What’s a good wireframing tool? Part 1: Omnigraffle

There is an abundance of wireframing tools out there, but if you want to boil it down to industry standards, then I’d say: OmniGraffle, Balsamiq, and (although a prototyping tool) Axure Pro. Looking into the PC MS Office Suite, we have Visio, but I have heard reports about people using PowerPoint. In this post we’ll take a look at OmniGraffle, a Mac only application.

Cross-Platform Compatibility

Speaking of Mac only application. This is a thing where OmniGraffle definetely falls short. If you are working in an environment where you need to collaborate on wireframes with people who work on PC, then you need to check if it’s worth making compromises.

The ways (or compromises) around this problem are:

  • Exporting your OmniGraffle files into Visio format. The drawback is that sometimes the export doesn’t look clean in Visio. This holds even more true the more elements you have on a canvas. In reverse you can import Visio files into OmniGraffle.
  • Exporting wireframes into PDF format. Your peers can use the Adobe Acrobat annotation tool.

Mobile Devices

With tablet computers more and more companies are developing a mobile version of their software. So does the OmniGroup. OmniGraffle is available for iPad, if that’s what you are into. I can’t give any feedback of their mobile version, but I recommend getting a trial.

Budget vs. Software Capabilities

Some people find it a bit pricy, others think the software is worth every cent. I think, get the right tool to do the job. If you feel OmniGraffle can do this for you and you have the budget available, and the tool has the features you need, go for it. If you are uncertain, download a trial version.

For OmniGraffle I recommend spending money and get the Pro version, as you have all features available. If you are not sure if that’s overdone, get trial versions of both: standard and pro versions.

Support & Community

Support is great! If you run into an issue, send an email and within 24 hours someone will respond, and actually take you serious. The team is willing to help you resolve a problem, and if it’s not possible, because it’s a bug, they’ll add it to their bug list.

There is also a community around OmniGraffle with people building templates, stencils, and diagram styles. One of my favorites is the Konigi UX template.

Adding templates and making them show up in your template library is a bit cumbersome, but doable. Templates can be set as defaults, and edited and updated.

Features

Here are the features that I find useful in my day-to-day work:

  • Working with templates
  • The ability to create stencils in other software and import them right into OmniGraffle
  • Variables, such as for date and time, creator name, name of person that last modified the wireframes, and several other of those, allow you to focus on the task at hand and not having to worry too much about making sure your meta data is right on every slide
  • Layers and outlines
  • Automatic Canvas expansion. Unlike Visio that limits you to a restricted area, your sheet will expand automatically, allowing you to focus on your job instead of struggling with software.
  • The ability to hide panels and inspectors, and just about anything to work in focus mode.
  • Different canvas types in one template, you basically can build templates within templates
  • Using the Konigi Stencils and their UX template, which I have customized a bit for my needs.
  • The ability to hide layers, and print only what you want to print. This comes in handy if you want to print a wireframe without annotations. Just pur all your annotations on a separate layer as you would do in Adobe Illustrator.
  • Presentation mode allows you to highlight areas you are talking about by simply moving your mouse over an element. This can be customized, e.g. turning this feature entirely off or replacing the hover functionality with a click instead. I prefer to click on the item I am discussing, as I find the hover function to distracting when presenting to an audience. You can customize the color and opacity for highlighting as well.

What bothers me a bit. I love working with keyboard shortcuts, but I’m still having issues memorizing them. Sometimes the “feel” of things just doesn’t feel right, but it has improved with previous versions.

 

High Fidelity vs. Low Fidelity

You can create your wireframes in about any fidelity level you wish. Just build your own stencils to accommodate your needs, and communicate the right level of detail to stakeholders.

Overall

A great tool for wireframes and annotations on Mac.

Now say something