For a long time, interaction and UX designers have been struggling with inappropriate tools, such as MS Visio and PowerPoint or Adobe’s Photoshop, that are not designed for creating web site prototypes. This handicap has affected their customers as well, who demand for better, well-defined, real-like interactive prototypes, which are delivered fast. Today, the number of tools specified for wireframing and prototyping is growing fast – Axure RP being one of them.
Axure RP (www.axure.com) is one of the leading software tools dedicated to the creation of wireframes, interactive prototypes and specifications of web site and web applications. It is fairly comfortable and easy to use, and thus offers a great alternative for those used to creating mock-ups and wireframes with pen and paper. Axure RP has adopted its hierarchical way of managing and creating the site structure page by page from web design tools, whereas its user interface and drag-and-drop type of construction with widgets are similar with Visio.
Otherwise, Axure RP differs quite a lot from Visio. It is lightweight and comes with numerous readymade widgets, such as links, buttons, images, tables, menus, and form elements, to greatly decrease the amount of time needed to create the first version of the wireframe or prototype. One of the best things about Axure RP is that it offers many interactive functions, which create a sense of a real web site when exported in html-format to be viewed in browsers.
The simplest way to add interactivity to the prototype is to turn “static” links and buttons into clickable ones and link them to different pages. Furthermore, Axure RP offers conditional logic, which enables creating prototypes that dynamically respond to user inputs, and variables in which user inputs can be stored and displayed on any other page. Improving aesthetics is also possible with for example different word processing, coloring and highlighting functions familiar from MS PowerPoint.
Iteration together with the design and customer teams is the key to successful and high quality design. It helps reveal shortcomings early enough in the design process to save in costs and other resources. Axure RP suits perfectly for this intention, as it enables rapid iteration over the design. First, one creates the initial design alternative, and then it is evaluated with the stakeholders to reflect improvement propositions into the second alternative. This iterative cycle continues until everybody is satisfied with the prototype.
For those working on large projects, Axure RP provides a feature called Masters, which are basically collections of widgets to be reused anywhere in the design. Transforming commonly used elements, such as headers, footers, and navigation panels, into masters helps save a lot of time by eliminating repetitive work, as editing one master element affects all those same elements throughout the site. In case there are also multiple designers working with the same project and prototype, utilizing Axure RP’s Shared Project is worthwhile. It maintains the history of different revisions, and enables retrieving older versions if needed.
Finally, Axure RP supports the communication of the design and especially the further development work by providing a detailed specifications document of the prototype that effectively describes the structure, functions, and interactions together with screenshots of the web site. The specification is by default in a .docx-format.
Axure RP is available for both Mac and PC.