What is software prototyping? Which tool is the first came into your mind when mentioned about software prototyping tool? Actually, nothing mysterious about software prototyping. It’s similar to the border term prototyping, a way for the manufacturer to get know what the final product will look like, so to evaluate how much additional resources could cost. On the other hand, superabundant prototyping tools are available nowadays, how to choose? Here I only pick the best 5 prototyping tools for your inspiration.
What is software prototyping actually?
Software prototyping is much the same as prototyping in the border product design field. It is a necessary step involved in daily software design. Normally, after doing enough UX research like gathering idea, data, information, demands, evaluation, then it’s time to build a prototyping.
The basic software stage including:
- Idea Generation;
- Demand Generation;
- Function and Structure;
- Prototyping Stage;
- PRD (replaced by prototyping for most occasions);
- Road Map
Usually, there are few common types of software prototyping:
1. Paper prototyping — this is mostly for self-usage, to record ideas;
2. Rapid prototyping — the most demanding prototypes, wide range of application;
3. High-fidelity prototyping — emphasis interactions and user interface, for stockholders & development team;
4. Low-fidelity prototyping — emphasis interactions and thoughts, for design teams;
As you see, except paper prototyping, all the rest need to use a prototyping tool. For your better decisions, I will introduce the tool from several aspects:
Cost: How much will you spend?
Compatibility: Is the tool for Mac or Windows or both?
Key features: What can it do?
Learning Curve: How long it takes you to get started?
Usage pattern: Are you prototyping websites, mobile apps, desktop apps, or all of the above?
Speed: How quick can you finish design on the prototyping tool?
Fidelity: What is the requirement of your prototypes fidelity? Wireframes or low-fidelity or high-fidelity?
Sharing: Collaboration is key when it comes to design. A must consideration.
User’s feedback: See what others say.
Okay, here we go.
Mockplus — A fast & clean professional prototyping tool
Cost: Basic-free; Pro-$29 per month
Compatibility: Mac, Window, Android, IOS
- Fast Interaction. It adopts drag-and-drop method to make all interaction design visualized and faster. It has a set of pre-designed components, including Pop-up Panel, Stack Panel, Scroll Box, SlidingDrawer and Image Carousel enable you to create fully interactions faster and easier. Moreover, it features auto-recovery, which can be a real time-saver.
- Fast Design. you can do the fast design with extensive pre-designed 3,000 icons and 200 components. Just drag these components into the canvas for a combination to prototype your app ideas within few minutes. Focus on the design itself and no more efforts will be spent on making a component.
- Fast Testing. Simply scan the generated QR code, then you can test on native device instantly or publish the project to cloud. In all, Mockplus has 8 ways to share and test out your wireframes or prototypes. Whether on the mobile, browser or desktop platforms
- What’s New and Special? Mockplus comes with the latest and fresh Tables, Auto Data Fill, UI Flow, MindMap Design Mode, The visualized format painter, Repeater, etc. Besides, it supports to export MP file from Sketch directly, so prototyping with Sketch is super easy.
Learning curve: The shortest. No programming knowledge, experienced in visual design or coding required. It’s A simple & clean tool makes you focus on the design instead of spending time on learning it. Form newbie to expert.
Usage pattern: for mobile and web apps
Speed: 5–10 mins
Fidelity: low to medium fidelity.
Sharing: excellent team collaboration. Publish your design and you will get a shareable web link, which can be sent to co-workers & clients. It also supports exporting to HTML offline.
“ I have used the tool and I love the idea that making real screen view through QR code. I’m really satisfied with what I see and even start recommending it at the office to some of my workmates. I love this app and it is super easy-to-use I must say.” — Ari Arturo Velázquez Fierro at Interaction Designer at Infotec.
Balsamiq Mockups — A quick prototyping tool based on Flash
Cost: Free trial — 30 days; Pro — $89
Compatibility: Mac, Window, Web-based
- Free Samples: The official site provides plenty samples of sketch skin and wireframe skin, including desktop app, mobile app, website, etc. The hand-drawing style is unique and special compared to the most mechanical design, and this may give you a feeling that you are sketching on a whiteboard, but actually, you are using a computer.
- Drag-and-drop: The elements in Balsamiq Mockups are available to simply drag-and-drop, including some buttons and lists, and each styled as a hand-drawing. Designers also can arrange pre-built widgets using a drag-and-drop editor.
- Library of UI elements: The large library of UI elements is a great source of design inspiration. This is a great convenience for designers to do quick wireframe.
- Rough Wireframes: However, Balsamiq Mockups is not suitable for building large prototypes for the lake of in-depth animations.This is also not the original intention of the tool, which is actually created to do quick and rough wireframes, not any prototypes.
Learning curve: Very short. It’s easy to drag and position elements. Smooth and short learning curve, from beginner to power-user.
Usage pattern: Web App, Desktop App, Google Drive Add-On
Speed: 5–10 mins
Fidelity: low-fidelity, similar to freehand sketches.
Sharing: It’s designed for collaboration. Your whole team can come together with the right design using Balsamiq. It’s so easy to learn, both clients and customers can use it to describe their needs more clearly. Sharing in Balsamiq Mockups for Desktop, you can use Mockups Project Files, Interactive PDF Document, etc.
“Balsamiq is bitchin’. Pure and simple. It’s rare to find a tool that both devs and non-devs enjoy using, and use productively together. Huge fan!” — Jay Simons form VP of Marketing, Atlassian
Fliud UI– The easier web, desktop and mobile prototyping tool
Cost: Individual-&8.25 per month; Pro-$19.08 per month; Team-$41.58 per month
Compatibility: Web-based. Chrome is recommended for use with Fluid UI. Firefox and Safari will work but there may be issues. Internet Explorer is not compatible
- Built-in Libraries: With 16 built-in iOS, Material Design and Wireframe libraries containing over 2000 customizable widgets and icons, you can design a wireframe simply by a drag-and-drop.
- Gestures and Transitions: Provides a lot of possibilities using the free plan, and allows add gestures and transitions between pages.
- Good Export: Supports the feature to export the entire view and use it as a flow document.
- Live Video Presentations: You can present your ideas interactively on live video calls with clients or interact as you design with your team.But one thing, upload multiple images is not supported.
Learning Curve: Very short. Fluid UI is a prototyping tool that lets you design, test and get feedback on your app ideas quickly and without needing to know how to code.
Usage pattern: Web App and Desktop App
Speed: 10–15 mins
Sharing: The collaborative and real-time wireframing is work good. Design together in real-time no matter where your people are in the world. Just invite your entire team to work on the same prototype at the same time. To share your prototypes, you can view on the device, share by email, or send projects to clients.
“It’s a great tool for working the project from scratch, for creating a high-quality prototype. It’s very easy and intuitive. Sharing is very easy.” — John Wastion.
Webflow — Design and develop simple static sites at the same time
Cost: Free for 2 projects (16$/mo for 10 projects | 35$/mo for unlimited projects)
Compatibility: Mac and Windows
- A Blank Canvas: All the tools you need to can use to fill it. Build any layout using the box model, floats, or flexbox, then style it to perfection with robust typography and colour tools.
- Easily Manage Styles And Components Across Your Site: Building visually doesn’t mean repetitive, clunky workflows. Use a familiar CSS based styling system along with custom Symbols and a library of pre-built components to design and manage websites with easeExport Clean, Semantic Code that even your developers will love. We know you can’t compromise on the quality of code that you deliver. That’s why Webflow generates clean, semantic, standards-compliant code that you can export or publish live to the web — all in a single click.
Learning curve: Webflow allows designers to create sites in relatively short time while using a relatively similar interface to Photoshop. Although you do not need to know how to code to work with this tool, it is possible to export and change the site’s HTML/CSS tags according to the customer’s needs.
Usage pattern: Web
Speed: 15–20 mins
Sharing: It has world-class speed and scalability. The moment you publish with Webflow, your site is ready to handle traffic at any scale. Moreover, Webflow Hosting gives you access to the fastest and most scalable hosting technology for your business — just one click away.
“In comparison to the many site designing tools we’ve used during our 13 years in business, Webflow is absolutely the most user-friendly and capable out there.”
Invision — a web-based prototyping tool that makes your design live quickly
Cost: Free for 1 project (15$/mo for 3 projects | 25$/mo for unlimited projects | 99$/mo for teams)
Compatibility: Mac and Windows
- With InVision, designers can upload their design files and add animations, gestures, and transitions to transform their static screens into clickable, interactive prototypes. Get high-fidelity in under 5 minutes.
- It supports files in PNG, JPG, GIF, AI and PSD format. InVision App is great for collaborating on design drafts and collecting feedback from colleagues and clients.
- A magical new design to development workflow. Create stylesheets, get pixel-perfect comps, discuss design challenges, export adaptively, and generate real code for any design element.
Learning curve: not too short. Also, it depends on different people, newbies may need more time.
Usage pattern: Mobile and Web App
Speed: 15–20 mins
Sharing: The most prominent advantage of this product is its project collaboration features, which allow all users to give feedback, take notes and see the product changes in real time.
User feedback: “A lot of the products we’re making are really meaty. InVision allows us to see if these really complex solutions are working.” Joshua Taylor, Evernote
The above are the 5 software prototyping tools. Each has their unique features and some cons. But in general, they are a good a tool for prototyping design. As for me, I currently use Mockplus. I get design inspiration from their patterns, and it has various ways of presentation and share, shortest learning curve, flexible interaction and animation, and plenty more easy-to-use settings. All are good to me.