Prototyping product review: Justinmind

Prototyping can be the most exciting – and the most challenging – part of being an information architect. The prototype enables assumptions testing; allows clients to visualize their project; and pushes many aspects of the project forward, from design to copy writing, and from curating assets to technical development.

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This is the first in an occasional series of articles on web and app prototyping that looks at the question: do the new prototyping tools make projects better and jobs easier?

In the beginning, there was Visio. Then Omnigraffle, and Illustrator, Photoshop, and Axure. There were prototyping tools that create designs that look like they were handwritten on the back of a napkin; and others that look and feel almost like the final web site or app. Recently a number of new systems have popped up, promising interactivity, collaboration, responsive design, community-formed libraries of widgets and clean code.

A few of us at Systemscope have been working with Justinmind, and we can say with confidence that this is not your grandmother’s wireframing tool. We’ll share some of our thoughts on strengths and weaknesses, and a widget library we’ve set up for Canada.ca.

jim_logoOn the plus side: Justinmind enables a complete bypass of the wireframe stage (think Visio, Omnigraffle) so assumptions can be tested on something that will look a lot like the final design. The software enables template set up – thus dramatically cutting back on the number of potential pages you may need to create. The basic programming is pretty strong (if slightly idiosyncratic). And the widget library makes repetitive tasks more efficient, and the final product look better. Because prototypes are fairly faithful to the end product, and they can be made interactive, Justinmind can be a very powerful testing tool.

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The Justinmind interface, with a template we designed for Canada.ca

Then, there are the weaknesses – or, we hope – areas of improvement (the company seems to respond pretty quickly to the frustrations and requests of the community). The comments, collaboration and version control are, to be generous, hit and miss. After having worked with a team for a number of months, the commenting and collaboration remains a bit of a mystery. Will it work? How did it work? If we save this, will colleagues see changes tracked? Justinmind never made us feel very confident, and ultimately, we have often duplicated and saved files separately, and sent comments by email.

A second area of improvement: typography is weak. Text is often rendered inaccurately. Related to this: there are aggravating discrepancies between the working and published view. There are other quirks around the page layouts, for example, selecting and deselecting areas (for aligning or shifting position) that do not work consistently. We’ve also found that if we import a lot of data, or create an abundance of nested panels, the program has a tendency to crash.

If used effectively, Justinmind can help designers bypass wireframing, and provide their clients with a pretty faithful rendition of the site or app under consideration. Time can be saved, and a level of polish can be achieved, and in-depth testing can be done. On the whole, Justinmind is a solid tool, and an information architect’s friend. That’s why we’re happy to share these widgets.

Download our Canada.ca widget library Canada.caWidgets.jpl.


Scott Duncan is a senior consultant with Systemscope. He has nearly 20 years experience as an information architect and communications strategist.


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