Trends in interface design over the past few years have been moving solidly toward grid-based layouts that are adaptable to many different screen sizes and operating environments. Truly talented developers are often able to design for this reality on their own, with no additional tools needed in order for them to develop an interface wireframe that lays out strict guidelines, interface elements, and areas of functionality.
For the vast majority of designers, however, it’s necessary to acquire a piece of software that can serve as a virtual sketching pad or napkin. Interface elements can be drawn and communicated this way, and put into action at a later stage in the development process.
WireframeSketcher: Powerful Interface Design Tool
A number of great software solutions exist to meet this need, and one of the most popular is WireframeSketcher. The software actually functions quite like a digital drawing board, with users able to break out a digital “pen” and draw their ideas right onto the screen.
With a number of other rich elements, the basic functionality and layout of a well-designed series of pages can come together rather easily.
The Interface: Quirky, But Mostly Effective for Developers
WireframeSketcher is inherently designed to meet the advanced needs of developers who are seasoned enough to put a wireframe together before launching a new website’s design. For this reason, the interface that ships with WireframeSketcher is a bit more advanced than the interfaces used by similar web design WYSIWYG software solutions.
Buttons for saving a document, rolling back changes to the wireframe, or modifying text, are also included in the top toolbars of the application. Overall, this complexity is functional and necessary for developers using the program on any platform.
A three-pane interface is used when actually drawing the wireframe and building the interface. The leftmost pane allows for the creation of new wireframes and the modification of elements placed onto the page.
The center pane is where the actual wireframe is built and shared. And, on the right-hand side, a library is presented with interface elements like arrows, buttons, charts, and more. It will take a little getting used to, but the software’s three-pane interface is easily one of the most useful and intuitive on the market.
The “Drawn” Look vs. the “Finished” Look
Many wireframe programs currently available for developers offer either a hand-drawn look or one that uses clean, straight lines. Sometimes, however, it’s important to have access to both types of rendering in order to communicate ideas to a large number of fellow developers or higher-ups. This is where WireframeSketcher shows great flexibility.
By default, the software features a hand-drawn look to all of the elements that are placed on the page. From video elements and sliders to textual columns and beyond, everything is given a “squiggly” appearance as if it was drawn on a piece of paper.
With 200 monochrome, royalty free vector icons, you won’t have any trouble finding a widget that’ll work in any project. Being in vector format, they can be resized, colored, rotated and embedded in any text. Icons can be added to the library as well. WireframeSketcher will take your personal widgets and images.
Color images can be drawn in black and white for a convenient blend-in with the wireframe appearance. SVG vector images will automatically convert to the hand drawn look.
This hand-drawn look is a great asset for those who are used to more hand-drawn appearances when creating wireframes. It is not, however, the most readable or presentable way to show off ideas for a new interface.
For business presentations and communication with less-seasoned developers, a straight-line look is used. These straight lines are clean, minimal, and focus on the layout of the website rather than the in-depth function of each element. Having a choice between these options is absolutely essential in today’s development circles, and it’s a welcome feature of WireframeSketcher.
A Very Snappy Experience from Start to Finish
WireframeSketcher, refreshingly, is a Java application. It uses UI bindings, which means that on Mac it uses Cocoa, on Windows – Win32 Controls and on Linux –GTK, which means the UI, is native. Java is shipped with WireframeSketcher on Windows.
Both OS X and Ubuntu install Java automatically if needed. Java on the other hand operates invisibly to the users behind the scenes busting the slow speed myth.
That means no lagging, no slow user experiences. The program is fast, which promotes much faster development and higher levels of developer productivity. This is a breath of fresh air in the development world.
Interesting Advanced Features up to Mark
Among the software’s many advanced features is storyboarding. Get a real time response on your actions and changes. They can be used for slideshow presentations, multi-page export and interactive PDFs and HTML. This is an excellent way to share the work in progress. You can also show the work through a full screen presentation mode or export the wireframes in a number of formats.
With open XML format, screens are easily stored with version control. Standard Eclipse tools will track changes and perform diffs and merges as needed. Use the open source SDK to create personalized tools.
The mockups gallery is an excellent place for storing stencils, icons, widgets and templates. Placed in ‘Assets’, these items will show up in the WireframeSketcher palette. These items can also be shared across the community. WireframeSketcher can publish your items and will certainly give you full credit. So if you’ve developed mobile stencils, dialogs, archives, layouts, icons or other miscellaneous products that you think might be useful to others, we’d be happy to help you share them.
The latest version of WireframeSketcher adds a project wizard. It will walk you through a series of project templates for iPad, Android, iPhone and Windows Phone wireframes.
A Great Development Tool for Most Developers
WireframeSketcher isn’t perfect, with an interface that is a bit difficult to figure out at first and some quirks with its user interface libraries. That said, however, its quirks make it highly usable and a better option than competing wireframe drawing tools currently on the market. In particular, its native programming for Windows, OS X, and Linux environments makes it a no-brainer for developers who are sick of faux-compatible Java tools.
Best of all, WireframeSketcher is able to easily create designs that work on desktops, tablets, and smaller mobile devices. With easy grid development tools, rich interface elements and libraries, and a wide variety of design tools, developers will find themselves able to create virtually any type of interface quicker, more efficiently, and more dynamically, from the start.
To download the latest version of WireframeSketcher for any platform, click here
PS: The opinions and views presented in this review are solely those of the author. We strongly encourage you to try the recommended product/service to experience it personally.