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.
Now is a Good Time to be a Fireworks Evangelist
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.
Enable Commenting on your Live Axure Prototypes
I’ve started working on a large project as part of a team of 5 people recently. Aside from doing the visual design, I’m working on the UX strategy and information architecture with an IA and UX designer from the US. We’re of course creating most of our documentation, user flows, wireframes and prototype in Axure RP Pro. He and I have been working on the same project file using the new Shared Project feature from Axure 5.x and collaborating on it through a free Subversion server (www.myversioncontrol.com). That works very well and, once a day or sometimes more often, I’ll generate the Axure prototype and FTP it to a password protected sub-domain on my site so that other team members can consult it. There’s also other project file linked from a page in the prototype. But there was one thing missing from this process.
The thing is that, as of now, Axure prototypes do not handle comments on the project from other stakeholders as some online prototyping applications like Protoshare do. But recently, I’ve discovered a little script that enables us to integrate comments quite easily using the free Protonotes service. That script is called Head Insert and has been developed by another Axure enthusiast named Joshua Morse. He originally published version 1.2 in this blog post and recently updated the script to version 1.31 which can be found here.
Rapid Prototyping Tools and Principles
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.
Axure RP Pro 5.5 Has been Released
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.