Microsoft PowerPoint. You’ll be familiar with it, no doubt. The bane of many a meeting, it’s popularity means that it’s pretty much on every desktop in corporate-land.
Which is why it comes as no surprise to hear from so many of you who use it to put software prototypes together.
Perhaps this is preaching to the choir, but I strongly believe that PowerPoint is the wrong kind of tool to use for any prototyping. It’s a little bit like using a hammer to affix screws to a cabinet; yes, you can if you really must, but you do so by sheer bloody-mindedness and end up fighting the tool, cursing a lot and inevitably compromising the end result.
The standard argument for using PowerPoint is that it’s there; in other words, most people will have it already installed on their machines. You won’t, then, have to navigate the corporate bureaucracy to get some third-party software installed. You’re making use of an existing tool which spits out a generally standard format that your customers can view without too much difficulty. This is a fairly justifiable reason for PowerPoint prototyping, but consider the following:
PowerPoint was never designed with prototypes in mind. In fact, it’s a downright lousy tool to use for this purpose. It has neither the functionality to allow you to create effective interactive prototypes, the fidelity to facilitate precise visual prototypes, nor the ease of use and widgets available from a custom-designed prototyping tool.
All of this is well and good, but I didn’t write this post to knock Powerpoint. In fact, if you want to do a presentation, it’s a competent tool (though trails Apple’s Keynote by a country mile). My purpose today is to persuade you to make your life easier by selecting an appropriate tool, and in turn support the many smaller companies who offer such tools.
For many people, prototyping is about layout and general design; it’s sadly still the exception to get support to build fully interactive prototypes, which is a shame, but that’s life. For layout and design, we’re really talking wireframing, although a lot depends upon the stage your project is at.
Let’s get one thing straight: PowerPoint is useless for interactive prototyping. If you wish to do this, use Axure or a similar tool. Yes, you’ll pay for it but you will save the purchase costs many times over if you use it effectively. That means using Requirements Prototyping principles, and engaging with your users and stakeholders throughout the design and development stages.
Fortunately, most people who attempt interactive prototyping with PowerPoint quickly give up, so it’s fair to say that wireframing with PowerPoint is what we’re really looking at avoiding. And this is where I must direct you toward Balsamiq, a superb and inexpensive wireframing tool which generates prototypes in an even-more-standard format – html.
I’m planning an in-depth review of Balsamiq in April, but it is worth considering some of the benefits a tool like this offers over PowerPoint:
1. It’s designed specifically for wireframing – no bloat;
2. It comes supplied with wireframing templates;
3. It’s drag and drop, without the pain;
4. Output in html means that everyone can view your prototype;
5. Speed – it’s an order-of-magnitude quicker to create a wireframe as compared to PowerPoint;
6. You’ll be giving support to a smaller company…
7. …which will in return offer superb customer service and support.
Crucially, you’ll be using a tool that was designed from the ground up to support the wireframing process.
As a parting note, I hope I can persuade some of you to push back against the PowerPoint hegemony and make prototyping the responsive process it ought to be.
I’d love to hear from anyone who wishes to defend PowerPoint, or perhaps tell us about how you pushed through the switch from PowerPoint to a dedicated tool.