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Sep292012

Prototyping with Axure: Why not just learn to code? 

Prototyping. I had never done it before, so I was excited when my new project required me to learn Axure and make real, fairly comprehensive prototypes for a web app. I read Prototyping: A Practitioner’s Guide by Todd Zaki Warfel to prepare, and I started to believe that prototyping was the solution to every problem I’ve ever had communicating wireframes. 

And in a way, prototypes do just that. After a couple months in prototype land, I think clients who can’t grasp wireframes---who are overwhelmed by what they are seeing (and what they aren’t)---may be more comfortable with a mockup that they can take for a test drive. I also believe that prototypes can be good for killing bad ideas before they make it to coding. 

But prototyping in Axure? For me, the jury is out. 

Why am I fake-coding? 

First, there’s the problem of Axure. Building interactions in Axure is fairly complex. Not only are you doing simple things like linking up pages and adding list items to dropdown menu controls---but you are also writing conditional statements and managing tons of visible and hidden layers. This left me wondering WHY. Why not just learn how to code? Writing a condition with a fill-in-the-blanks style builder in Axure is only slightly less confusing than learning how to program conditions sloppily in JavaScript. Why learn a uni-tasking fake programming tool when you could just learn how to code? I’m terrible at coding (and not very fond of it, either), but Axure had me convinced that coding would be faster and more fun. 

What, this visual representation isn't a visual representation? 

The second thing that bugs me about prototyping is how it makes wireframes--formerly known as “not a visual representation”--into visual representations. When you show a lo-fi black and gray line drawing, no one actually believes the final product should be black, white and gray. Also, in most of my circumstances, wireframes were not pixel-perfect. Yeah, they might be based on a 960 grid, but wireframes are an artifact that people print or tape up on a wall. Show a prototype? You are showing a website. You are one step closer to fidelity, and if you start introducing graphic design elements like logos, images and colors---man. You are no longer not a visual representation, are you? 

And if you’re no longer “not a visual representation,” then are you really rapid and iterative? I’ve worked on plenty of savvy teams where my partners could look at wireframes get the concept. See the problems. Grasp the possible solutions. I didn’t need to make accordion panels unfurl or fake-program conditions onto a submit button. I could’ve just shown the wireframes in a sequence. 

So, in the end, I’m sure prototyping is valuable and helpful in many contexts. I’m just not sure the way I’m doing it with Axure is worth the trouble.

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    Prototyping with Axure: Why not just learn to code? - JMY Says, a UX Blog - Julie M. Young | User Experience Architect | Pittsburgh, PA
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    Prototyping with Axure: Why not just learn to code? - JMY Says, a UX Blog - Julie M. Young | User Experience Architect | Pittsburgh, PA
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Reader Comments (6)

Similarly, I've recently started working on a project that tries to use a working Axure prototype as the 'main' design document, and like you, I've encountered frustrations. Axure has 90% of what's needed, but the other 10% necessary is so difficult to achieve that I strongly suspect I'd be better off with a HTML prototype.

A good example of this is any kind of form involving progressive disclosure. Creating one of these is a great experience in Axure right up to the moment where you need to push and pull elements up and down in unison, at which point you're stuck with a hairy mix of dynamic panels, global variables and black magic.

As such, I'm starting to feel about Axure the same way I feel about Adobe Fireworks, another tool that I _want_ to like, that I _want_ to give me the One True Way, but just isn't quite mature or rounded enough for my needs.
November 26, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterJimmy Breck-McKye
I've ditched Axure for my latest UX/UI project (for a large public health system in the UK) in favour of prototyping in Twitter Bootstrap with some extra jQuery spice - for the very reasons you have stated above and the fact that it is responsive out of the box (some of the health professionals use tablets in their work). I have been designing (yes graphic design...) and coding web sites since the mid 90s for many large companies, so personally I find it pretty straightforward and quick to do as a UX/UI person now. Another advantage is that a lot of the final code is reusable for the back-end developers I am working with - good since we are on a fairly tight deadline and budget. The downside is that it does look more like a finished product - but in my experience, with a bit of explanation, most clients can see beyond that and understand that it is an ongoing iterative process.
February 9, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterKevin
Hi, I just came across this via a tweet. Just thought I'd say--don't lose hope! :) I won't pile on Axure because I helped design an alternative, truly code-free prototyping tool called Indigo Studio. A key goal for us was to make prototyping more straightforward and less like code. V1 is totally free, if you want to give it a spin: http://www.infragistics.com/products/indigo-studio

About coding, a couple months ago, I wrote in response to a similar article. There are definitely some benefits to coded prototypes, but they have their own drawbacks as well: http://ambroselittle.com/2013/01/10/yes-ditch-traditional-wireframes-but-not-for-code/

For me, the bottom line is not this one tool is definitely right for every problem. Tools can even be used together. For instance, maybe you want to quickly sketch a few prototypes with Indigo, evaluate them, and iterate, then you could jump into coded prototype with more confidence and direction and waste less time there.

One last thing, about the RWD comment. I would suggest that starting with RWD is putting the cart before the horse. Here's my reasoning, FWIW: http://www.infragistics.com/community/blogs/indigo-studio/archive/2013/01/31/responsive-web-design-and-interaction-prototyping.aspx

Hope this helps.
March 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterAmbrose Little
I'm an unfortunate web developer who has received an Axure prototype to work from. The HTML it produces is complete and utter garbage, really throwaway code.

Ok, you will say, this is the role of a prototype. Only it's hard to believe for the client who sees all that fakery that all those apparently "finished" screens must now be REDONE from scratch.

So in the effect the client will be paying thrice - once for the (doubtful) services "UX expert", once to finance the crappy tool the "UX expert" used as a prison for for his designs, and then finally for a competent developer who might have done most of the building themselves with an additional bonus of understanding implementation constraints (if the "UX expert" cared to talk to them and explain their ideas instead of delivering some piece of mockery) or even from annotated screenshots or sketches (which I believe are faster to create than "prototypes").

To sum up, by buying into Axure you're taking liberty of spending someone else's money and creating tension for other involved parties. Which fits nicely with what corporate "consultants" often times do (increase risks, hopefully get paid, and then disappear to look for another hapless victim).
May 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterRay
I agree with you given Axure's current implementation..

I wish Axure would start to develop their software in a more modular fashion that more closely reflects the reality of html, css, and javascript. When you are writing html and css, one creates master elements that are manipulated via javascript. Creating master elements in Axure and manipulating them has proven to be unnecessarily complex.

..So while some of the visual elements can be helpful, structuring your interactions around these elements can be cumbersome. I have posted some things on the Axure forum trying to get some commentary from the people there, but they seem to prefer to ignore this fundamental problem.
May 20, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterNick Bewley
It seems like most of you here are trying to prototype the solution as opposed to prototyping several ideas for a possible solution. It's not the same, but it is a common trap.

The reason you're creating a prototype is important to understand so you can choose the right tool - and there's lots of good ones out there, including Axure.

Which research research question are you trying to answer - "would they use it" or "could they use it?" Those require very different prototyping strategies. In the formative stages of an idea, you should be using pencil and paper. Once you reach a stage that you need a highly iterative scenario based HTML prototype for user testing, perhaps creating variations in Axure is the way to go.

Don't blame the tool if you're trying to drive a screw with a jackhammer.
June 9, 2014 | Unregistered CommenterA. Miller

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