May 8, 2009 in 4 out of 5 stars, A piece of software, Productivity, Software Development

What is it?

Balsamiq: It's a tool that anyone can use for making web page mockups.

In the early stages of creating a web site, or specifically a web application, there's a period of time when you need to wireframe, or sketch out rough ideas for page construction and layout, without necessarily worrying about the precise design of the pages (i.e. colors, fonts, exact shapes, etc).

Balsamiq is a tool designed to help you do that. It has various "elements" or building blocks that you can drop on your page to construct your mockup.


Who makes it?

Balsamiq Studios LLC

Why is it the killerest?

In mocking up the screens for my current hair-brained idea, I decided to take Balsamiq for a spin. What I found was a tool that was delightfully easy to use, and rich enough to make me feel like I didn't have to compromise on what I wanted to do in order to use the tool. The unexpected bonus was that in perusing some of the element options it sparked some creative ideas for approaching my user interface.

Tip: on the free web version, when you’re done with a layout, you can export it as an image (PNG) and you can also export some code which you can paste into a text editor, then re-import next time you return to the site and resume working. It’s a poor-man’s “save.”

What could be improved?

I assume this is just a limitation of the free web-based version that I used, but I’d like to be able to have multiple pages I can work on at the same time - and a generic template I can use as the starting point for subsequent pages. There are workaround for this (export/import and delete elements you don’t want) but it’s a bit clumsy.

Also, on the free web-hosted version, you get a nag screen every 5 minutes. If you are moving an element at the exact moment the nag screen pops up, the element becomes stuck, and you can't select, edit, or move it. (Note: to work around this, I found refreshing the page to work - but do that with caution, you could lose everything, so do an export first).

How much does it cost?

Free for web version, $79 for desktop version


Reviewed by Carson McComas

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Hi, Everything dynamic and very positively! :) SonyaSunny

Posted by: SonyaSunny | May 10, 2009 11:04:25 AM

How strange, I only posted a review of this same software just a few days ago:

Regarding the multiple pages issue, you should have been able to have multiple worksheets, there are displayed as tabs across the bottom of the screen, at least they are on the Windows Desktop version...

Posted by: Andrew Beacock | May 10, 2009 1:08:58 PM

Yup, not on the web version I reviewed.

Posted by: Carson McComas | May 10, 2009 4:40:27 PM

Sure, it looks spiffy, but it seems to lack some valuable real world features. For example:

- Layers. I put comments and screen measurements (to show what's below the fold at different resolutions) in their own separate layers in Visio. When I export to PDF, those layers persist. Very handy.

- Master pages (in Fireworks; Visio calls them backgrounds)

- Stencils (in Visio; Fireworks calls them symbols) and the ability to automatically update all children when you change the parent

- Export to HTML and Word (automatically create prototypes and documentation for developers) like in Axure or to PDF like in Visio

- Duplicate pages

- Macros and the ability to write your own

These features far outweigh having photorealistic paper notes and funky squiggles.

Seems like a neat tool to use on a small mom-and-pop size Web site, but not for anything enterprise-level.

Posted by: Hanna Kutcher | May 20, 2009 12:23:39 PM

I've been fiending for something like this every since I was making mockups of layouts in Powerpoint. I definitely have to try this out. Do you think that the Big Three will take a hint from this and integrate a lightweight scratchpad extension or portable edition of their flagship offerings? It would be a great way to bring in new customers. @hanna kutcher: a richer feature set would be a welcome addition. I wonder if there is an open source program that does this to compete with OpenOffice Draw.

Posted by: Damien | May 27, 2009 7:15:53 AM

I actually brought a copy of the Balsamiq software after reviewing mockup software out there. I wanted to be able to communicate to my clients an idea in the form of a sketch. Knowing that the mockup phase will take many iterations, I didn't want a software that will create something close to the real thing (like using Photoshop). It conveys just the right amount of information without promising what the final look will be. It was the first software I brought since starting my company. I am very happy with the software.

Posted by: Bond | Jul 10, 2009 9:41:10 PM

I love Balsamiq mockups! Use it almost weekly!
However, software UI tools don't seem to solve the 'first ideas' or 'napkin drawings'. For some reason, I can't bring in software until the idea is a little more clear, since all UI software (incl. Balsamiq) only allow pre-set controls.

To solve the early stages, I use:
Very fun magnetic UI widgets for prototyping on a whiteboard. You should try them!

Posted by: Efraim | Aug 13, 2009 1:42:08 PM

Blastoff! By Invitation Only!

Chat with friends, check the news, play your favorite music, videos, games,
shop your favorite stores.
All in one place!!

Would you like to receive cash back every time you shop online? And invite your friends and receive cash back every time they shop?


Posted by: Judy Rocca | Oct 13, 2009 11:17:56 AM

Great post & review. I am super interested in trying this out with my team and for my own business. I bet it can help a lot... great blog you have hear, I'll be sure to be back :)

Posted by: Maren Kate | Jan 25, 2010 8:40:40 PM

Do you think that this is just for designers? I do a lot of work with my clients to roughly sketch out what needs to be in their website, but I'm a business advisor, definitely not a web designer. Am I better sticking to pen and paper?

Posted by: Julia Chanteray | Aug 19, 2011 3:30:00 AM