Nathanael Coyne on Getting UX the Respect it Deserves

Nathanael CoyneYou may know our latest Champion, Nathanael Coyne, from his top-notch UX blog purecaffeine.com. In it, he chimes in on many of the hot topics in UX discussions today, often with well-reasoned arguments against conventional wisdom. This post on the role of empathy in UX design is a good example.

One post that had me nodding my head in agreement is his advice for designers on how to be effective in the real world of UX. I also enjoyed his thoughtful take on what's broken with the Minimum Viable Product (MVP) model and how to take a better approach.

In our interview below he offers even more advice for UX designers looking to get traction in more traditional development environments or just wanting to level up their skills. Read on!

Q&A with Nathanael Coyne

What industry do you work in, and what is your title or job description?

I'm a Senior UX Designer currently working as a consultant in the public sector predominantly for Australian Federal government departments and agencies. At the moment I'm working with the Australian Maritime Safety Authority helping with the software aspect of a significant organisational change.

What kinds of things are you excited about in your industry?

Working in the public sector typically means sizeable well-funded projects where I have the opportunity to improve the delivery of government services to citizens, business, and visitors. Unlike commercial projects where it's all about customer conversion and maximising profit, the objectives and metrics for government are often about making online services easier to access, useful and less bureaucratic to facilitate transactions and build trust; metrics that I feel good about.

I've worked across many sectors in government - health, business and industry, taxation, education, welfare, tourism, law enforcement and now maritime safety. I've found meaning in all of those roles and feel they provide opportunities to make a difference in a way that commercial roles don't.

I am emotionally invested in what I do for a living and it's important to me that I feel I'm doing something worthwhile; I don't go to work just to earn a salary.

What suggestions do you have for someone looking to succeed in your role or industry?

Digital product design as we understand it is still a largely unknown profession here in Australia and even in 2016 often conflated with what graphic designers do. People talk to me about "look and feel" and colour palettes, icons, typography. Being an effective designer requires tenacity and an unshakable belief in the value of what you do.

Being an effective designer requires tenacity and an unshakable belief in the value of what you do.

Good designers help their teams develop empathy with users. Get out of the building. Grab your co-workers and drag them out of the building. Go do user research and get actual quotes from real people to demonstrate what they're struggling with day to day. If you can't get officially-endorsed research off the ground then go do guerrilla research. If you can't do that then lean more heavily on your usability heuristics, but put people at the centre.

Share your findings. Don't expect people to read reports, so stick quotes up on walls, organise presentations and storyboard what might happen if the team ignores user-centred design. Balsamiq with its bold strokes and exaggerated component shapes is great for printing because it's legible at a distance.

You need excellent skills in communication, persuasion, storytelling and formulating logical arguments based on empirical evidence. You also must have the fortitude to fail and come back the next morning bringing all your creativity, curiosity, and determination.

Once you win people over and start focusing on people instead of technology it's exhilarating. Get over that hump and you can start to work freely, collaborate with your team, speak the same language and more readily get support to conduct user research and user testing. It's a beautiful thing when even a developer won't accept something as done until it has passed user testing, and Scrum sprint reviews look at what is valuable to users rather than bolting on more functionality.

Nathanael's Pyramid of Quality diagram based on Gojko Adzic's work

Expand your toolkit. Learn a range of design, research and facilitation methods and understand where to apply them from exploratory and formative phases through to validation. Choose the right tool for the job whether it's contextual inquiry with five users, a survey with five hundred users, participatory design workshops with a dozen users and your team, paper prototyping, polished slide decks for executives or whiteboard sketching sessions.

Why and how do you use Balsamiq Mockups?

I've been using Balsamiq for years! It's my favourite tool for rapid low-fidelity wireframes. I'll often churn out a dozen iterations of a screen over a couple of days before I'm even ready to share it with my team. The relatively recent feature of alternate versions is very cool for that, although usually the final version pulls bits from multiple iterations of a design.

I'll often churn out a dozen iterations of a screen over a couple of days before I'm even ready to share it with my team.

No other tool - software or analog - supports that mode of work as effectively as Balsamiq. Most of the time attaching Balsamiq Mockups files to JIRA issues contains sufficient guidance for developers to implement new or modified screens and flows.

I also use the linking feature to create clickable prototypes to help demonstrate flows and conditional logic to clients and developers. It's much easier to implement and test than more advanced prototyping tools that you spend more time configuring and debugging than actually designing.


One of Nathanael's recent wireframes

Do you have any feature ideas or suggestions for how we can improve our product(s)?

Responsive design. We don't do desktop and mobile versions anymore, we do breakpoints, grid layouts, media queries. Some wireframing tools have started having a go at it and I haven't been impressed with any of them. It's a tough one and so far the only satisfactory way I've seen to design fully responsive layouts is to design straight in code with Bootstrap or Flexbox.

I'm sure the Balsamiq team have thought about it and whether it's appropriate to tackle potentially complicated functionality with a simple tool like Balsamiq Mockups, but it's inevitable that it'll have to support it and move away from static fixed width design artefacts.

There are a host of other things that sometimes I wish Balsamiq would support but then I remember why I love Balsamiq; because it's simple, it knows what it is and doesn't try to be more. I know where it fits into my process and it's perfect for that role.

I would love to see Bootstrap components support natively. I know it's available as a Mockups To Go download, but it'd be much more convenient if components could be configured via the Inspector rather than pulling apart symbols.

I've already mentioned a fixation on static layouts, but there are other seemingly small things like placeholder images and lorem ipsum text. I still regularly use both, but often I see them used out of laziness on par with user stories that read "As a user I want to create a thing because I want to create a thing". Is the text important or not? Does the image add anything to the content or is it just to fill in some whitespace?

I think Balsamiq could encourage designers to think about the purpose of user interface elements. If they don't want to write copy, fine use lorem ipsum filler text but prompt them to describe what they expect to be written and if high-quality copy can't be provided to suit that purpose then maybe it should be yanked out of the design, unless you're designing generic templates to sell on TemplateMonster.

What advice would you give to someone on a very reactive team that feels it has to implement everything that a customer asks for, even at the expense of usability for the broader audience?

On small projects there's rarely time to build rapport with a client and develop a relationship as a trusted advisor, so for the small and fairly inconsequential jobs you end up just being a pixel pusher. I prefer the longer-term projects where I can educate clients about usability over functionality, simplicity, recognition instead of recall, learnable patterns and idioms.

By sharing knowledge and demonstrating the benefit of a user-centred approach to design, clients will be more trusting of your expertise and recommendations.

The goal isn't to win an argument at any cost but to ensure that you and the client can deliver a measurably better outcome for users than if you weren't involved at all.

But even on the small projects I have no problem with pushing back on requests that are counterproductive and will undermine the product or service's effectiveness and desirability. It's best to have evidence to back up your argument against something, just as your should have evidence to support your recommendations and remember not all arguments are won through logic. The goal isn't to win an argument at any cost but to ensure that overall you and the client can deliver a substantially and measurably better outcome for customers and users than would be achieved if you weren't involved at all... which might be the outcome if you fight too hard and find yourself unemployed.

You should also approach clients and stakeholders the way you do customers with research. If it helps, imagine yourself as a journalist or forensic psychologist and seek to uncover why they're asking for specific things that run contrary to establish patterns and recommendations. Do they feel like they're losing control or haven't had enough influence in the design? Are there latent assumptions and motivations you need to expose and discuss? Who are they feeling pressure from and what are they really wanting to accomplish?

Designers should be proficient at looking under the hood and not accepting anything at face value. Analysts call it root cause analysis and fishbone diagrams; Our approach is less structured and more about empathy and curiosity.

What are some quick or easy ways to educate other members of the software team about the value of UX?

I don't think there are any quick ways. I recently delivered a presentation to a new project team with a slide deck that challenged all sorts of perceptions about what my priorities should be and how I spend my time, about value and impact over deliverables and how wireframes and user interface design were a small part of the role.

That presentation had the biggest impact in getting UX properly integrated into the approach and methodology but really it was just another nudge. I felt like a bit of a nag, but it was absolutely necessary to keep the pressure up or risk fading into irrelevance and fall back to being the wireframe guy.

UX design is still relatively new in government and other public service projects. What are some examples of great UX work happening in the public sector right now?

There's very few design-led projects happening in government. There are thousands of UX'ers employed in government but most agencies are fairly low in the usability maturity model and designers have limited success. The truly design-led projects in government at least here in Australia are coming out of the Digital Transformation Agency (DTA) who has been tasked with establishing approaches and criteria for design-led projects and coaching agencies through a four-stage approach of Discovery, Alpha, Beta and Live using agile methods, a strong experience design and user research stream, getting feedback and deploying incrementally.

It's a wonderful opportunity for government right now but also incredibly difficult for most to get their heads around, especially for those who have zero experience with either agile or user experience design and design thinking. The DTA is doing some great work and has hired awesome people including most of my friends to build that capability and expertise.

I don't know how successful the new business.gov.au has been but I trust the process and it's certainly stark in its difference from typical government websites and online services with its clear alignment to business lifecycle and goal-oriented content.

Where do you look for inspiration? Are there some websites or designers you follow? What else inspires you?

For visual design I get inspiration from nearly every website I visit and every app I use. I take a lot of screenshots of things I like, things that jarred, quirks and errors, designers trying new things (and then often discarding them months later). LinkedIn falls into that last category a lot - they struggle with design consistency and seem to invent a new pattern for everything, sometimes the same content on different screens. I don't know what's going on over there but they need to take a leaf out of Spotify's book.

My collection of screenshots in Evernote is now over 2,000 and great for getting ideas for form layouts, home screens, faceted search filtering controls and introducing new features. It's important to be confident in your ability to unobtrusively and clearly highlight changes in sites and applications if you want to persuade your team to deploy frequently and get feedback from users.

I get inspiration from nearly every website I visit... I take a lot of screenshots of things I like.

I also refer to my collection of inspiration to highlight the dangers of trying to cram all the features and controls that can be imagined onto a screen or dialog, and I use contrast to show how two similar organisations implement the same feature with one following a "simple is useful" paradigm against one who believes in "control is power", for example requesting email notifications in Australia Post (one checkbox) versus USPS (three text fields, a text area, two drop-down lists and three checkboxes).

I also look for inspiration for how to think about design, how to explain design and how to become a better well-rounded designer on top of the technical skills of research techniques, responsive design and accessibility. Dave Gray, Jon Kolko, Marc Stickdorn, the Google Ventures team. I've been thinking about Gordon A. Mackenzie lately, author of Orbiting the Giant Hairball: A Corporate Fool's Guide to Surviving with Grace (1996). He was eccentric, experimental, out there. He had fun and did some great work but is largely frowned upon. I want to bring some of that back.

We need more creative people who disrupt the status quo.

I think designers are often too conservative, too much like business analysts. We have enough analysts, we have enough people who sweat the details and documentation. We need more designers, creative people who disrupt the status quo, ask the awkward uncomfortable questions and bring something different to the table. Not just produce design deliverables or do design but be designers in everything. If a meeting isn't being productive, then design a better one even if it means rearranging the room or getting people off their bums and in front of the whiteboard. Push boundaries and norms, don't get comfortable. People hire designers because the existing way of working isn't getting them the results they want. Be that X factor.


Wow! Thank you Nathanael for all the great advice!

Are you a Champion who wants to be featured on our Balsamiq Champions blog? Send an email to champions@balsamiq.com with your stories or blog posts!

    Simprints - Simple Fingerprint Identification for the Developing World

    Tristram NormanTristram Norman is CTO of Simprints, a nonprofit that has created a simple, secure fingerprint identification system for a range of projects in developing countries. Tristram calls it "a social enterprise aimed at solving the identification gap in low resource settings." Simprints uses Balsamiq Mockups for quick, low-fidelity prototypes to test the software they develop with Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs) for their fingerprint scanner.

    Simprints works like this:
    Image credit: Simprints website.

    Simprints is "the first fingerprint scanner designed for—and by—frontline workers [in developing countries]." It is rugged, yet affordable and has been validated by use in six countries across three continents in both urban and rural contexts.

    One way it's being used is to encourage pregnant women to get pre-natal checkups by making it easier for them to provide proof of identity. You can read about this and other projects on their website.

    Tristram was generous enough to answer some questions about his projects and experience. Read on...

    Q&A with Tristram Norman

    What industry do you work in, and what is your title or job description?

    Software and hardware in the developing world. Specifically we build identity solutions for mobile health. I'm the CTO.

    What are you working on right now?

    We have two big projects currently; one in Nepal and one in Bangladesh. Both projects are working with pregnant mothers, about 30 thousand in each country. The objective is to increase the number and the accuracy of their visits. A pregnant woman is supposed to receive 4 pre-natal visits from a community health worker. They are incredibly important to spot early warning signs with the pregnancy. It's also incredibly important to have the previous records because things like blood pressure change during the pregnancy and you need to rate of change to make an accurate diagnosis.

    What challenges do you face working in open source?

    We have to think very carefully before we open source something.

    Working in open source has many benefits, but it also comes with a large range of challenges as well. For us the biggest challenge is accountability. We have to think very carefully before we open source something about how could it be used for bad instead of good. This year ID4Africa was held in Rwanda to convey a powerful message; Identification is a key bottle neck in allowing people to improve the quality of their lives. But an identification system, such as the ID cards to distinguish Hutus and Tutsis, can be used for malicious purposes.

    Simprints MockupsBalsamiq wireframes for the enrollment mobile app.

    What challenges do you face working in developing countries with different views and experiences with technology?

    Working in the developing world makes you think about technology very differently.

    Working in the developing world makes you think about technology very differently. The first thing you notice immediately is that common things that we are used to do not mean the same thing for everyone. For example when we ran our first UI workshops in Nepal the Scanner had a thumbs up for GOOD and a thumbs down for BAD. This meant nothing to the Nepali community health workers.

    What challenges do you face working with NGOs and governments?

    Working with governments and NGOs can bring a lot of challenges to a startup. With governments/NGOs it's not always about cheaper and more efficient, there are many more factors at play. This makes it necessary to put a fair amount of time into making sure you have aligned strongly with what they are trying to accomplish before pitching or implementing a project. However the exchange here is you get a significant amount of transparency in return.

    What suggestions do you have for someone looking to succeed in your role or industry?

    Be genuine. It's an industry of people who want to help, but it's easy to lose track of all of that while trying to create a successful business.

    What kinds of things are you excited about in your industry?

    I am excited about the wide range of open source tools that are becoming available to the developing world.

    Why and how do you use Balsamiq Mockups?

    The key is to spend as little time as possible creating a wireframe so we can have a quick feedback cycle.

    We use Balsamiq Mockups to rapidly prototype wireframe for tests. The key here is to spend as little time as possible creating a wireframe so we can have a quick feedback cycle before creating a rough draft of the screen itself. We use Balsamiq because it is one of the easiest wireframe tools we have found!

    Do you have any feature ideas or suggestions for how we can improve our product(s)?

    Yes. Balsamiq is great, but it's confusing having a web version and a native version. And they don't seem to link up so it took us a while to figure out who was working on what. The UI is amazing though. [Editor's note: We're working on it; not too much longer!]


    Thank you, Tristram, for taking the time to answer our questions and share your lessons learned. We wish you continued success!

    Are you a Champion who wants to be featured on our Balsamiq Champions blog? Send an email to champions@balsamiq.com with your stories or blog posts!

      Gret Glyer of DonorSee

      Gret GlyerGret Glyer is the founder of DonorSee, an app that greatly simplifies and personalizes charitable giving. He used Balsamiq Mockups for the first draft of his app and agreed to share some of his early wireframes with us. I also got to ask him some questions about the origins of DonorSee and what makes it unique.

      For a more complete overview of DonorSee, listen to Gret describe it in his own words:

      You can also check out DonorSee on Facebook and the Apple and Android app stores. Read on for our interview...

      Q&A with Gret Glyer of DonorSee

      What industry do you work in, and what is your title or job description?

      I'm the CEO and Founder of a new app called DonorSee, which is revolutionizing online giving.

      What's the story behind DonorSee? How did you come up with the idea?

      How cool would it be to start the Uber for charities?

      It just came to me one day. I always thought about starting a tech company, and then one day I was having a conversation and I said, "how cool would it be to start the Uber for charities?" And then the idea flooded into my brain.

      How does DonorSee deliver donations to recipients and how did you make that happen?

      Aid workers living abroad in different countries post projects, and the money goes to their bank accounts. Then they get the money to the field.

      What's your background? What was your path to your current role?

      It's a long story. I've been living in Malawi for 3 years, and crowdfunded a bunch of stuff, like this girls school:

      How is DonorSee different from what else is out there?

      It's basically a crowdfunding app, but we're better because we show people where their money is going.

      What challenges have you faced? Have they been mostly technological or other?

      A lot of technical challenges, since I am not technical.

      Why and how do you use Balsamiq Mockups?

      Balsamiq gave me an easy way to talk with developers.

      I used them to make the initial design and think through the process of how users will use an app that was, at first, just an idea in my head. As someone with no technical background, it gave me an easy way to talk with developers, and explain what I wanted.

      DonorSee Wireframes Made with Balsamiq
      Some of Gret's early wireframes for DonorSee

      What do you like most about what you do?

      I'm excited that DonorSee is one of the most obvious ways to make a tangible impact on the world. When you take part in helping a boy get a wheelchair, or a girl get hearing aids, you get to really see and appreciate the work that you are doing.

      What suggestions do you have for someone looking to succeed in your role or industry?

      Persevere and listen to mentors.


      Great advice and a powerful story. Best of luck to you, Gret!

      Are you a Champion who wants to be featured on our Balsamiq Champions blog? Send an email to champions@balsamiq.com with your stories or blog posts!

        Jane Portman Cooks Up UI Breakfast

        Jane PortmanJane Portman is the creator and author of UI Breakfast, a practical resource full of UX design and business lessons based on her extensive experience with both. It also contains an amazing column called UI Practicum where she tackles common UI problems in a useful and digestible way.

        We're big fans of UI Breakfast at Balsamiq because of the clarity of Jane's writing and her love of wireframes. Jane describes her rationale for choosing wireframes over interactive prototypes in this Q&A post about translating an idea into an actual product.

        As a developer, you’ll have a natural urge to skip wireframes and jump right into code (I used to be the same way as a designer, doing high-fidelity mockups right away). But wireframes create that 10,000 ft view to objectively revise your functionality.

        This wireframe from one of her blog posts demonstrates her expert use of wireframes to convey all the right information.

        It's a perfect balance of generic and specific. The use of breaklines and annotations conveys to the viewer what they do (and don't) need to know about in order to build it, without relying on color or interactivity.

        Lots more goodies from Jane in our interview below.

        Q&A with Jane Portman

        What industry do you work in, and what is your title or job description?

        I’m a UI/UX consultant who helps SaaS founders build focused, profitable products. My role is to identify critical design flaws in web applications — causing unreasonable churn or high support volumes — and help fix them. Previously a creative director at a large agency, I also enjoy doing visual design, but lately I’ve chosen to focus on most strategic, "expensive" problems in the UX domain.

        What kinds of things are you excited about in your industry?

        Now everyone understands the value of well-designed, quality software.

        The state of things in the SaaS world is very exciting! As opposed to its early days, now everyone understands the value of well-designed, quality software — both the users (as a business tool) and the founders (as a source of income). The users have also matured enough to learn the basic UX patterns, which designers can now safely rely on.

        It’s also amazing that flat design and minimalism are now a big trend. Ten years ago it was nearly impossible to sign off such designs with clients. Today, everybody is hyped about keeping things clean and simple — which I love!

        What suggestions do you have for someone looking to succeed in your role or industry?

        The key is to approach design problems from the business standpoint. In addition to polishing your key UI/UX skills, you also need to teach yourself essentials from other relevant areas: entrepreneurship, product management, copywriting, and marketing. People ask me about that all the time, so I put together a special content guide which includes free (or very affordable) resources on each of these topics.

        In addition to polishing your key UI/UX skills, you also need to teach yourself essentials from other relevant areas.

        It’s also a great strategy to work on your own products: you’ll be able to polish all of the above skills in practice, diversify your income streams, and understand how exactly your clients feel while running their business. My own biggest success so far is my third book, The UI Audit (help yourself to a sample chapter here).

        What are some common “rookie mistakes” that you see in UI design?

        Overuse of dashboards is the curse of modern web apps!

        Overuse of dashboards is the curse of modern web apps! They make an app seem cool, while being not necessary in most cases (unless you run a mission-critical service). Users want to dive into their work instead of observing bells and whistles. Imagine if Gmail showed you a fancy dashboard instead of your inbox?

        For startups with limited resources, what’s the best return on investment in terms of improving UX?

        For a bootstrapped startup, the best roadmap is the following:

        • Learn about some best UI/UX practices yourself: spend a week or two reading topical UX blogs and books. Product strategy is a big topic here, too.
        • Do plenty of user research on your own.
        • Inspect Behance and Dribbble to get an eyeful of modern visual trends.
        • Get a theme or a template. For that, hire a good designer who’ll help you pick a decent one and customize it for your needs.
        • If you’re willing to invest a bit more, ask a good UX consultant for recommendations.
        • Learn to handle everyday UX issues yourself by doing more self-study. UX Stack Exchange is a good free resource where you can ask for help.
        • If you have a whole team of developers but can’t afford in-house designers, it helps to train the developers on UI/UX essentials. That’s been my own hot topic lately, as I launched a dedicated training program for teams.

        Why and how do you use Balsamiq Mockups?

        Balsamiq is my primary tool for wireframing! I use it for wireframing sessions with clients, and also in educational blog posts. UI Practicum is my weekly article series where I solve challenging UX problems in web applications. Illustrations for these articles are made entirely with Balsamiq Mockups, like this article on scheduling.

        I don’t rely on the interactive part too much, but I love the ability to create detailed, style-agnostic layouts. And I also dig the cute look of arrows and explanations!

        Do you have any feature ideas or suggestions for how we can improve our product?

        Don’t have any critical ones. But I’ve been working on a wizard lately, and had to hack it together with great difficulty (see the wireframe below). It would be awesome if such component was pre-baked in Balsamiq.

        Who do you look up to (or follow on social media) for inspiration?

        My feed includes Paul Jarvis, Shawn Blanc, Joanna Wiebe, Brian Casel, Amy Hoy, Seth Godin, and a handful of “girly” lifestyle blogs about psychology, fashion, makeup, and interior design.

        Among fellow UI/UX writers I can highly recommend Sarah Doody and Samuel Hulick.

        How do you see UX changing? Do the principles stay the same while visual trends change, or are there fundamental aspects that evolve as well?

        Global principles stay the same, but the library of common patterns evolves.

        Global principles stay the same, but the library of common patterns evolves. Users learn fresh patterns as new software products appear in the mass market. The whole UX industry is maturing, while still being a hot subject.

        Exciting times!


        For more, head on over to UI Breakfast. Thanks, Jane, for all you do to help rid the world of bad software. You're a champion!

        Are you a Champion who wants to be featured on our Balsamiq Champions blog? Send an email to champions@balsamiq.com with your stories or blog posts!

          Scott Gallant on Adapting to Succeed

          scott and jordanNot long ago we received an email from Scott Gallant in response to our blog post about our new Hugo-powered documentation site. He said he was building a Content Management System (CMS) for websites running on Hugo and Jekyll, and asked us for some feedback.

          From the beginning of our project, one of our hesitations had been moving away from our existing CMS to a solution that required more technical know-how from the contributors, so the idea of using a CMS on top of our new platform was enticing.

          Since then we've been beta testing the product Scott has been building with his partner Jordan (both shown above) - Forestry.io - and have used it for some of our documentation updates. (Note: Forestry was recently accepted to the Techstars NYC 2016 accelerator program and will be available to the public very soon.)

          Scott happens to be a long-time Balsamiq user, so we asked him for some feedback on our product, as well as his thoughts on launching a new business. Read his answers below.

          Q&A with Scott Gallant

          What is forestry.io and what problem does it solve?

          Forestry.io is a CMS for Jekyll and Hugo sites. Upload your project and forestry.io will automatically build a CMS tailored to your site...no more mucking around with PHP :) When you or someone from your team edits content via your forestry.io CMS, your website gets re-compiled and published to your host (S3, Github, FTP, etc).

          Web developers know that static site generators improve their workflow by 10x.

          Web developers know that static site generators like Jekyll and Hugo improve their workflow by 10x. But until now, you had to fire up the command line in order to edit anything on your Jekyll or Hugo site. This meant that Dean from marketing had to ask the dev team every time he wanted to make a small content change to a website. With Forestry, you can use Jekyll or Hugo AND get a CMS for your team and/or clients. Want to keep everything under version control? Just connect forestry.io to your Github project and all content changes will be committed.

          If you're not familiar with Jekyll, Hugo, or static site generators, there's a great article on Smashing Magazine about them.

          Why did you decide to start this project? Do you have a particular expertise in this domain, or did it come out of frustration with existing solutions?

          My partner, Jordan, and I used to run a web design agency, a hosting company, and we even built a tool to manage multiple WordPress sites called WP Status (RIP). We became really frustrated with dealing with LAMP-based CMSs. Many sites got hacked, we had to spend a ton of time updating plugins and our sites were slow and bloated. Then we fell in love with static site generators but it was obvious to us that we needed a CMS to use these amazing tools for larger sites...so, we decided to build one :)

          What was your design process for forestry.io? How did you decide which features to include, and what existing sites or apps inspired the layout and workflow of it?

          We decided the biggest void in the market was around the CMS, not hosting.

          Great question! We started in a different direction; building a hosting platform on top of AWS for static sites. We posted our project to Hacker News and people were most excited about a small CMS "side-feature" that we offered (see traffic spike). We thought about it, and decided the biggest void in the market was around the CMS, not hosting. This was also what we were most excited to build so we "pivoted" and haven't looked back :)


          The traffic spike from Hacker News

          Our design process tends to go like this:

          • Dream up crazy ideas
          • Wireframe (Balsamiq to the rescue!)
          • Mockup design work (Photoshop)
          • Start coding
          • Show our work to users
          • Course correct
          • Show our work to users
          • Course correct
          • Show our work to users
          • Course correct
            ... see the trend?

          See the screenshots below for an example of the interface. We're using Brian Rinaldi's very cool demo site for these.

          The forestry.io UI

          We love software that turns the complex into something simple.

          We have many inspirations. We love user-friendly software that's intuitive and elegantly designed. We love software that turns the complex into something simple. Big inspirations are: Dropbox, MailChimp, Github, Medium.com, and Stripe. These are all amazingly designed pieces of software.

          What tools do you use for your job?

          • Macbook Pros (I'm due for an upgrade)
          • Standing and sitting desks
          • Balsamiq, Photoshop, Sketch
          • Sublime Text
          • Github

          Tell me about your experience with Balsamiq Mockups. What have you used it for and what problem has it solved for you?

          We've used Balsamiq for virtually every software project. It helps us rapidly visualize our ideas without going too far down the design path. We used to use it a lot when we ran a web design agency too. This really helped our clients see what they were buying from us and it helped us lock down the scope without getting caught up in the aesthetic design.

          Some of the mockups for Forestry

          What's missing from our tool that you'd like to see added?

          I'm probably a "light" Balsamiq user and you guys seem to keep ahead of my needs with product improvements. But I'd like the ability to add just a single line of text, not a heading and not a full paragraph, but a single line of text (this may already exist). And more icons :)

          (Editor's note: We recently introduced the Line of Text control for this purpose. Regarding icons, our current version has the Font Awesome icon set with WAY more icons than before.)

          What kinds of things are you excited about right now?

          The future web is secure, fast and makes use of 3rd party tools.

          I'm super excited about the future of the static web. The days of the traditional LAMP stack are few. The future web is secure, fast and makes use of 3rd party tools. Need comments? Use disqus.com. Need a survey? Try Wufoo. Need to sell a product, use Stripe Checkout and AWS Lambda. And of course, forestry.io is the CMS that allows you to maintain all of this ;)

          Why the name "Forestry"???

          My partner, Jordan, and I used to drive 2 hours to meet our team every Monday at our old startup. We conceived of the idea on one of these drives and the conversation went like this:

          Jordan - "So what are we going to call this thing?"
          Scott - "I don't know, some cool .io name?"

          We passed an RV that had a "Caravan" logo on it

          Scott - "Like caravan.io"
          Jordan - "That's stupid"

          We passed another RV that had a "Forestry" logo on it

          Scott - "Or forestry.io"
          Jordan - "That's stupid too"

          I did a search that night, caravan.io was taken but forestry.io was available :)


          Thanks, Scott, for taking the time to share your story!

          Are you a Champion who wants to be featured on our Balsamiq Champions blog? Send an email to champions@balsamiq.com with your stories or blog posts!

            Kate Toon Uses Balsamiq to Transform The Copywriting Process

            Kate ToonI recently returned from the Write the Docs 2016 conference in Portland, where people who write documentation, marketing copy, and more gather to talk about the state of all things documentation.

            As a designer and writer, I came back inspired. One of the themes of the conference was how content writing is gaining appreciation as a core piece of the customer experience. Many organizations no longer treat writing as separate from the other visual elements of the user experience (some have even merged it into their design team).

            Kate Toon is a web copywriter who embraces this philosophy with Balsamiq Mockups. It allows her clients to see her work in the context of the visual layout and design of their sites. This helps them understand the value of what she does and set expectations for how it will look and feel in the finished product.

            Q&A with Kate Toon

            What industry do you work in, and what is your title or job description?

            I’m a copywriter, information architect and SEO trainer.

            What kinds of things are you excited about in your industry?

            I enjoy helping clients to create easy to use websites that give their customers an enjoyable seamless web experience. I’m excited by beautiful design and clever, creative copy.

            What suggestions do you have for someone looking to succeed in your role or industry?

            It’s not just about good quality writing.

            As a copywriter, it’s important to understand that it’s not just about good quality writing. A copywriter, especially for the web, needs to be:

            • A great listener, so you can absorb the client’s tone of voice, and understand their goals
            • An awesome project manager, to ensure you guide your clients through the whole process easily and with zero stress
            • An SEO expert, to understand the impact that keyword research, readability and other tech issues can have on the client’s copy
            • A usability guru, understanding mobile-first design, microcopy, site structure, calls to action and so much more


            Kate uses Balsamiq Mockups to create a mix of wireframe elements, images, and annotations in one deliverable for her clients.

            Why and how do you use Balsamiq Mockups?

            Although I try to structure my copy deck in a way that it’s easy for people to work out what goes where, I’ve found that for many people, they just can’t picture how the words on the page will work on the website.

            So, especially when I’m writing Home page copy, I’ve started to use Balsamiq.

            My clients love it – it transforms the way they see the copywriting process.

            Balsamiq helps me lay out the copy and create wireframes for clients, showing how the copy will work on the page. I can highlight header copy, buttons and menus, outline the navigation and plan the footers and sidebars. My clients love it – it transforms the way they see the copywriting process.

            I find it makes life easier for the website designers and developers too.

            Balsamiq has an easy learning curve. I’m not a huge fan of watching tutorials, so was delighted by how easy it is to get started.

            Do you have any feature ideas or suggestions for how we can improve our product(s)?

            I’d love your product to incorporate a sitemap function, so I don’t have to use separate software. (Editor's note: We do have this! Check out our documentation on working with site maps.)

            I’d also like to be able to save created elements as templates, and then use these templates on other pages. (Check out our Symbols feature, which is even easier in Balsamiq Mockups 3.)


            Thanks, Kate, for sharing your insights and process. You're a Champion!

            Are you a Champion who wants to be featured on our Balsamiq Champions blog? Send an email to champions@balsamiq.com with your stories or blog posts!

              Danielle Tate: The "Elegant Entrepreneur"

              Danielle TateDanielle Tate is the author of "Elegant Entrepreneur: The Female Founders Guide to Starting & Growing Your First Company", which she wrote "to lower the barriers to entry and success for female founders."

              In it she teaches topics relevant to starting a company, such as:

              • Market research
              • Business planning
              • Funding
              • Building your team, and
              • "Timing your leap"

              She mentions Balsamiq Mockups in her list of tools that can "help women grow from idea to exit." One of the mentions is in a section on finding a technical cofounder that shows the depth of her experience and research. Some good advice here:

              "To pique a potential technical partner’s interest, differentiate yourself from the endless hollow pitches. Be sure to have a wireframe or other documented presentation, and the working vocabulary around the technology you need for your project."

              She also promotes Balsamiq Mockups to reinforce the mantra we often hear on this blog, that wireframing early saves a lot of time down the road when it comes to the testing and development phases.

              Her book comes at an interesting time for female founders. An article titled "What The Evolution Of Women's Roles In Stock Photos Says About Gender Equality" cites that Getty Images has seen a fourfold increase in searches for "woman entrepreneur" in the last year. Meanwhile, "only 4% percent of S&P Fortune 500 companies have female CEOs." Danielle's book is working to bridge that gap.

              We asked her some questions about her book and the story behind it.

              Note: Danielle has generously offered a free copy of her book to the first 5 commenters. So add your thoughts or experiences below!

              Q&A with Danielle Tate

              What industry do you work in, and what is your title or job description?

              I work in the wedding tech industry as the founder and CEO of MissNowMrs.com, an online name-change service for brides.

              What inspired you to write a book?

              As an accidental entrepreneur, I always looked for a book that would teach me the steps to building a business without assuming that I had an MBA. I also wanted a book that discussed the emotions and psychological barriers that happen in entrepreneurship to know if what I was experiencing was “normal.” I never found that book, so I wrote it. My mission with Elegant Entrepreneur is to lower the boundaries to entry and success for female founders.

              As an accidental entrepreneur, I always looked for a book that would teach me the steps to building a business without assuming that I had an MBA.

              What's in your book that's not covered in other books on starting a business?

              By demystifying entrepreneurship and providing a window into the lifestyle, I hope to get more women to startup and scale up!

              Elegant Entrepreneur is 1/3 my personal experiences as an entrepreneur, 1/3 research, and 1/3 insights and advice from 25+ prominent women entrepreneurs. My book covers the 12 business steps from idea to exit (which many other books do) and shares elegant insights from myself and others to make spanning those steps easier for the reader. I also wrote about “how it feels” to be living each step of the entrepreneurial journey. By demystifying entrepreneurship and providing a window into the lifestyle, I hope to get more women to startup and scale up!

              How has entrepreneurship changed in the last decade and what changes do you see ahead?

              I’ve seen a shift in the societal view of entrepreneurs and entrepreneurship. It is much more acceptable to launch a startup instead of following a more traditional career path. Television shows like Shark Tank and the Profit have peaked America’s curiosity about startups and entrepreneurs.

              There are more women entrepreneurs now than when I founded my company ten years ago. While we are still a small fraction of the entrepreneurial ecosystem, our numbers are growing and our ideas and companies are making a difference in the world. As more women entrepreneurs become investors, I hope we will see even more female-founded startups receiving funding to scale their businesses.

              Any person who intends to work for a company should learn the basic steps to starting and growing a business.

              The educational system is starting to “wake up” and shift colleges from centers of research to centers of innovation. I believe we will see more entrepreneurship curriculum within high schools and colleges in the future (and can’t wait for that to happen)! Any person who intends to work for a company should learn the basic steps to starting and growing a business, as it will help them better understand their role within the company.

              What has experience taught you that you think new entrepreneurs should know right off the bat?

              You need to have a good idea daily. Many new entrepreneurs are so wrapped up in the one big idea that launched their company that they forget how important new ideas are. Generating new ideas and implementing them is how a company grows, improves, and stays ahead of competition in an ever-changing market.

              What mistakes have you made along the way and how did you recover or learn from them?

              Invest in a good business lawyer from the beginning.

              One of my biggest mistakes as I started my company was not proactively protecting my intellectual property. We had several copycat companies mine our service for forms and coding processes. After numerous lawsuits we added stronger terms and conditions to our purchase process and also devised a security mechanism that shuts down accounts with suspicious activity. My advice to any entrepreneur is to invest in a good business lawyer from the beginning and write terms and conditions that include a no derivative works clause for users.

              Why and how do you use Balsamiq Mockups?

              Balsamiq is a must-have tool for any entrepreneur

              As a non-graphic designer, Balsamiq is a tool that allows me to communicate my ideas to my cofounders, designer, and team in a much more elegant fashion than the stick figures I used to scan and email to everyone (they’re tragic). Having something clean and concrete to work off of speeds our project collaborations. Balsamiq is a must-have tool for any entrepreneur, and I recommend it and purposefully included a Balsamiq draft of the MissNowMrs website in my book.

              One of Danielle's wireframes for the MissNowMrs website

              What (or who) inspires you?

              I am inspired by many people and things, but currently my son is my inspiration. He lives in a household where ideas become companies and mamas write books on entrepreneurship. I want to continue to make sure he lives in a world without traditional limits, and strive to set a good example.


              Thanks, Danielle, for writing the book you couldn't find. You're a Champion!

              Danielle has generously offered a free copy of her book to the first 5 commenters. So add your thoughts or experiences below!

              Are you a Champion who wants to be featured on our Balsamiq Champions blog? Send an email to champions@balsamiq.com with your stories or blog posts!

                Ankit Bhangar: Wireframe Specialist

                Abigail RumseyWe were flattered to receive an email recently from Ankit Bhangar praising our little tool. Ankit is a UI/UX specialist currently working for inoltrotech.com. He is a long-time Mockups user and has used it for over 40 projects large and small in scope.

                Ankit meets our "Champion" criteria both because of his expertise in using our product and because, as he put it, he has "convinced a lot of my clients to use it as well." Word of mouth is our primary marketing tool, so we are proud that Ankit has felt compelled to recommend Balsamiq to others.

                It was also gratifying to hear Ankit talk about Balsamiq Mockups not just as a design tool, but also an ideation and communication tool, which is how we describe and use it internally.

                Here is Ankit's list of things that you can do with Balsamiq Mockups:

                1. Turn your imagination into visible form.
                2. Convince investors to fund your project.
                3. Explain to your designers/developers the “things” inside your head.
                4. Collaborate with colleagues and your development crew to create or update existing products
                5. Flowchart a system that you want to develop.

                He sent us some great examples of screens and flow diagrams that he has designed (shown below). We followed up with him to find out more about what he does and hear some of his first-hand stories.

                Q&A with Ankit Bhangar

                Who are you and what do you do?

                My name is Ankit Bhangar, and I am a wireframe UI/UX specialist.

                I have now been in the business of wireframing for 4+ years, working on both simple and complex applications. My role varies and often takes me in to the depths of the user experience.

                I love what I do, it's a fantastic job and also a career that allows me to earn a comfortable living as a virtual freelancer. I have worked for both small and large corporations assisting with UI/UX improvements and redesigns.

                We are developing a whole division for wireframing and prototyping.

                Currently I am with a team at inoltrotech.com which is a Branding, Marketing, and Web Development company. We are developing a whole division for wireframing and prototyping due to our belief that the UI/UX industry is becoming a key role in the IT field; particularly for small start ups and entrepreneurs who are bootstrapping their way to the top.

                UX-FlowMobile app flow (click to enlarge)

                What kinds of things are you excited about in your industry?

                Great programming needs to be complimented with simple design and flow.

                The depth of new concepts, but also the simplicity of applications. I am fortunate enough to be exposed to a number of brilliant projects, many of which I create rapid prototypes (wireframes) for. The UI/UX industry, I think, is finally receiving the credit it deserves. Great programming needs to be complimented with simple design and flow.

                What suggestions do you have for someone looking to succeed in your role or industry?

                Practice, and form good partnerships. Creating high level wireframes is a tough job, but it is rewarding. What is even more rewarding is continuing the journey with a team and watching things come to fruition. I work with a great team of freelancers who have come together to create inoltrotech.com so I am lucky.

                To practice I suggest downloading apps and reviewing websites and then wireframing them your way, trying to simplify the process, reduce steps, and minimise potential errors,

                To practice I suggest downloading apps and reviewing websites and then wireframing them your way, trying to simplify the process, reduce steps, and minimise potential errors, particularly in this mobile responsive age. This needs to be taken into consideration for a quality wireframe specialist - what will it look like on mobile.

                What's challenging about your job and how do you deal with it?

                The most challenging part is understanding the exact requirements of a project, covering all use cases, and then depicting them using Balsamiq. A simple list page can have 7-8 variations based on the UI/UX needed and at the end you go with the 9th one!

                Why and how do you use Balsamiq Mockups?

                I use Balsamiq as my livelihood to mockup projects for clients to understand their projects better, and to help my development team as well. I also use it for my team to convey any messages from clients, to show their exact needs and limit errors; I have found this reduces the turnaround time for the project.

                What has been your experience showing your mockups to other people, for instance team members or clients?

                The experience has been overwhelming. The interactive mockups give a clear view of how things will go ahead with the project. I can create mockups quickly, so clients are impressed with the outcome and they end up taking the time to understand how Balsamiq works. :)

                Some of Ankit's work (click to enlarge)

                Can you tell me about a specific project or projects where Balsamiq was especially useful?

                Well there are a lot of projects where Balsamiq has been useful but one particular project was a mobile application where the client found that creating sketches was simply just time consuming. So he put up the job on Upwork and I took it. I showed him some mockups and told him about Balsamiq and how to use it. After few days he got used to it and was very happy that he met me and got to know Balsamiq.

                Do you have any feature ideas or suggestions for how we can improve our product(s)?

                1. I would really love to see Balsamiq integrate with InVision or provide transition effects like InVision does. (Editors note: Not currently planned. Native apps are our top priority right now.)
                2. Many of my wireframes span up to 70 pages, so a search will be great. (We're working on it!)
                3. The rounded rectangles; When I fill in the colors the edges are not fully filled. Is that something that can be fixed? (We'll look into it. Thanks!)
                4. BMPR support in myBalsamiq (our online version).(Coming. See this blog post.)
                5. Pinch-to-zoom support for Macs. (It's on our list.)

                Do you have any Balsamiq Mockups tips or tricks or anything else that you'd like to share?

                1. Use shortcuts as much as possible, it speeds up work by a factor of 2.
                2. If you create a lot of different projects, create a base project with all assets imported and just start editing that.
                3. Use Symbols for repeated assets, so that you just need to change things in one place.

                Lastly I thank a special friend, Balsamiq, my clients, my family and friends for supporting me to become a champion :)


                Thanks, Ankit, for the good work you do to rid the world of bad software!

                Are you a Champion who wants to be featured on our Balsamiq Champions blog? Send an email to champions@balsamiq.com with your stories or blog posts!

                  Danelle Bailey: Using myBalsamiq as a Project Hub

                  Danelle Bailey"Our team uses myBalsamiq a lot," writes Danelle Bailey in her blog post "How our Design Team uses Balsamiq as a Project Hub". But rather than showing off her team's design work, she describes how myBalsamiq has become a central repository for a variety of common project artifacts.

                  A typical myBalsamiq project for her team will start with an overview page created in Mockups describing the project and listing the other assets in the project folder. Think of it as the cover page and table of contents in one. It then progresses deeper into specifics, from user flow diagrams, to UI wireframes, and finally architectural and database details relevant to the developers.

                  Project Overview and OutlineA sample overview page

                  We are often asked about the difference between Balsamiq Mockups for Desktop and myBalsamiq. Our short answer is usually that the first is installed locally on your computer and the other runs in a web browser, but Danelle's blog post highlights how the built-in collaboration features of myBalsamiq can be used to make it more than just a tool for wireframing. It's a great case study and we're thankful she took the time to write it.

                  Q&A with Danelle Bailey

                  What industry do you work in, and what is your title or job description?

                  I work on the Blackboard Community Engagement solution for K-12. I’m a Sr. UX Designer in our Product Design and Innovation Team. I have been designing on the web for 12 years and for the past few really focused on mobile. I am passionate about designing experiences that integrate seamlessly into everyday life.

                  schoolwires mobileMobile Interaction Design work for Schoolwires mobile feed, collaboration with Sara Hardy

                  What kinds of things are you excited about in your industry?

                  Within the design and technology field, I’m excited to help push technology into becoming a truly helpful enabler of daily lives outside of highly technical users. When I focus on how many don’t have high speed internet and just need to get simple tasks performed, automated, or enabled, I think there is so much opportunity to innovate using common sense backed with technology. It’s a matter of being better informed, which I’m learning to do better myself.

                  Using technology by deeply engaging community and families can change our future.

                  Within the education technology space, it’s awesome to see how learners are expecting to guide their own educational pathways. This expectation raises the bar for not only design, but for content providers and learner results. One thing we want to facilitate is strong support of learner organizations. When these organizations are enabled to their potential, everyone wins. To get there, it helps to think about the end goals which can be higher learner output, or as simple as more time with family. Using technology by deeply engaging community and families can change our future.

                  What suggestions do you have for someone looking to succeed in your role or industry?

                  Think of design as more than simply visual design.

                  Learn ways to research users. Listen. Try out new tools constantly. Listen. Learn to learn, and network. Think of design as more than simply visual design. Listen.

                  How do you envision the future of K-12 education? Is it radically different than today, or is it a series of gradual changes?

                  Education is typically slow moving when it comes to changes in methodologies and technology. I think consumption of learning material is already changing drastically (on demand), but there is also much room for community engagement innovation. Whether that is facilitating conversation about changes or simply being involved and aware of student success, that's where our team focuses.

                  Why and how do you use Balsamiq Mockups?

                  Our team uses myBalsamiq online because we have a lot of remote collaboration and cross-platform sharing that needs to happen on a regular basis. As a visual designer, I really like the simplicity of the low fidelity tools. It’s easy to convey designs and interactions without getting caught up with the width of a line, or specific typographic hierarchy early in the process. Further, it helps everyone to focus on how a design works.

                  Our team uses myBalsamiq because we have a lot of remote collaboration and cross-platform sharing that needs to happen.

                  Another way we use this tool is as a project hub. You can read more here, but basically we have a method (by modifying reusable Site Assets) that promotes consistency across designs. This allows engineers and stakeholders to know what to expect and where to find what they need for their part of the project. The elements we provide each time is ever-evolving as process and business needs change.

                  Project Model TypesThe model templates created by Danelle's team

                  While each project is different, these are the different types of models we use over again:

                  • Overview: Contains information on the "why" and goals of a design and links to assets and specs. Also important notes.
                  • User or App Flows: Sometimes we pull in more detailed diagrams that were created in other apps or teams.
                  • Interactive Mockups: These are the designs that allow users to interact with screen and complete tasks.
                  • Business Layer: Architectural explanations of underlying technical frameworks, libraries and functions needed to achieve functionality.
                  • Data Layer: Database and storage details needed to deliver functionality.

                  Do you have any Balsamiq Mockups tips or tricks that you'd like to share?

                  1. Import your own assets sparingly. Once you come up with a system, you can reuse many pieces without having too much to sort through.
                  2. For now, I suggest color coding projects by project phase using the cover customizations in myBalsamiq.
                  3. Keep as much history available as possible. Use the Propose Alternate feature to prevent overwriting potential winning ideas down the road. After you test, you may find an original idea works better.
                  4. Use the Prototype link when sharing outside of your team.

                  Danelle using myBalsamiqDanelle at work. Photo credit Katie Carpenter of Ryn Creative.

                  Do you have any feature ideas or suggestions for how we can improve our product(s)?

                  I am involved in the Balsamiq forums regularly, pushing for ideas to help shape the future of this software we use as such an important piece of our process. A few ideas we have submitted and are eager to see facilitated in the online version are:

                  You mentioned on your blog that you've been inspired by the book "The Best Interface is No Interface" and the the #NoUI mindset. What is it and what excites you about it?

                  Too often designers think about solving problems using apps.

                  Basically, this book points out how too often, we designers think about solving problems using apps. It encourages the reader to think about problem solving from a wider mindset and not to use the screen for the sake of making a "cool interface" or "having an app". There is so much we can leverage with technology that our device already know abouts us. Apple Pay is an example of this and I hope to see more of it as a consumer and in my own work where it is the best solution.

                  I also read on your blog that you own a 1968 Chevelle. Do you have any photos of it to share?

                  Danelle's Chevelle

                  Sweet ride!


                  Thanks, Danelle, you're a Champion! Thanks so much for sharing your process.

                  Are you a Champion who wants to be featured on our Balsamiq Champions blog? Send an email to champions@balsamiq.com with your stories or blog posts!

                    Plantwise: Using Wireframes to Test Software for Farmers in Developing Countries

                    Abigail RumseyThis is another great story of a Champion who blogged about a project we couldn't have imagined our software being used for. Abigail Rumsey wrote a blog post called "Mocking up the Plantwise Knowledge Bank" that described the process of creating, improving, and testing web and mobile applications for farmers in developing countries. Balsamiq Mockups was used for the wireframes.

                    Abbie works at a non-profit called Centre for Agriculture and Biosciences International (CABI) that helps farmers around the world protect and grow their crops by spreading scientific agricultural knowledge.

                    She is involved in a program called Plantwise, which she describes this way:

                    Plantwise is a global programme to help farmers lose less of their crops to pests. The programme assists countries in setting up a ‘plant health system’, which mirrors a human national health system, involving ‘plant doctors’ that diagnose farmers’ crop problems at plant clinics, and other stakeholders such as diagnostic services and research organisations.

                    This three-minute video gives an overview of the program and the people it benefits.

                    Personally, I loved learning about this project through my correspondence with Abbie. I also found it interesting how the experience of designing, refining, and testing software felt so familiar, despite the context being so unfamiliar. The lesson being that, regardless of the purpose or personas of your software, there's nothing like putting some concepts in front of users and getting their feedback on something they can actually see. It's always eye-opening and teaches you things you never would have predicted.

                    Read on for my interview with Abbie...

                    Q&A with Abigail Rumsey

                    What is your role with Plantwise and what do you like about it?

                    My official job title is ‘Content Developer (Technical Solutions), Plantwise Knowledge Bank’ but that’s a bit of a mouthful! The Plantwise Knowledge Bank (PWKB) provides information and tools to people within the plant health system, both online and offline. I work on, among other things, translating the user’s requirements into specifications for IT.

                    It took me a long time to realise that playing around with new tools on the internet could be more than just a hobby.

                    I started off working in the content side of things for the PWKB, managing the quality monitoring of factsheet records and text mined distribution records for our database. I have been fortunate that my team has allowed me to follow my interests in technology and contribute my skills and knowledge in this area to the Plantwise programme. I always considered playing around with new tools on the internet as just being something I did in my spare time and it took me a long time to realise that it could be more than just a hobby.

                    Tell me a little more about the project you wrote about in your blog post

                    Currently, plant doctors collect data on the crops that farmers bring to their clinics either on a paper form or, as part of the ‘e-plant clinic’ pilots that we are running, on a digital form on an Android tablet. For the e-plant clinic pilots we have been using an off-the-shelf data collection app but, as we scale up and as we want to do more with tablets, this is becoming an unsustainable option, so we are now designing our own app.

                    We wanted to know if plant doctors wanted a data collection app that looked like a form or if they wanted an app that was less obviously a data collection form, which still collected all the same data but, for example, instead of checking a box that said ‘leaves affected’, they would touch a picture of leaves on a plant. The wireframes were printed out on coloured paper (different colours for different versions of the app – form or pictorial) and laminated, then the plant doctors were asked what they thought of each wireframe.

                    GeorgeMwembeRoseMuinde
                    Image credit: ©CABI
                    Users liked the wireframes where there were icons and checkboxes that would limit the amount of typing they had to do. They also suggested things we hadn’t thought of.

                    We got a lot of feedback from this session. They quite liked the idea of clicking parts of the plant but it didn’t seem viable because they see a lot of different crop plants so the picture wouldn’t like the crop that they were looking at. They liked the wireframes where there were icons and checkboxes that would limit the amount of typing they had to do. They also suggested things we hadn’t thought of like the option to get a summary of their clinic session (time taken, number of farmers seen etc.) and send this to their supervisor.

                    plantwise-mockup-1plantwise-mockup-2
                    Wireframes for the Plantwise app

                    We have now found a company to work with to develop the app, and plan to release it by the end of the year. Obviously the real test will be when the plant doctors get to try it out and let us know what they think of it! In the future, we hope to add more features to the app so that the plant doctors will have many tools and reference materials on their tablet and won’t need to carry lots of paper around with them. Possible future features include peer-to-peer messaging and assistance with diagnosis.

                    What did you do before Plantwise?

                    Before Plantwise I studied for a Masters degree in biodiversity and conservation, and got a fair amount of work experience both in the office and in the field with conservation NGOs. I ended up at CABI because I wanted to follow my interest in scientific writing and editing, so was looking for jobs with scientific publishers.

                    What kinds of things are you excited about?

                    We are seeing so many examples of citizens of less developed countries using and developing tools that are specific to their needs.

                    I am excited about emerging internet tools and the opportunities that they are opening up for a more connected world. We are seeing so many examples of citizens of less developed countries using and developing tools that are specific to their needs. For example, the mapping of the Kibera slums and monitoring of national elections in Kenya using crowdsourcing techniques.

                    Anything else you want me to know about you?

                    I think my colleagues realised I was a nerd when I applied for the job with a QR code on my CV that linked to an interactive website about me.

                    What's challenging about your job and how do you deal with it?

                    It's difficult when our users are in remote places with dodgy internet connections.

                    It’s tricky working out what users want! We have got a lot better at connecting directly with the users of our tools but it is still difficult when they are in remote places with dodgy internet connections and when there are language barriers. We sometimes ask colleagues or partners in-country to help us with user testing.

                    What other tools do you use for your job?

                    The Technical Solutions group uses Trello to manage our Agile workflow, which I find to be a really nice tool to visually keep track of my tasks. We have also been experimenting with Slack for team communication. For creating mockups of tools, apart from Balsamiq, I use the free image software package GIMP. When I’m working with data from different parts of the internet I write a Python script or use a tool called Kimono to create a quick API.

                    How did you discover Balsamiq and why did you start using it?

                    I discovered Balsamiq when I started making wireframes as part of my job. One of my colleagues recommended it last year and I haven’t considered using anything else since! We recently tried out myBalsamiq when my team quickly wanted to draw up some designs for a mobile app. It was brilliant how quickly we could all put something together (even those people who hadn’t used the software before), and it was so easy to collaborate and comment on mockups.

                    What trends do you see in your industry right now?

                    Mobile is really taking off in agriculture in developing countries. We have gone from a small pilot of using Android tablets in plant clinics in Kenya last year to a large number of plant doctors using them this year. We are also running pilots in Rwanda, India and Sri Lanka, which are going well and greatly speeding up the data collection process. The majority of farmers in the areas where we are piloting have access to basic mobile phones, and many of them are using these to handle money transactions and to keep up-to-date with market prices.


                    Truly fascinating stuff. Thanks for your time, and keep up the good work!

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