In order to be able to develop new interface designs, I need to make lots of wireframe sketches. I do many of these with a pencil on paper, but when I’m ready to bring them on to the computer, the main tool that I use is PowerPoint.
I like PowerPoint because it’s easy to make just about any interface element I need, I can readily incorporate bits of artwork from other sources (for instance, screen shots of an HTML table, or an icon, or a o), the wireframes look reasonably good, it’s easy to share them with my clients (either as a presentation or as a file), and it’s easy to attach actions to buttons that jump to different screens (making it a quick & dirty prototyping tool). Since my clients are already familiar withPowerPoint, it’s easy for them to take the mockups and make their own changes so that we can try out different ideas. Sometimes they’ll take them on the road to collect additional feedback from partners and customers.
I also like it because the wireframes don’t look too polished – this is really important. A wireframe should look rough – otherwise everyone begins to treat it as a final design. I create a wireframe so that I can communicate what stuff will go on this screen and, roughly speaking where it will go and how it will all fit together. If it looks finished, then everyone will spend the meeting talking about the right shade of blue or whether the text should be above or below the controls. When the mockup is rough looking, everyone is more willing to focus on the actual content and interaction.
When people ask me what Prototyping tool they should use, though, I usually say: use the one you’re most comfortable with. Some folks already know Visio or Omni Graffle – both great choices if you’re comfortable with them. Others like some of the tools created specifically for UI prototyping that are out there: Sketchflow, Balsamiq, iRise, Atlas (there are plenty more – these are just examples). And I know designers who still prefer to sketch on paper. In a typical project I’ll produce anywhere from a few dozen to hundreds of these. I’m quick with PowerPoint – and comfortable with it, too, so it works for me.
These are some samples of wireframes that I’ve done in our portfolio. And, in case you were thinking of trying out Powerpoint as a prototyping tool, feel free to download my PowerPoint template deck. This has many of the typical UI widgets in it and some common page layouts, too. Here’s a look at what’s inside it: