volumes — and help fix them. Previously a creative director at a large agency, I also enjoy doing visual design, but lately I’ve chosen to focus on most strategic, "expensive" problems in the UX domain.

What kinds of things are you excited about in your industry?

Now everyone understands the value of well-designed, quality software.

The state of things in the SaaS world is very exciting! As opposed to its early days, now everyone understands the value of well-designed, quality software — both the users (as a business tool) and the founders (as a source of income). The users have also matured enough to learn the basic UX patterns, which designers can now safely rely on.

It’s also amazing that flat design and minimalism are now a big trend. Ten years ago it was nearly impossible to sign off such designs with clients. Today, everybody is hyped about keeping things clean and simple — which I love!

What suggestions do you have for someone looking to succeed in your role or industry?

The key is to approach design problems from the business standpoint. In addition to polishing your key UI/UX skills, you also need to teach yourself essentials from other relevant areas: entrepreneurship, product management, copywriting, and marketing. People ask me about that all the time, so I put together a special content guide which includes free (or very affordable) resources on each of these topics.

In addition to polishing your key UI/UX skills, you also need to teach yourself essentials from other relevant areas.

It’s also a great strategy to work on your own products: you’ll be able to polish all of the above skills in practice, diversify your income streams, and understand how exactly your clients feel while running their business. My own biggest success so far is my third book, The UI Audit (help yourself to a sample chapter here).

What are some common “rookie mistakes” that you see in UI design?

Overuse of dashboards is the curse of modern web apps!

Overuse of dashboards is the curse of modern web apps! They make an app seem cool, while being not necessary in most cases (unless you run a mission-critical service). Users want to dive into their work instead of observing bells and whistles. Imagine if Gmail showed you a fancy dashboard instead of your inbox?

For startups with limited resources, what’s the best return on investment in terms of improving UX?

For a bootstrapped startup, the best roadmap is the following:

  • Learn about some best UI/UX practices yourself: spend a week or two reading topical UX blogs and books. Product strategy is a big topic here, too.
  • Do plenty of user research on your own.
  • Inspect Behance and Dribbble to get an eyeful of modern visual trends.
  • Get a theme or a template. For that, hire a good designer who’ll help you pick a decent one and customize it for your needs.
  • If you’re willing to invest a bit more, ask a good UX consultant for recommendations.
  • Learn to handle everyday UX issues yourself by doing more self-study. UX Stack Exchange is a good free resource where you can ask for help.
  • If you have a whole team of developers but can’t afford in-house designers, it helps to train the developers on UI/UX essentials. That’s been my own hot topic lately, as I launched a dedicated training program for teams.

Why and how do you use Balsamiq Mockups?

Balsamiq is my primary tool for wireframing! I use it for wireframing sessions with clients, and also in educational blog posts. UI Practicum is my weekly article series where I solve challenging UX problems in web applications. Illustrations for these articles are made entirely with Balsamiq Mockups, like this article on scheduling.

I don’t rely on the interactive part too much, but I love the ability to create detailed, style-agnostic layouts. And I also dig the cute look of arrows and explanations!

Do you have any feature ideas or suggestions for how we can improve our product?

Don’t have any critical ones. But I’ve been working on a wizard lately, and had to hack it together with great difficulty (see the wireframe below). It would be awesome if such component was pre-baked in Balsamiq.

Who do you look up to (or follow on social media) for inspiration?

My feed includes Paul Jarvis, Shawn Blanc, Joanna Wiebe, Brian Casel, Amy Hoy, Seth Godin, and a handful of “girly” lifestyle blogs about psychology, fashion, makeup, and interior design.

Among fellow UI/UX writers I can highly recommend Sarah Doody and Samuel Hulick.

How do you see UX changing? Do the principles stay the same while visual trends change, or are there fundamental aspects that evolve as well?

Global principles stay the same, but the library of common patterns evolves.

Global principles stay the same, but the library of common patterns evolves. Users learn fresh patterns as new software products appear in the mass market. The whole UX industry is maturing, while still being a hot subject.

Exciting times!


For more, head on over to UI Breakfast. Thanks, Jane, for all you do to help rid the world of bad software. You're a champion!

Are you a Champion who wants to be featured on our Balsamiq Champions blog? Send an email to champions@balsamiq.com with your stories or blog posts!

· Posted by leon in Case Studies and tagged , , , , , · Add a comment

Welcome Drew Lafferty and Lizelotte Green!

Hello, friends of Balsamiq! Our not-so-little-anymore team keeps on growing!

Today I would like to introduce to you our two new team members: Drew Lafferty and Liz Green!

Drew Lafferty


Drew is a jack-of-all-trades Developer / DevOps, based in Chicago, Illinois.

Drew Lafferty

He loves working full stack and diving into both front-end and back-end code, as well as learning about new web technologies and anything Ops related.

His main responsibility is to be the lead developer of Olio, our home-grown CRM web app.

On top of that, he's something close to an "IT guy" for us: if anyone has a technical question or needs some programming help, Drew's there to help.

We received over 200 applications for this job position and met some great people in the process. After three rounds of interviews, it became clear that Drew was the one who had the right combination of experience, skills, shared interests, location and culture fit for this particular job position.

Drew is already becoming an integral part of our team. It's such a luxury having him around!

Lizelotte Green


Lizelotte goes by Liz, and her job title is "Tier 2 Sales Support and Product Manager for CRM". It means that she's going to become our in-house expert on how we sell our different products, and work with Drew to make Olio as powerful and easy to use as possible for our sales support team.

Liz Green

Again, we received over 200 applications for Liz's position and met some really great candidates, who we hope to cross paths again with in the future.

We are ecstatic with having chosen Liz, though: she's smart, detail-oriented, enthusiastic, warm, driven and independent. She's also based out of Chicago, which gives her ample time to overlap with our CET and PST sales support team members.

You can find Drew and Liz's contact info on our company page.

Please join us in welcoming them to the Balsamiq family by adding a comment below!

Onward!

Peldi

P.S. BTW, we're not stopping here. We'll have more hiring-related announcements in the future, stay tuned here and keep checking our jobs page regularly!

· Posted by peldi in Company · Add a comment

Edit the Balsamiq Docs!

We've made it easy for anyone with a Github account to submit edits to our documentation.

As we've written about before, improving our documentation has been a focus of ours for a while. We've gone from one or two developers writing docs when they found the time to a team of about five people that make sure the docs are updated with each release.

We recently updated our docs site (sites, actually) to be easier for both readers and writers.

This year I attended the Write the Docs 2016 conference in Portland to learn from other writers. I also spoke on a panel discussion there to share what we learned through our documentation overhaul. And our documentation repositories are public so that anyone can use them as a starting template.

Looking at open source software projects we use and talking with other "documentarians" whose docs are on Github, I noticed that many projects invite documentation collaboration from readers via Github "pull requests". Since our docs are on Github, we decided to do it too.

We aren't an open source software project and we don't rely on volunteers for our work, but we often get emails about our documentation; Typos, text that's not clear, or out-of-date information, for example. Now, with a Github account, you can propose those changes directly in our documentation!

Here's how.

At the bottom of each article on docs.balsamiq.com and support.balsamiq.com you'll see a link called "Edit this page".

Clicking that link will take you directly to the Markdown source for that specific page in our repository.

To propose a change, click the "edit" icon to "fork" the repository. (You have to be logged into Github to do this. If you don't already have a Github account, learn how to sign up here.)

You can then edit the file. Add a brief explanation of your changes and click the "Propose file change" button to submit it.

Once you do that we'll immediately get notified and, if we agree with the change, we'll merge it into our "master" branch and it'll be live.

Since we added this, we've already had one contributor, Song Li, who fixed a link in one of our Sales FAQs. Thanks, Song Li!

And thanks in advance to our community documentarians who will use this feature. You're helping to make our documentation better for everyone.

· Posted by leon in User Experience and tagged , · Add a comment

Scott Gallant on Adapting to Succeed

scott and jordanNot long ago we received an email from Scott Gallant in response to our blog post about our new Hugo-powered documentation site. He said he was building a Content Management System (CMS) for websites running on Hugo and Jekyll, and asked us for some feedback.

From the beginning of our project, one of our hesitations had been moving away from our existing CMS to a solution that required more technical know-how from the contributors, so the idea of using a CMS on top of our new platform was enticing.

Since then we've been beta testing the product Scott has been building with his partner Jordan (both shown above) - Forestry.io - and have used it for some of our documentation updates. (Note: Forestry was recently accepted to the Techstars NYC 2016 accelerator program and will be available to the public very soon.)

Scott happens to be a long-time Balsamiq user, so we asked him for some feedback on our product, as well as his thoughts on launching a new business. Read his answers below.

Q&A with Scott Gallant

What is forestry.io and what problem does it solve?

Forestry.io is a CMS for Jekyll and Hugo sites. Upload your project and forestry.io will automatically build a CMS tailored to your site...no more mucking around with PHP 🙂 When you or someone from your team edits content via your forestry.io CMS, your website gets re-compiled and published to your host (S3, Github, FTP, etc).

Web developers know that static site generators improve their workflow by 10x.

Web developers know that static site generators like Jekyll and Hugo improve their workflow by 10x. But until now, you had to fire up the command line in order to edit anything on your Jekyll or Hugo site. This meant that Dean from marketing had to ask the dev team every time he wanted to make a small content change to a website. With Forestry, you can use Jekyll or Hugo AND get a CMS for your team and/or clients. Want to keep everything under version control? Just connect forestry.io to your Github project and all content changes will be committed.

If you're not familiar with Jekyll, Hugo, or static site generators, there's a great article on Smashing Magazine about them.

Why did you decide to start this project? Do you have a particular expertise in this domain, or did it come out of frustration with existing solutions?

My partner, Jordan, and I used to run a web design agency, a hosting company, and we even built a tool to manage multiple WordPress sites called WP Status (RIP). We became really frustrated with dealing with LAMP-based CMSs. Many sites got hacked, we had to spend a ton of time updating plugins and our sites were slow and bloated. Then we fell in love with static site generators but it was obvious to us that we needed a CMS to use these amazing tools for larger sites...so, we decided to build one 🙂

What was your design process for forestry.io? How did you decide which features to include, and what existing sites or apps inspired the layout and workflow of it?

We decided the biggest void in the market was around the CMS, not hosting.

Great question! We started in a different direction; building a hosting platform on top of AWS for static sites. We posted our project to Hacker News and people were most excited about a small CMS "side-feature" that we offered (see traffic spike). We thought about it, and decided the biggest void in the market was around the CMS, not hosting. This was also what we were most excited to build so we "pivoted" and haven't looked back 🙂


The traffic spike from Hacker News

Our design process tends to go like this:

  • Dream up crazy ideas
  • Wireframe (Balsamiq to the rescue!)
  • Mockup design work (Photoshop)
  • Start coding
  • Show our work to users
  • Course correct
  • Show our work to users
  • Course correct
  • Show our work to users
  • Course correct
    ... see the trend?

See the screenshots below for an example of the interface. We're using Brian Rinaldi's very cool demo site for these.

The forestry.io UI

We love software that turns the complex into something simple.

We have many inspirations. We love user-friendly software that's intuitive and elegantly designed. We love software that turns the complex into something simple. Big inspirations are: Dropbox, MailChimp, Github, Medium.com, and Stripe. These are all amazingly designed pieces of software.

What tools do you use for your job?

  • Macbook Pros (I'm due for an upgrade)
  • Standing and sitting desks
  • Balsamiq, Photoshop, Sketch
  • Sublime Text
  • Github

Tell me about your experience with Balsamiq Mockups. What have you used it for and what problem has it solved for you?

We've used Balsamiq for virtually every software project. It helps us rapidly visualize our ideas without going too far down the design path. We used to use it a lot when we ran a web design agency too. This really helped our clients see what they were buying from us and it helped us lock down the scope without getting caught up in the aesthetic design.

Some of the mockups for Forestry

What's missing from our tool that you'd like to see added?

I'm probably a "light" Balsamiq user and you guys seem to keep ahead of my needs with product improvements. But I'd like the ability to add just a single line of text, not a heading and not a full paragraph, but a single line of text (this may already exist). And more icons 🙂

(Editor's note: We recently introduced the Line of Text control for this purpose. Regarding icons, our current version has the Font Awesome icon set with WAY more icons than before.)

What kinds of things are you excited about right now?

The future web is secure, fast and makes use of 3rd party tools.

I'm super excited about the future of the static web. The days of the traditional LAMP stack are few. The future web is secure, fast and makes use of 3rd party tools. Need comments? Use disqus.com. Need a survey? Try Wufoo. Need to sell a product, use Stripe Checkout and AWS Lambda. And of course, forestry.io is the CMS that allows you to maintain all of this 😉

Why the name "Forestry"???

My partner, Jordan, and I used to drive 2 hours to meet our team every Monday at our old startup. We conceived of the idea on one of these drives and the conversation went like this:

Jordan - "So what are we going to call this thing?"
Scott - "I don't know, some cool .io name?"

We passed an RV that had a "Caravan" logo on it

Scott - "Like caravan.io"
Jordan - "That's stupid"

We passed another RV that had a "Forestry" logo on it

Scott - "Or forestry.io"
Jordan - "That's stupid too"

I did a search that night, caravan.io was taken but forestry.io was available 🙂


Thanks, Scott, for taking the time to share your story!

Are you a Champion who wants to be featured on our Balsamiq Champions blog? Send an email to champions@balsamiq.com with your stories or blog posts!

· Posted by leon in Case Studies and tagged , , , · Add a comment


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