Who made the salad? Create rapid interface or web mockups with Balsamiq

Posted by maggie.hunsucker February 5, 2009 at 4:03 pm

balsamiqTranslating a great idea, like a new web app or site design, into a conceptual prototype is no easy task.

That’s where a tool like Balsamiq Mockups steps in.  Created by a former Adobe software engineer, Balsamiq is a user interface mock-up tool.   It lets you create the look, navigation, and functionality of your new product without wasting development resources.  Balsamiq is simple and user-friendly.

Just download the free desktop client (requires Adobe Air , which is free and Balsamiq will automatically install it for you during the download) and start dragging and dropping the different controls on your work screen.  The service comes with a built-in library of the most popular controls – a browser window, navigation buttons, text, media player, charts, and more.  It’s broken down into categories, as well as a quick add feature (i.e. search bar).  Don’t see what you need?  Upload your own image from file or suggest a new control to Balsamiq.  Each element in Balsamiq can be manipulated through an easy edit box, with an unlimited number of “undo’s” and “redo’s”.

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The client itself is free, but you will have to pay $79 per user license if you want to save your mock-up or upload to another application.  The service does offer some unique ways to sidestep payment, so if you’re a current Atlassian or XWiki license holder, a do-gooder, journalist, or education professional, you can get Balsamiq for free.

User interfaces and usability have become branches of design and development in their own right.  Here’s a way to digitally sketch out the look and feel of your product or application without investing any money – or too much time – in the initial stages.

Balsamiq is written in BMML (a version of XML), offering easy duplication and integration with other applications. Balsamiq files can be easily integrated with collaborative software like Confluence or JIRA.

Balsamiq is what we like to call the right tool for the right job. Even if you sketch your interface design, it inevitably has to be translated digitally, and more often than not with a more challenging program like OmniGraffle. Users with no technical expertise can easily move through and master a service like Balsamiq.

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  All booked up Utilize Facebook’s event function to manage a professional event

Posted by maggie.hunsucker January 2, 2009 at 12:36 pm

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Social networks are for more than just socializing (and high school classmate stalking). For example, as we discussed in Now Hiring, you can use LinkedIn’s professional application suite to communicate and collaborate with your colleagues and contacts.

Likewise, you should consider using Facebook’s built-in events application for your next social or professional get together. Just about everyone has a Facebook account (well, at least the digitally fashion forward do), and the popular social network is a valuable tool in both networking and brand building. So why not dip into your own resources and utilize you Facebook contact list?

Creating an event is a simple three-step process. From your Facebook homepage (and yes, you will need an account to do this), you can find the events function in your applications toolbar. If you haven’t already added it, you can get it from here. Choose “create a new event” and fill out the form (name, date, location, etc). Then, decide your event’s access levels – who is invited? who can see the events page? should the event appear in your news feed? You catch our drift. Next, choose your guest list and send out the invite. You can even email non-Facebook friends through the platform as well.

Now all you have to do is sit back and see who accepts. Like a Facebook profile, you event has its own page, so you can see a snapshot of event activity from the guest list to comments and pictures – a nifty utility for sharing post-event pictures.

You can sync your Facebook event calendar with your personal Apple iCal, Microsoft Outlook, or Google Calendar. At the top of events page, there is an "export events" link which will generate a url that you can plug into any of the named mail clients.

Many people use a digital service for scheduling and publicizing events, whether it's evite or networking platform, Meetup. What's great here is that you're utilizing a resource most of your friends and contacts are already using (some religiously), while taking advantage of standard Facebook features like comments, images, and messaging.

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  Lucy in the sky Consolidate your travel plans online with TripIt

Posted by maggie.hunsucker November 20, 2008 at 8:23 am

Road warriors, listen up. When it comes to making sales calls, you only get one shot to make a good impression. This means being punctual and having your schtick together – flight times, rental car and hotel confirmations, directions, and more. We all know what it’s like when things go awry.

Let a service like TripIt help you with the details. TripIt streamlines all your travel plans into a single web-based itinerary. Simply forward your electronic travel confirmations to plans@tripit.com – TripIt supports confirmations from over 250 major travel services, including airlines (domestic & international), hotel chains, train lines, travel agencies (AMEX, BCD, & Carlson Wagonlit), and travel sites like Expedia, Orbitz, and Travelocity. TripIt builds your itinerary as you go and even throws in helpful tidbits like local weather, driving directions, and travel guides. You can also send Tripit your business appointments, and for those who like to wine and dine their clients, restaurant reservations and event tickets.

Check out this sample TripIt itinerary:

What’s great about this service is you can access your travel plans from any computer or mobile device. The TripIt mobile interface is compatible with Apple iPhone, Palm Treo, Blackberry, and any cell phone with a web browser. You can even email basic commands like “get hotel” and the “TripIt To Me” service will send you details back.

You may recall in Now Hiring when we talked about LinkedIn's new application offering. TripIt's My Travel made the short list. This app automatically syncs with and updates your LinkedIn profile with your travel information. It even gives you contacts alerts when you are traveling in their vicinity.

TripIt boasts users from 76 of the Fortune 100 companies, including Apple, Cisco, Google, IBM, Microsoft, and Yahoo. Take a cue from the big guys. Utilize TripIt as a corporate tool and cut back on unnecessary manpower and travel-related service costs.

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  BYOB Create & promote your event on Yahoo’s Upcoming

Posted by tom klein July 21, 2008 at 7:00 am

Whether it’s a small meet-and-greet with cocktails or a full-blown affair, promoting your event is hard work. And if you want to reach a larger audience than your existing customers and contacts, you have to explore new avenues of publicity.

One resource to consider is Yahoo’s Upcoming. Upcoming is a community site for discovering and sharing events in your area. It’s free, completely user-generated (although Yahoo will tap their sister events site, Yahoo Local, for some tips), and shameless self-promotion is encouraged. Members can see what’s going on in their hometown, or on a broader scale, and follow events that their friends have added or are going to. Event listings are organized by category and popular affairs stream on the Upcoming homepage, listing the date, location, and the number of Upcoming users who plan on attending. Each event is open to comments, so community members can weigh in or add to the information available.

To list your event on Yahoo Upcoming, you will need to create an account or login with your existing Yahoo username and password. You can upload buddy icons or images for your event via Flickr (another Yahoo property). Your event will be immediately added to to the site directory and open for the community to explore. As we mentioned, Yahoo encourages members to promote their own events through the site- it’s the special sauce behind this project- but be weary of spamming. Slow and steady wins this race, as you build a community base and following. You can watch the progress of you event by checking out how many people are planning to attend and who is commenting, then adjust your promotional efforts to get more saturation.

If you need to get the word out about your event, tap into the power of your local community by putting a listing on Yahoo Upcoming.

Each listing on Upcoming comes with a handy "Add to calendar" button that is compatible with both Yahoo and Google calendars, and email clients like Outlook and iCal.

Contributions by Yahoo Local (staff writers) are added to "Undiscovered Events," a section Yahoo promotes as a resource for events that haven't been discovered by Upcoming members yet. This lets the site retain its organic community feel, keeping corporate endorsements out of the picture. Undiscovered Events only become Active Events if a member finds/attends it.

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  Pencil me in Enable and manage online appointments with Genbook

Posted by tom klein June 19, 2008 at 7:00 am

Want to make it easy for your customers or prospects to find a slot on your calendar? Much as we discussed in Remember Grover’s Corner, there are several options.

We’ve come across one that you should consider – Genbook. The free level lets you book as many appointments as you like, provides an unlimited number of staff and service options (perhaps serving both a massage therapist and a personal trainer from the same gym), and includes the oh so important “book now” button (essentially a widget that you can place anywhere – not just your site, but also on your Craigslist ad, eBay listing, or even in a display ad). For $40/month Genbook adds text message notifications, credit card capture, a full year of advanced scheduling, and a more comprehensive customer database which can be utilized for coupon delivery and promotional campaigns.

While there’s a lot of great functionality, what’s also appealing is how the system automatically helps you manage the appointment. It sends an appointment reminder email 24 hours in advance of the appointment as well as a feedback/review request after the appointment.

If your company makes money only after it makes appointments, is it time to open up the calendar?

Genbook lets you integrate these appointments into Outlook, Google calendar, and Apple calender using the ical calendar standard. Synchronization with these same calendars is not currently available.

The beauty of Genbook is its ability to capture and organize customer data , while providing a vehicle for targeted marketing campaigns and promotions. In other words, once you're able to capture actual signups on your site, you can begin to understand which marketing investments deliver the results you're looking for.

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