A while back, I tried a product for a POC to give the client an idea how the end product would look like. The tool was Balsamiq Wireframes, and I was bowled over by the ease of use and versatility of the tool. So, I was thrilled when I got an opportunity to discuss with Michael Angeles, the Product Interface Designer, and Stefano Brilli, the Software Engineer. Balsamiq Wireframes are used in a variety of developments to conceptualize the outcome before diving into coding. This tool eliminates a lot of effort and re-work at a later phase. Michael and Stefano generously shared their insights on the product and the vision of the organization.
01: Balsamiq is a great tool to create wireframes for ideation, presentations, and proof of concepts. Every superhero has an origin story. Can you shed some light on how Balsamiq’s origin story?
MA & SB: Balsamiq came about when our founder Peldi Guilizzoni found a need he wanted to meet for the product manager on his team at Adobe, where he worked when the idea occurred to him.
His product manager wanted to express ideas for feature specs, but found herself frustrated with the lack of a simple tool she could use. Peldi coincidentally had become interested in the idea of developing plugins for the Atlassian Confluence wiki product at the time and had learned that they could be developed rather quickly. He started working on the project at nights for several months, with the goal of seeing what he could accomplish.
There’s much more to the story, but essentially the stars aligned and he was able to produce a product that has remained focused on solving that single initial problem of giving PMs a simple tool for generating ideas. It remains the focus to this day. You can read more about the Balsamiq origin story in this blog post: https://blog.balsamiq.com/personal-whats-your-story-why-start-balsamiq/
02: Can you share some memorable experiences you had while working on Balsamiq?
MA & SB: Some of the most memorable experiences have come from working with customers. As the company has grown, many of our customers have grown with us, and we enjoy some very candid conversations and consistent support, particularly from users who have been long-time customers.
With each phase of growth, there are often growing pains—for the company as well as the product. Sometimes this means that we make a mistake or that things take longer to accomplish. But one theme remains the same, we have to take the time to learn about things we may not be familiar with, and we have to adapt to issues that result from growth.
Difficult times are memorable. We’ve had some difficult issues that have resulted in downtime or service issues with our SaaS products, to give an example. In each of these, several things were notable. The first is that our team was able to react and respond quickly to make up for the time and effort lost in the fire and that everyone involved was willing to put all aside to do right for our customers, both in service, time, and compensation. The overwhelming response of forgiveness, faith in our company, and the willingness to continue using our product by customers is something that makes showing up to do the work every day with coworkers who share this need to serve worthwhile.
03: I have an SAP background, and I see Balsamiq as a perfect tool to work with end-users to structure our ideas and know their insights. I believe this must be the case with a variety of technologies. What kind of technological demography your customer base consists?
MA & SB: The range of customers we have interacted with over the years covers a wide spectrum of roles, in varied industries. Product Managers and developers in software teams and founders of products remain among the most common customer types we serve. The industry landscape that our customers create products for is also pretty varied, so the types of technologies these customers are designing for runs the gamut from websites, mobile apps and desktop software to console video games.
Their technological backgrounds can range from fluency in office tools mainly to expertise primarily with developer tools. Outside of these large groups are pockets of folks that also use design tools.
04: As a developer and designer, if you have to convince a customer about one thing Balsamiq does exceptionally well, what will be your pitch?
MA & SB: Balsamiq Wireframes is squarely focused at solving one problem very well—making early idea generation fast and easy enough that anyone can do it. It democratizes the part of product creation that has to do with finding the right design, at the right time. Being able to get the design right before building the product is a cost and time saver. When you can explore alternatives and find points of failure sooner, you can pivot more easily because wireframes are disposable. The sketchiness of wireframes made in Balsamiq also helps with this, because you can focus your conversation and exploration of the ideas on what the product is and how it works, rather than getting into details of what it looks like on the surface.
05: Many companies are readily adopting new technological advancements like Cloud Computing and IoT. That must be creating a demand to address UX experiences associated with these advancements. What kind of features are you planning to put in place in coming future to meet/counter the demand?
MA & SB: Providing a design tool for Cloud Computing is something we’re certainly focused on. We use our product to design our own Balsamiq Cloud SaaS product, which relies on a myriad of connected cloud services. We know a lot of customers work on internet products and undoubtedly rely on resources in the cloud.
One nice thing about Balsamiq Wireframes is that it provides some controls for specific use cases, like mobile apps for example. But the base controls can be adapted to most web, desktop, and mobile use cases. Additionally, we have many downloadable Symbols Libraries and Templates Wireframes to Go that can be imported into projects directly from Balsamiq Cloud, so common UI needs like inserting a login/authentication workflow from a service like Google or Facebook is easy.
Design tools for the Internet of Things experiences are one area that doesn’t see as many customers express a need for in our product. One area that is permeating product design currently is with voice interfaces. Balsamiq Wireframes might help with providing some tools for visually outlining flow. But it remains to be seen if there is a need in this area we may support. Certainly, if there is a visual interface associated with a device or service, then Wireframes is an appropriate tool to meet that need.