user interface prototyping

Read an article in Slashdot on tools for UI prototyping. This question used to come up many times during project initiation phases, but due to lack of time, never gets done properly.

I have used Microsoft Excel in the past and found it useful to give an idea to users about how the application will look. It has some advantages:-
• Need not write unnecessary code during prototyping. Sometimes things may wither at prototyping stage itself, so the time spent at this stage may not be that useful.
• Faster prototyping – the interest may wane if we linger on the prototype for too long.
• Easier to change – It should be possible to change the prototype (after all it is only a prototype, so it shouldn’t take a day to make the changes that the user specified). Better yet, it should be possible to change the prototype while sitting with users.
• Hands-on by users – It should be possible for users to comment or even change the prototype by themselves. Cell comment in excel may be useful in this as well as to specify some special logic on certain parts/fields in the UI.
• Change of existing UI: Can copy the existing UI, color the portion which is about to change – good way to communicate the change.
• It also solves the confusion that users might think the prototype is the actual thing. A prototype which is made in HTML might give that impression that now that the prototype is done, it shouldn’t take time to release.

While all this is good, I would still like to try out something which is easier and faster to use, easier to change and doesn’t require me to learn a new programming language altogether.

I am also on the lookout for better stencils or templates or tools to make process flow diagrams. Visio is good enough, but I need to spend time to spruce it up – it is the basic problem, just conveying the meaning in the crudest/easiest way possible is not enough for the interest to stay in the diagram for a moment more – if colors and jazz can work, I am all for it.

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