Tuesday, June 09, 2009

Balsamiq Mockups

I'll just get this out in the open right now -- I pretty much suck at web design and need all the help that I can get when laying out new pages. Don't get me wrong, I know what looks good and I'm pretty good at "borrowing" the best parts of other people's designs, but when I'm staring at a blank screen, I get a little overwhelmed. And when I get overwhelmed I procrastinate.

So what should I do? I have to move forward with my projects, but I don't want draw stuff in Photoshop -- that's too tedious and time-consuming and my customers want to see things right now! Mocking stuff up on paper is also time-consuming, and makes it hard to email things to my clients. Hmm, there must be something out there that lets me quickly mock up a screen, export it to an image file, and send it to my clients. A friend had told me about Balsamiq Mockups, but I didn't see the point at the time. Until I had this new web project to do. So I checked it out and it looked incredible, exactly what I was looking for. The best part? Wait for it, wait for it, wait for it...

It costs only $79 for the desktop version!

I couldn't believe it either, and once I started using it this past weekend, I was actually having fun while working on my new project. And look what I created...

In a nutshell, here's how it works -- you choose the screen elements (windows, text, links, grids, etc) that you want to use and drag them onto your mockup. You can then drag them around, size them, change the text, group them, and lock them in place if you want. The grouping is awesome because once I got a section of the screen to my liking, I grouped everything in that section together so I could easily move it around.

The program is amazingly intuitive to use, and I never had to wonder how to do something -- there is always a partially-transparent menu floating nearby, and to edit your text, just double-click, change the text, then hit enter. Simple.

No matter what level of screen designer you are -- from pros down to amateurs, you need this product if you are going to create web pages or desktop applications. Your design will be much better, you can test different ideas, your clients will love you, and you will look like you actually know what you're doing. All for only $79. That's dirt cheap for a good reputation and to make work fun again, don't you think?

Friday, June 05, 2009


I've been searching for the perfect content management system (CMS) for a while now, and when my host offered an easy way to install several different ones, I tried them all. I needed something that was easy to modify the content, was modular, had a large user base, and was easy for me to support. I know that people get pretty fanatical when it comes to software, so please remember that this post is merely on my experiences with a product, namely Joomla.

Joomla is super easy to install, I think it took me 5 minutes and it was working perfectly and has been working fine ever since. Create your database, upload the Joomla code, run the install process by answering some basic questions about the site, and that's about it.

There are so many extensions for Joomla, that you can add just about any feature you want. Sure, some of the extensions are better than others, but there are typically several to choose from in each category to suit your needs.

There are also lots of nice themes for Joomla, so you can give your site a nice, professional look without too much work. I joined RocketTheme's Joomla template club for $75 per year and it was worth every penny to be able to have access to so many awesome themes at such a great price. Not only do you have access to dozens of nice templates, each one is very customizable so you can use the same theme on different sites and have a totally different look and feel for each site.

Inside Joomla, it is pretty easy to figure out and navigate, but some things are not as intuitive as you might expect. Overall, I would say that it requires above-average technical knowledge to get some things working, but most people with avereage technical abilities should be able to get a basic site working.

Of course, if you need help with your site, my services are always available. :-)

I know that other CMS solutions are out there, and I'm sure that there are pros and cons to each, but Joomla has my vote so far for putting together a nice site pretty quickly.