My friend Loren Baxter who is an Interaction Designer and UX Engineer and owns the site “A Clean Design” has just released version 2.0 of his fantastic “Better Defaults” library of widgets for Axure RP 5.5 and higher.
I could not imagine my creative process without Adobe Fireworks. I have been using that application since version 2.0 sometime in 1999. 10 years ago, Fireworks was not an obvious choice but the workflow advantages over Photoshop were immediately evident to me and my creative process never was the same. Unfortunately, it took almost all those years for Fireworks to be taken seriously in the industry. Being a Fireworks evangelist 5 or 6 years ago felt like preaching in the desert. But not anymore.
Today, Fireworks is finally thriving. After a couple false starts and dud versions (yes I’m looking at you Fireworks 8 and CS2!), versions CS3 and CS4 have finally brought Fireworks to a level where many industry heavyweights are now paying attention. It is also crossing over into new fields like User Experience and Interaction Design where many practitioners who are not traditional Web designers (read visual/graphic designers) use Fireworks for rapid prototyping and quickly iterating interface and interaction designs.
It is an exciting time for Fireworks which proves that Adobe’s decision to keep it alive after acquiring Macromedia was the right one. Not only that but the application itself has finally started to really improve again after stagnating for a few years under Macromedia’s watch. There are new books being written about it or with chapters about it, new (and not so new) Web sites covering how to use it or who is using it. Can’t wait to see what’s in store in Fireworks’ future.
If you have never tried it, do yourself a favor and do so. If you are coming from Photoshop, leave your pixel pushing Photoshop mindset at the door and embrace Fireworks vector based workflow. Regardless of Fireworks’ very capable bitmap editing tools, its real strength lies in its hybrid workflow based on a vector based core. Until you really give it a try, you will never know how much difference working in a vector based environment does for any kind of layout work.
Dan Harrelson from Adaptive Path has written a very interesting blog post titled Rapid Prototyping Tools and what makes good prototypes. My long time favorite Adobe Fireworks is mentionned along with Axure RP Pro (which is a newer tool in my arsenal) but also several others including online tools like Balsamiq Mockups.
What is most interesting to me in the post is the first part before he lists the tools and where he explains the principles of good prototyping and why it should be done in the first place. For me, this comes following a very well received presentaion at the IA Summint 2009 from Fred Beecher titled Integrating Effective Prototyping Into Your Design Process and which I followed through live tweeting as I couldn’t attend.
Both Harrelson and Beecher press the important point that creating interactive prototypes helps us design better user experiences as they help validate a design direction early in the process before investing a lot of money and effort into design or development solutions that may not yield the best results possible.
I strongly suggest you take a look at Dan Harrelson’s blog post and go through Fred’s presentation slides. They may put you on a track to improve your own process and deliver better solutions to your clients.
The new version 5.5 of Axure RP Pro has been released a couple days ago after being in public beta for a few months. It’s a very significant upgrade in terms of new features and is free for existing customers with a current license.
Noteworthy features include the ability to load and create external widget libraries (similar to Visio stencils for exemple) that can be shared with coworkers or other Axure users. The new version ships with a bunch of libraries based on the Yahoo Design Patterns Library.
Other improvements include changes to the design environment like the addition of a size and location panel directly in the UI, a Dynamic Panels manager palette and more. Check the changelog for all the details and download the new version here.
As I mentioned in my recent “My Top 10 Web Design Tools” post, I have started using Axure RP Pro for creating highly interactive prototypes, wireframes, site maps , flow charts and specifications. It is a fantastic application with a lot of depth that can create very complex prototypes.
Axure also has a growing community around it and, in recent months, several people and organizations have started to create libraries of reusable components that ease the effort of creating simple or complex interactive widgets from scratch in Axure. A list of the best of these resources recently has been published on A Clean Design‘s site and can be found here: http://www.acleandesign.com/2008/11/the-top-10-axure-resources/
One of those resources is the open source Axlib project who’s aim is “to create a robust design library of common interaction patterns for use with Axure RP”. Axlib is both a Google Group as well as a Google Code repository for the latest version of the librairy. The reason I mention Axlib specifically is that there’s a great conversation going on now in the Google group about how those open-source Axure librairies should be standardized both in terms of how they are created and documented and anyone involved in UXD that is using Axure or is interested in using it at some point should participate. Some of the issues under discussion include:
- Width of widgets (assumed page width, perhaps)
- General look and feel, perhaps a simple color palette
- Level of fidelity
- Level of interactivity
- Use and documentation of Variables
- Use and documentation of Raised Events
- Fonts and font size
If you are an Axure user, give this and other librairies a try and get involved in the community!