Tools, tools, tools

At this point I’ve started to look for a software conceptual design IDE. This is the most complete list of tools I’ve found so far: http://c2.com/cgi/wiki?GuiPrototypingTools. I’ve already checked out perhaps 30% of them. It seems that most tools focus on the following three features:

  • Create wireframes.
  • With a very little effort, skin them to appear to be an (ugly) design mockup. Typically there are Windows XP and Web skins.
  • With a very little effort, make them interactive and allow reviewers to “use” them in some kind of viewer, or in the web browser.

I’m confused.

Not only because it is very far from what I’m looking for, but because quite a lot of tools totally focus only on these features, with only minimal variations. Are my requirements that uncommon? What I believe I must be able to do is the following:

  • Define a workflow, for example by using a flowchart diagram. And yes, not just a half-hearted drag and drop flowchart support, but a really streamlined and comfortable way, as seen on lucidchart. My goal is to be able to draw a nice-looking workflow, in size of a Powerpoint slide, in less than 5 minutes. The bottleneck of the process should be me thinking about what workflow step must be the next one, and not dragging some boxes around or trying to straighten ugly curvy lines.
  • For each workflow step, define a mockup screen. Ideally, by double-clicking on the box, so that the mockup is linked with the workflow step. Yes, supporting all the usual graphic editor stuff, at least on the Paint.Net level. And yes, please show a small thumbnail of my mockup inside of the box. Oh, and by the way, couldn’t this editor have some specialized features for creating dummy screens based on screenshots, like for example detecting the font family, size and color from the screenshot, vectorizing already rendered bitmap texts, and allowing to change them effortlessly?
  • With a very little effort, make a wireframe from my mockup and allow me to enter explanations and define actions.

I know, I know, it is not the usual custom. But I believe it works much better for me when I draft my screen in Paint.net, so that I can see the actual content, actual photos, actual fully-designed frame (obtained by screenshoting the current web page), rather than operating with empty emotion-less wires and frames. On the other hand, no matter how much time I invest in my mockup, the result looks quite unprofessional. It is not a design mockup, and I’m not a designer. It is good enough for me to grasp the basic user experience (I have a good imagination), but it is not always good for presentation, because without the typical wireframe look it can be easily confused with a bad design mockup.

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