UPDATE: We've implemented this change. Thanks to everyone for the feedback!
We're thinking of making a potentially big change to the Geometric Shape controls to make them not markup items. We wanted to discuss the change and get your feedback before we do.
As you may know, Markup controls are a special kind of control that can be toggled to be visible or hidden. Things like callouts, sticky notes, and geometric shapes can be used to annotate your Mockups wireframes, and then hidden so that you can focus on your wireframe when your designing or demonstrating.
About Geometric Shapes
Geometric shapes were originally created to offer people controls that can be used for flow charting, and after discussion in the forum, ended up as Markup items when it was implemented. Now, however, we're beginning to think that they shouldn't be.
Why the change?
Many people use geometric shapes to create controls or other design elements, and in these cases, we don't think of them as markup items--the kind used in flow charts.
One type of issue that we see in our support forums every now and then is that people will open Mockups and it will appear that some of their controls have disappeared. This is because they're using geometric shapes as I describe above.
The fix is to toggle Markup items on via the menu View > Show Markup, or using the Show/Hide Markup icon in the upper right corner. Once you learn that they're markup items, you know this, but we feel it's confusing if you have to learn that.
We think now it makes more sense for geometric shapes to be non-markup controls and here's why:
- Flow charts have a right to exist without being invisible if they're created on Mockups, don't they. Why would you want flow charts hidden? We don't really remember the argument that called for it.
- The "my controls disappeared" problem report usually has to do with geometric shapes being hidden when "Show markup" is not checked. Making them non-markup controls fixes this.
- Judging from problem reports mentioned in #2 above, it seems that a significant number of users have become accustomed to using geometric shapes to supplement the UI library controls. My guess is that more people use geometric shapes for design than use Mockups for flow charting.
How are you using Geometric Shapes?
If you have a compelling use case that describes why you would want geom shapes to be markup by default, please tell us now. We think this is the right direction to be going, and will make fewer problems and less confusion. What do you think?
Over the past month, I've been working in myBalsamiq daily, and have been reviewing and answering issues in our GetSatisfaction forum. Each day I went over every detail trying to understand how everything works, and looking for issues that need improving.
A few weeks after I started here, Peldi went to SXSW. When he came back, we talked about what needed to be done here. We both believe that at its core we have the functionality to make it usable, but what's missing is that it's not as simple as it could be, and it's not as fun. We've spent a couple weeks looking at myBalsamiq with fresh eyes and have a corrected vision for the app.
The new concepts reflect an experience focussed on evolving the work space to be more efficient and fun to use, and making the mockup pages more functionally centered on the mockup. We also wanted to make IA and usability improvements that help you move from place to place easily, and hope that the surrounding interface reflects the hierarchy of menus more clearly. Read on to learn about the new concept, or go directly to our myBalsamiq project for the mockups.
The experience at the onset is like browsing a library of sketchbooks--projects you and your team are working on. You select a project sketchbook to dive in.
Home: All Projects
The browsers here are simplified and let you color code the project books. All of the browsers, with the exception of the map will now be rendered in HTML now. We love the direction this is taking and think it will feel simpler on the surface.
A Single Project
Once you're in a project, browsing pages is much like seeing all the pages of the book. We allow custom ordering using drag/drop direct manipulation. We're making the menus and behaviors more web-like, and advanced features are now adjacent to the object associated with it, e.g. action menus for mockups wherever they appear in the different views.
A Single Project in Story View
You can view your mockups in Story View shown above, which allows you to view all of a project's mockups at full width on one screen, with descriptions. This will let you present screens in one view in linear fashion--much like telling a story using your mockups.
Once you dive into a mockup, you see that the mockup now fills the screen. We have added controls in a "project menu"--the strip below the global nav containing the breadcrumbs, assets, privacy controls, and a project paging section. This carries over the metaphor of flipping through the project notebook. Prev/Next buttons flip you through the custom order you created. Clicking the book icon slides in a thumbnail strip so you can jump to different pages. It can be toggled off with another click. This strip is consistent with the mockup browser shown in our editor.
If you scroll down, you'll see that we have moved elements around to reduce the visual noise of the interface and make the mockup prominent. We've also been exploring how to handle proposals based on the mockup in view, as well as super simple workflow to approve and merge changes being proposed. We're really excited about that.
We've opened the project up for you to take a look at where we're going. Inside you'll see wireframes for the views we're iterating on.
View myBalsamiq Iteration 1
We want your feedback. Let us know what you think about our corrected vision here by commenting.
Hang in There
Thanks again all of you, for your patience. I know it's been a long time waiting for the next stage. To the beta users, these changes will feel like noticeable adjustments on the surface, but all of the core functionality will still be there.
As I said before, I am using myBalsamiq every day, so I enjoy the stuff you do, and feel the pain you feel. If we can't make it a place I want to be every day, then I may as well go home. Help us make it awesome--a place you want to work in every day.
One of the nice things about working in a small, flat organization is that you have to do support. With no levels of hierarchy and everyone monitoring support, communication is easy and fixes are fast. My experience today in trying to short circuit what appeared to be a small issue that is causing some pain to customers is a good example of how small can mean nimble and responsive.
The past few days of my first week I've been monitoring support and answering a few Get Satisfaction questions where I could. That's a part of everyone's job here. But it also helped with one of my primary goals this week, which was to get get a handle on the priorities and begin working on a few of these small projects. I've been getting up to speed on the apps, filing bugs, and looking at the UX priorities. I've also been thinking about how to attack the low hanging fruit. What I saw while doing some of this work in parallel, is that I might be able to do some triage and kill a few birds with one stone here and there.
The Upgrade Problem
I saw a few posts about issues people have with upgrading, knowing I had the same discomfort with the upgrade process myself. But I got back to work, and filed the issue in the back of my mind. I've also been doing a content inventory of the small Balsamiq.com site, and trying to get a handle on the IA there. I was looking at the really long and verbose pages we have, and in the process was going through scenarios like finding the upgrade link. I knew it would be hard for some people to figure out. It was too much work.
Then I came to the AIR upgrade badge and wondered how much of an issue that was. If you can think back to the first time you installed an AIR app, you might recall how seemingly quick the process was, when compared to downloading a package and executing it on your machine (running setup.exe on Windows or dragging a .app from a disk image on Mac). It's almost scary how seamless AIR installs are after that. Almost.
The issue for some with AIR installations, especially upgrades, is that they introduce different way of upgrading than what we're familiar with. You won't know what it feels like until you do it once. Hell, it can feel unfamiliar for a few times until it you've done it enough that it feels natural. I thought the only way to really know if this was pissing people off was to test it.
Doing Ninja-Usability Testing
There are various gradations of usability testing, but the ones I'm interested in are those that are cost effective while being easy enough for me to do quickly and remotely. Discount usability testing is about low cost methods for testing using only a handful of people that run through scenarios. The outcome is often that the most obvious problems are uncovered with the least investment in time and resources. Jakob Nielsen originated this idea. A radical version of this is the 5 second test, which I became aware of after reading an article describing the process at UIE.
For my needs, I wanted to just figure out this one problem. What do people experience when they try to upgrade Mockups for the Desktop? So I turned to remote usability testing tools. OpenHallway is one I've been testing out--they're a sponsor of Konigi and I'm writing a more in-depth of review of the service soon. What I wanted to do was to give people this simple scenario.
You've been using Balsamiq Mockups, and you want to upgrade to the latest version. Can you find the upgrade installer in the site?
Get to the point where you think you've found it and tell us where you think it is. Tell us what you would do at that point to upgrade.
So I put a call out on Twitter and stopped at 6 respondents. I wanted to test 1 problem with a few people. I don't know much about ninjas, but that seems pretty ninja-like to me.
This the feedback I got. My notes are quick and dirty. There are no task markers because there's only one task. There's no quantitative data to analyze. Just observation and common sense.
Wrote: You click on the "Install now" button
Notes: Started by scrolling through home page. Cliked Support > FAQ. Succeeded after searching the FAQ. Succeded in under 1 minute.
Wrote: After navigating through several pages, I found out that to upgrade the software, you simply download the latest copy off of the site.
Notes: Used the Support link after skimming the home page. Scrolled through the Support page and didn't find it and returned to Home/Products link. Clicked Desktop link in hero. Then appeared to read the page until scrolling down to Upgrade instructions. Found it, didn't sound confident at first. about 1'30" to complete task.
Wrote: Final thoughts:
1/ difficult to find download area
2/ difficult to see if by downloading the latest version it will be installed without deleting anything
3/ looks a bit like apple website without the blingbling effects
Notes: Skimmed the home page. Clicked the Products page, found home/products confusing. Went to desktop mockups product page. Then support. After filing with browsing, saying "not very useful stuff," went to search for "download" and tried the Examples page. Found the Desktop link and guessed that it was an install process.
Wrote: it wasn't there or at least i couldn't find it i was looking for upgrade or something similar
Notes: Failed or gave up task.
Notes: Scanned the home page for an upgrade link. Clicked Desktop product link and found the Upgrade heading below the fold. Then wondered "Would download the demo is the same as just downloading? I certainly don't want to buy it again." Successfully started the download, but wondered if she was doing the right thing.
NOTE: She took the test AFTER I had already made changes by creating a download page and adding the download link to the Header.
Wrote: The first thing I was looking for was a download link. It was on the top right of the first screen in the main navigation. I would have expected that if a new version is recently out that the home page would promote it more obviously though (so I looked in the main area before I looked at the navigation, which is where I expect to find it in a permanent fashion).
On the download page I had to interact with the Flash widget in order to get the download started. That was not expected, I was expecting to see some obvious "Download Version X for Y Platform" button - don't really understand the benefit of that little widget.
All in all it was straightforward to do it, but things just did not look like how I expected. The site could really use a visual refresh so that core content, navigation and important call to actions (like "Download the latest X") are visually differentiated.
Notes: She was successful in finding the Install badge quickly, but again the default AIR install badge is not familiar enough.
Taking the Low Hanging Fruit
Did you notice the funny note on the last one? She took the test after I had already made the changes after seeing what needed fixing in the first 5 tests. You could argue that those fixes were common sense anyway, but the audio from the users thinking out loud provided even more feedback about specific things with the AIR badge and what they expected. I didn't transcribe those notes here. Below is the plan I wrote up.
1. Create a download page with very little copy. Be sure to put in right keywords in title for search.
2. Add Download link in header.
3. Add a more prominent Download call to action in support page.
4. Think about interim ways to make call to action clear in home page without a major redesign.
1. Vet the design of the updated download button (AIR badge) we already mocked up.
2. Add a link in Balsamiq or Help menus of desktop that goes to our new download page.
I've already done 1 and 2 from the first list. Download is now in the header and links to the new Download page.
It's been a fun first test and it was good to try using a service that's simple enough for my needs. I started by putting a session together at around 7am. I recruited via Twitter, got 6 respondents and waited while they ran their tests. By 10 I was watching their videos and wrote up notes and a plan for changes. I had lunch, and was making the changes by 1pm. That's how I want to do things around here.