Interview – Ambrose Little on Indigo Studio, a Free Tool for UX Design
Could you tell us a little bit about Infragistics and how Indigo Studio came into being?
Infragistcs has been helping software professionals, especially developers, design and build better UIs since the late 80s. So it was a natural extension of that for us to branch out from there as UX and interaction design became more and more of a “thing” over the last decade. After releasing our free UX/UI patterns explorer, Quince, we started doing a lot of research and design prototyping and iteration for Indigo Studio, which culminated in our V1 release last November. We’re all about enabling awesome digital experiences, and Indigo Studio is a key part of that.
I guess the main question has to be, why give this away for free?
This has been a challenging message to get across because many people will tout “free software” and “free downloads” when they really mean “free trial” or “free but it is time bombed or disabled somehow.” For Indigo Studio, we want to communicate that Version 1 is completely free—forever. There’s a lot you get free in V1 and its updates, but when V2 is released, it will be a paid option. You can keep V1 forever, though, if you don’t want to upgrade.
What do you think makes Indigo Studio different from other UX tools such as Axure or Balsamiq?
It’s hard to just list in a bulleted list of features because a lot of the Indigo difference is more subtle and distributed throughout the various capabilities as realizations of a Design-focused philosophy. Axure is a prototyping tool; Balsamiq is for static wireframing. Indigo Studio takes a holistic approach to interaction design, offering both, with a strong focus on facilitating great Design no matter which way you choose to use it. Concretely, some distinctions are (depending on the tool being compared):
- Being technology platform independent and minimising technology concerns, so you can focus on interaction design, no HTML, Objective C, etc.
- Interactions—even rich, animated interactions—are at the core; they are Indigo’s “native tongue” if you will, not an afterthought.
- Helping you stay focused on users throughout all design activities through integrated storyboards, mirroring user flow during design activities, visualising user flows in Indigo, and so on.
- Simple, Clutter Free design environment that helps you focus on your designs, not ours, and not get lost in huge property sheets, bunches of panels, tons of dialogs.
- State-based change model that makes it much faster and easier to design and maintain multiple states of individual screens—as part of one or more user flows.
- Easy, built-in, free cloud-based sharing of your designs.
And of course we have all the usual suspects—lots of built-in interactive controls, shapes, custom shape tool, stencils, alignment snapping, and so on. I could go on and on, but we must be brief. 🙂
As someone who can’t draw at all I would find the story boarding tool extremely useful for putting together user journeys. How did you come up with the idea?
Glad you like that! Storyboarding—designing for flows—was always something we knew we wanted to do in Indigo. The idea to include built-in real-world sketches was, as I recall, actually Joel Eden’s idea, one of the interaction designers who worked on Indigo for a while. Part of his work on his dissertation dealt with the importance/impact of environment in Design, and I guess that enthusiasm for place/environment ultimately resulted in this idea for “scenes” in Indigo. As soon as he suggested it, we all knew we had to have it.
The quick sharing of prototypes from within the program is very handy – how do you see this adding value in a typical UX workflow?
What we have now is nice and super easy, so you can with just a click, essentially, grab a URL to show what you’re working on to someone else. It can be interactive, or not. The ability to toggle annotation visibility is quite nice when you want to see the UI cleanly or, more importantly, evaluate it with users. I can’t stress enough how important we consider design evaluation with users to be, and having even a minimally interactive, working prototype easily accessed from a URL makes that so much more efficient—so you can iterate more cheaply and find the best design faster.
Is Indigo Studio targeted mainly at UX Practitioners or is your target audience wider?
Our primary personas were absolutely UX folks—we wanted to make an interaction design tool, and it only made sense to do that with interaction designers in mind. That said, it has always been our intent to make a tool that anyone who is involved in software design could pick up and use. We’ve already had feedback from salespersons, VPs, product managers, and yes, even developers 😉 that they find the tool to be immensely helpful with a minimal learning curve.
What future features do you have planned for Indigo Studio?
Very soon we will be shipping a beta of our HTML-based viewer. This is absolutely huge. It means you can easily evaluate your designs on actual devices. You don’t have to learn HTML; you don’t have to learn Objective C, XAML, or Java. You use this simple, WYSIWYG code-free design tool, click a button, and open it on your device. We have more to come in V1 beyond that, too.
In the longer term, we have oodles of ideas on how to make Indigo more and more useful for interaction design, but we’d love to hear from you.
What is your favourite part about the software?
Hmmm.. That’s like asking a father to name his favorite child. 😉 I love all my children, and I love all the parts of Indigo (well, okay, maybe except for those bits I really want to keep honing). But, since you’re asking, I’ll pick something. I’d say it’s how easy it is to blast through designing a story/user-centered flow and have something that I can evaluate with said users in no time. That’s the essence of sketching prototypes, and I think maybe more than anything else, it is the biggest contribution to better software design that we can offer.
You can get Indigo Studio for free here