Interview – Andrew Lucas-Dean – UXToolbox
We talk to Andrew Lucas-Dean from Softandgui about UXToolbox – their entry into the bustling UX software market.
Hello and thanks for talking to TheUXReview. First question, for those who haven’t heard of UXToolbox – how would you describe it in one sentence?
Awesome! 😉 OK, I am a bit biased maybe, but I seriously do think it’s one of the leading wireframing and prototyping solutions on the market. If you are serious about designing and/or building software you should definitely check it out.
What drove you to create the software?
I have a bit of a background in computer graphics and was doing a lot of UX design work for a big software project using a mix of Visio, Fireworks, Word, PowerPoint and Flash. They are all great tools but none of them not really lend themselves to creating wireframes and prototyping, not easily anyway. Driving home one night (I was doing a bit of a commute at the time) I started thinking about ways I could solve the problem and streamline the process. When I got in that night, I started scribbling ideas down on a piece of paper and UXToolbox was born.
How did the awesome name softandGUI come about?
It was a lot easier than the logo that’s for sure! It was just one of those moments when something cool just pops into your head. I was on the internet within minutes to see if it was registered. That was the easy part. Trying to draw a logo with something that looks a bit like goo was a nightmare. Eventually, we ended up cutting out a stencil of the logo in card and dipping it into honey. then we filmed the honey dripping off. The final step was to go through frame-by-frame until the drips looked just right. We’ve tried to follow the same attention to detail all the way through UXToolbox.
There are quite a few wireframing products on the market now. What do you believe sets UXToolbox apart from others such as Axure or Balsamiq?
You’re right, there are some very good tools out there these days. I think what makes UXToolbox unique is that it streamlines so many of the day-to-day tasks involved in software design. Obviously it allows you to build great looking wireframes and prototypes, but you can also use it to annotate the screens and generate documentation too. It also has a built in presentation mode which makes it easy to run through and test the usability of their designs with the whole team. You can also import your own device templates, emulate a users fingertip on a touch screen device and choose to build in interaction cues so the people testing your prototype know where they can click. You can even export everything off to HTML and run full screen prototypes on real phone or tablet if you choose. It’s pretty quick and easy to use too, I can build a set of 10 wireframe screens, annotate them up and having a prototype running on my phone within an hour or 2. There’s not many tools out there that can do all that.
Do you plan for it to be available for Mac OSX?
Yep definitely, it would be really nice to be in a position to offer something to the mac crowd and we are investigating the possibility right now. We get a lot of requests from mac users and I’m sure it would help us to grow. At the moment we have a few mac users using UXToolbox via VMWare or Parallels.
The software seems to have the ability to generate almost fully realised designs and states ‘pixel perfect wireframes’ as one of the main features of the software – do you believe that wireframes ever *need* to be this high fidelity?
Ummm… probably not. I certainly wouldn’t advocate the use of high-fidelity wireframes in the early stages of a project. During the early stages, I think it’s definitely best to stick to simplistic, sketch-like wireframes that can be drawn really quickly. This allows focus to be on the usability and functionality of the design without getting distracted by the appearance of individual elements.
Later on, once all the content and user journeys have been ironed out switching to high-fidelity mock-ups of the wireframe screens can add value and really help to visualise the final design. Especially for stake-holders. People spend a lot of time redrawing these screens again using Photoshop or something similar. We just thought, as all the information is there, it would be really good if you could flick a switch and UXToolbox did all the work for you. The other advantage of drawing the UI elements exactly to scale is that you know that everything is going to fit on the final screens. I’ve seen a few web projects where the person designing the wireframes forgot to consider the size of the screen.
What is your favourite feature of the software?
I don’t know how useful it is but I love the way little screen thumbnails are updated in real-time as I edit a wireframe in the drawing area. I also get little bit of pleasure from other little touches such as the fingertip emulation in the presentation mode and the multi-coloured post-it notes. Even simple things such as saving a wireframe to PNG give me a smile.
Who is using UXToolbox? What has been the overall feedback?
We are still quite young and haven’t had chance to develop a big list of customers yet. Most of our customers seem to be SME size companies based in Europe and America. That said, we do have a few banks and a famous mobile phone company using it. Also, there’s a European University and a big electronics retailer in the mix. So far the feedback has been great and very positive. Even from people that have chosen not to buy. We had a few teething problems at the start but have always done our absolute best to fix everything as quickly as possible. We are also really keen to listen to our users and add in new pieces of functionality and features for them. I think this is what our customers like so much; we are always trying to listen and help.
Quite often it is necessary to work on wireframes with other team members, are there any features for collaboration (similar to Axure shared projects)?
Sadly not at this stage. We’ve been completely wrapped up getting all of UXToolbox’s other features and functionality included. We do have a built-in presentation mode so that users can demo their wireframes and prototypes in front of a team or at a meeting. We also have built in post-it notes that can be used to digitally capture people’s thoughts and comments. Admittedly, this could be improved and it’s on our to-do list.
Is there any software out there at the moment you think has particularly good user experience?
Ummm… Google Chrome 🙂 It’s quick to load, has a big content window for whatever I’m looking at and I think they’ve done a really good job of making the Options/Settings feel accessible. I also like little apps like Twitter, Notes and Reminders on my iPhone. They just do what you want them to do without any fuss. Oh, and talking of iPhones the NatWest banking app is really nice to use too. Pinterest looks good, though admittedly I haven’t played with it much yet.
How do you see UX deliverables changing over the next few years?
That’s a tough one. I think Lean UX will grow in popularity. At least in SME companies and with internal projects anyway. I think most projects/products stand a better chance of success and meeting the end users needs if they follow small iterative development cycles. It would also be nice to see Designers and Developers come together sooner. I think both groups could benefit from being aware of and listening to each other sooner. A lot of time they almost seem to work in isolation of each other. That said, I think there will always be a need to produce big thick spec documents on big or external projects. It’s a lot easier for a project to get the go ahead if there is a big chunky spec document to support it.
In your opinion, what is the single most important thing about a piece of software that makes you want to use it?
I know this probably avoiding the question but I think it comes down to a mix of 3 things. How easily can I do what I want to do, Can I do it quickly and does it look nice. I think generally speaking people don’t like reading user manuals and these days I think this is worse than ever. People have an expectation to be able to go straight in and use a piece of software out of the box without reading how to first. In a competitive market, if your software is difficult to use nobody is going to use it. Closely following that I think speed and performance is really important. If a program appears slow to respond users are going to give up on it pretty quick. Lastly, it feels nice to use nice looking software. I think if an app looks nice it also raises the users confidence in its quality. ‘Does it looks nice’ becomes more important the more competitors there are in the market.
What can we expect in the future?
Lots and lots of good stuff J My head is literally buzzing with ideas of things to add to UXToolbox to make it better and better. The problem we’ve got is trying to get the time together to get them all in. We have some plans to spend a bit of time making a some small improvements to the interface so it’s even easier and friendlier to use. We are also busy investigating different ways we can offer a mac version to our users and ways we allow users to create and share their own custom controls and device templates . Hopefully both of these will be happening soon. Everything else is a closely guarded secret 😉
You can check out UXToolbox and sign up for a free trial at www.softandgui.co.uk.
What do you think about this tool? What do you use now? Let us know in the comments.