Making a Mockery

In a previous posting, I referred to small, homegrown apps that do specific tasks very well. One such is Balsamiq Mockups, a highly targeted application for mocking up user interfaces.

Where Mockups really wins is by striking a clever balance between utility (it contains pre-built versions of just about every UI component you could ever realistically need), fidelity (meaning even a quick sketch looks polished enough to convey quite detailed aspects of an interface), and hierarchy (that quick sketch has sufficient structure to indicate meaning and intent). Every component is editable to some degree, so, for example, switching from tabs to dropdowns is a simple copy-and-paste. Wireframing therefore becomes a snap, and yet there is still enough of a handdrawn feeling to convey a sense that, while things are certainly considered, they are not yet set in stone.

A screen grab of the Mockups interface

A screen grab of the Mockups interface

Mockups has a decent pedigree—it’s an Air application developed by an ex-Adobe engineer—but it’s not without a few quirks (and bugs) either. Some things that could be added or improved upon include:

  • Direct export to PDF, although licensing PDF would no doubt inflate the price of Mockups;
  • Visibility of the Inspector palette – it only displays when necessary, but this results in a lot of on/off flickering, which can be a bit distracting;
  • Manual layer control – I’ve got used to Illustrator’s infuriating habit of putting every single thing on a new layer, but even just having an editable palette like InDesign would be good;
  • Preferences – there aren’t any, but those two previous items could be user controlled, perhaps.

From a typographic standpoint, it’s notable that Mockups makes exclusive use of the universally-vilified Comic Sans typeface. This is probably the first time that the font has been used in a somewhat similar manner for which it was first intended, and as a result, it actually looks pretty good. Yes, unbelievable but true: Comic Sans, in this context, actually looks good.

And, for what it’s worth, I wasn’t paid for this review; I bought Mockups based on other positive commentary that I read, and have subsequently recommended it to anyone who’ll listen.

Care to comment?