I’ve been doing IA for a while now and have never really managed to get together a really nice set of tools. I started off putting things together with Illustrator and Photoshop. It made sense to create the basics in the same packages that the designers use. This worked for a while but it was difficult to keep track of what layers need to be turned on or off for different pages. Plus, when you’re doing quite complex systems and you want to change multiple instances in multiple places, this can be a nightmare. They did always look pretty though. Next up was Visio, this seems to do everything I need but the interface is so clumsy and difficult to use. When you get quite complex you feel like every time you want to move a shape somewhere, the computer has to have a good long think while it catches up with you. I switched to Mac in this period and decided to give Omnigraffle a go. You can create really attractive things very easily. But, like Illustrator, you run into problems when you want to edit multiple instances of the same object. You find yourself repeating actions like copy-paste. Plus, none of the producers I work with use Macs so they can’t update my wireframes and sitemaps (not everyone would say this is a bad thing, mind). Then I jumped to Flash to build the wireframes, which worked really well. Using movie clips I could update 100 frames at the same time, very liberating. It runs fast because it’s used to crunching much more vast and complex assets. Needless to say this didn’t last, the producers I work with have no no reason to learn Flash and don’t want to have to fork out the license fees. I had a whole framework planned out in my head that would take UML/XML and generate pretty site maps on the fly or create dynamic wireframes. Needless to say that didn’t last. I even started building wireframes using MySQL & PHP with frameworks like Symfony. This is top fun if you are of a geeky persuasion but takes far too much time. More recently I started trying to get back into Visio. There is a plugin from Intuitect that, to me, is the holy grail of IA tools. Although, currently, the system is riddled with bugs and usability problems and is nowhere near production grade.
So, right now I’m left with trying to work with Visio. Here’s some criteria of what I’m looking for:
- Responsive and fast, even when doing complex stuff
- A central data store that holds all of the system’s meta data
- A means of editing patterns, symbols, pane (call them what you will) from one single place
Nice to haves would be:
- Ability to output as HTML prototype or click-through.
And that’s it. It’s not much to ask.
The best tools I’ve ever used tend to have a stick of lead running through them.
Anybody got any other suggestions?