Saturday, 18 October 2008

Creating and sharing Mock-ups

I sometimes find working within distributed teams a really tough challenge. Different time-zones, communication and language barriers. The 'disconnectedness' of distributed collaboration often ends up meaning we talk using the same terms , but have very different ideas in our minds.

So, to ease these challenges, I've started to investiage different ways in which we can improve collaboration within the projects I'm involved in, moving beyond the traditional IM/IRC, Email and phone-conferencing facilities we use every day.

When developing software, I love visual representations of ideas, such as ER diagrams, UML, and UI prototypes/mock-ups. I am a very visual thinker, and usually spend a lot of time sketching ideas on paper before implementing them in code. However, paper isn't the easiest medium for collaboration across the globe, especially when you want to mash-up and collaborate in this process. I still haven't found a good and FOSS 'sketching' tool, but must admit that I have in previous lives relied a lot on e.g. MS Visio.

Today, however, I discovered Balsamiq Mockups, a web and desktop based mockup tool based on Adobe AIR. It was easy to install on Fedora 9 (using Flash 10 and the Linux Beta of Adobe AIR). The free version won't let you save diagrams or PNG snapshots, so a lower resolution(?) screen-grab will have to do for now. It also lets you import/export diagrams as XML (even in the free version!), so it's really handy as these XML files can e.g. be stored in version control repositories and can thus easily be shared with team members. Here's a quick mock-up I did to test the application:

At some point I started missing some of the advanced layout features (e.g. modifying the values of the pie-chart), but then again, it is a mock-up and is supposed to be quick-and-sketchy!