The Human Centered Design Podcast with Gerry Scullion

Leon Barnard 'Wireframing for Everyone'

John Carter
October 4, 2023
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Leon Barnard 'Wireframing for Everyone'

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I'm delighted to have you with me for another cracking episode this time with Leon Barnard, co-author of the brand spanking new book on A Book Apart, called Wireframing for Everyone.

Leon, Michael and Bill all work for one of my absolute favourite UX businesses, Balsamiq. A wire framing tool that when it came out in 2008, was revolutionary. It reduced the exclusivity around the capability of wire framing, and made it accessible overnight to teams and non-designers. It increased the quality of communication, it reduced meetings, it sped things up and enabled better outcomes for teams working in the product space. It wasn’t perfect, it wasn’t sexy, but it was powerful.

In this conversation, we chat about the self-imposed restrictions on the product, still owned by the original founder, Giacomo (Peldi) Guilizzoni who I can vividly remember answering my support tickets in the early days of the business, and it’s awesome to see and hear what the culture is like within the business.

But onto the book, all three of the co-founders worked on parts of this book, and we speak at length with Leon about the approach, the mindset of wire framing and how it unlocks blockers within teams. This book I believe would make for great gifts for teams to pass around the organisation to try and improve the wire framing capability as you’ve probably heard many many times on this podcast, prototyping is one of the most incredible skills to have for any change-makers, and this book helps provide the keys to people.


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Episode Transcript

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[00:00:00] Gerry Scullion: Hello. And welcome to another episode of this is HCD and I'm delighted to have you with me for another cracking episode. This time with Leon Bonard co-author of the brand spanking new book. On a book apart called wireframing for everyone. Now Leon, Michael and bill all worked for one of my absolute favorite user experience, businesses, Balsamiq. Uh, wireframe to that. When it came out in 2008 was revolutionary, it reduced exclusivity around the capability of wireframing and made it accessible overnight to teams. And non-designers. And it increased the quality of communication. It reduced meetings and it sped things up and enabled better outcomes for teams working in the product space. But it wasn't perfect. It wasn't sexy. But it was so, so powerful. [00:01:00] Now, before we jump into this conversation, I want to give a big shout out to today's sponsor. Miro now I've been using MIRO since that launched pretty much. And I love to use it as a space to help work asynchronously with clients all over the world. It's really great for reviewing research together and access a massive boundary object to help enhance team alignment. Be sure to click on the link in the show notes or description to show some love from Miro. And if you sign up today, you'll get three free canvases for life. Pretty cool. A. So in this conversation, we chat about the self-imposed restrictions on the product still owned by the original founder of Peldi.

[00:01:39] Gerry Scullion: who I can vividly remember answering my support tickets way back in the early days. And it's awesome to see in here what the culture is like now within the business and how it's evolved over the years. But onto the book, all three of the co-founders worked on this book and we speak at length with Leon about the approach, the mindset of wireframing and how it unlocks [00:02:00] blockers within teams. This book I believe would make for great gifts for teams to pass around the organization to try and approve the wire framing capability. As you probably heard many, many times in this podcast in particular. Prototyping. Is one of the most incredible skills to have for any change maker. And this book helps provide the keys to people. As many of you know, my name is Gerry Scullion and I'm a service designer based in Dublin city, Ireland. And I provide service design training. User experience design training. And also my visualization methods for Changemakers course, that's on the website and they offer this in-house for businesses. So if you're in an organization looking for training, please do get in touch with me. Let's get straight into this episode though.


[00:02:42] Gerry Scullion: Anyway, Leon. Great to have you on the show. Um, I mentioned your name to a few people I was training with in the last couple of weeks and they were like, Oh, yeah, I've heard of this book, Wire Framing for Everyone. Okay, so it's permeated the, the industry over [00:03:00] here in Europe.

[00:03:01] Gerry Scullion: So, um, we're excited to, to tap into this a little bit more and understand a little more of your background. But let's kick off, let's start talking a little bit about your background, who you are and where you're from.

[00:03:13] Leon Barnard: Sure. Um, so I, let's see, I'm raised in Wisconsin, um, lived in California for a lot of my life. I live in California now. Um, I worked as a UX designer for 10 or more years. I have a master's degree in human computer interaction, so I kind of come from that side of things, um, and then 10 or so years into my career, I saw this job listing at Balsamiq, which was one of my favorite tools, um, and I jumped on that and, uh, for the last 10 and a half years I've been there, uh, mostly using that UX expertise and kind of inside, uh, on the ground knowledge to help educate a lot of [00:04:00] our customers about how to design better, how to wireframe better, a little bit more about UX, um, because as we'll get into, um, our audience is not exclusively UX designers.

[00:04:13] Leon Barnard: In fact, a lot of it is kind of non designers who don't have the UX background.

[00:04:18] Gerry Scullion: Yeah, I remember I was trying to pigeonhole the years when I, when I, Balsamiq, in the lead up to this conversation, I'm going to go with 2009. Okay, so we're a similar vintage of wine, um, when it comes to user experience designers. Now, would it be fair to say that if we mentioned Balsamiq to a younger generation, someone who's emerging into the, into the world, they may not know Balsamiq?

[00:04:46] Gerry Scullion: Would that be fair to say at this stage, the industry is kind of.

[00:04:51] Leon Barnard: definitely, they might not have used it. A lot of the times they'll say, Oh, I've heard that name. It rings, rings a bell. So It's kind of [00:05:00] out there, but it's not like such the, the mainstay for people in the UX world as maybe it once was when there were fewer tools that were really dedicated towards UX as there are now, before a lot of people using graphic design tools, uh, and that kind of morphed into, uh, tools dedicated for UX designers.

[00:05:21] Gerry Scullion: And I don't mean that in any disrespect to the team at Balsamic. I am a huge believer in the product, the principle, the purpose. Um, and that's not the reason why I take on these interviews. Like I actually really, I believe in what, uh, pdi is it? PDI is the C e o or the founder, wh when he set that up, um, maybe, we'll if you're okay to talk a little bit more around the story of Balsamic before we get into the book.

[00:05:49] Gerry Scullion: Um, how would you describe the difference between, say, Balsamiq and another in the browser wireframing tool?

[00:05:59] Leon Barnard: Well, so [00:06:00] one of the things that I've learned as being, uh, as part of being with a company like Balsamiq is how much the business model of your company can actually affect the product and the end user experience. So I was drawn to Balsamiq because Peldi was very open and transparent and communicative online and just seemed like a nice place to work.

[00:06:24] Leon Barnard: But then as I got there, I realized that The fact that he had, you know, bootstrapped a company not taken outside funding or take an investor investment money meant that. He really had the freedom to do a lot of things and say no to a lot of features, you know, probably within that first year or two, people were asking for, can I export to code?

[00:06:45] Leon Barnard: Can I do this? And Peldy was saying, well, that's not the tool that I want to build. And there's nobody who's giving him money saying, no, this is the tool you have to build. You have to scale rapidly. Um, and so he has really kept the [00:07:00] focus on wireframing and wireframing. Um, and that's kind of our little niche.

[00:07:06] Leon Barnard: And one of the advantages is that we're kind of big enough to stay profitable, but small enough to be less interesting to the really big companies, you know, like a Google or an Apple. Um, there's just not a. big enough market, a huge enough market for a wireframing only tool that it's so attractive to other companies.

[00:07:28] Leon Barnard: So when you load our tool versus some of the other browser tools, uh, it's more stripped down. The components look kind of sketchy or black and white, and it's just kind of drag and drop like you would in, um, you know, PowerPoint or some of these more basic office tools. And you're just drawing sketches of a user interface.

[00:07:48] Leon Barnard: You're not adding a lot of detail. Um, you're not fine tuning so much. You're not building interactivity, these sorts of things. So it's, it's more bare bones. It's more stripped down [00:08:00] in order to help keep you focused on kind of the early stages and the flow of things. So it's kind of, you know, we'd like to say it's limited in functionality on purpose.

[00:08:10] Gerry Scullion: Yeah, absolutely. I remember when I started using it. I was at my space back at the time. That's when I first started using it. Like I was working for them and I was really, you know, happy because it allowed me to get stuff into the browser as quickly as possible. So I could actually look at what it looked like in the browser as opposed to doing it on paper and then scanning it in and then Trying to resize my preview screen to see it's roughly about that size, and it was, it took a lot of guesswork out of it, but it came with a caveat, it came with project managers and developers, suddenly getting that license as well, and suddenly, um, I do remember there was a time where I was presenting to a client, and I was The head of design for a period of about nine months, uh, in Australia, New Zealand, [00:09:00] and I presented it and I was, uh, I was kind of happy that the call was finished and at the very end of it, there was an intern and the intern just speaks up and goes, actually, um, could I just have a few seconds?

[00:09:10] Gerry Scullion: And I go, uh, what do you want to say? And he was like, I've got a version of that interface as well. I've done it. And he pops up and takes over the call and shows his screen. I've sent it to you on an email and I'm like, Oh, I'm like. Don't you ever do that again to me in front of a client. Like, you know, so it kind of came at a point, Gabby, where everyone had an opinion, how do you think, or what's the risk with everyone having access to the tools or is there a risk?

[00:09:39] Leon Barnard: Um, yes, there's potentially a risk, but there's a reason why we named the book Wireframing for Everyone. We really feel like it's best when everybody is allowed to participate in the design process. So, you know, how you view it and what you say matters a lot. Uh, cause it's not, [00:10:00] everybody is a designer.

[00:10:02] Leon Barnard: It's not that the Designers aren't allowed to design or other people aren't allowed to design. They're only allowed to do this. It's a lot of the negative connotations about wireframing are really inherited from the way a lot of businesses work where they're very siloed and the communication, even if they're doing agile is still very like over the wall kind of way of working and, uh, This book and our philosophy is really like, let's try to get everybody to work together and it's more about participating rather than who is doing the design or owning the design.

[00:10:39] Leon Barnard: Um, and so it kind of, so having multiple people work in a design tool really goes hand in hand with. having those people know how to communicate with each other and maybe know their expertise or their specialties and being able, being comfortable getting feedback and asking for feedback. Um, [00:11:00] so it's really, it's hard to get in this mindset of it's not my job to design like the design.

[00:11:05] Leon Barnard: It's my job to contribute where I can best contribute. And get involvement and reach out and kind of have this collaborative way of working. Um, so I think that, you know, I was thinking about this earlier today, like, say you were in a room with your PM and your developer and your designer and the developer gets up at a whiteboard and starts sketching something.

[00:11:28] Leon Barnard: You would never say, no, don't do that. You're not allowed to use the whiteboard. to draw something. So, but once, once they're using kind of capital D, capital T design tool, then it's like, Oh no, that's, that's my domain. But really, I think it's useful

[00:11:42] Gerry Scullion: You're in credit. Our

[00:11:42] Leon Barnard: wire. I think it's useful to think about wireframing as just this way of sketching.

[00:11:49] Gerry Scullion: way of communicating.

[00:11:51] Leon Barnard: Yes. Yes.

[00:11:52] Gerry Scullion: Um, it's a way of visually communicating one of the things on that point of where that intern and you know, he's still alive [00:12:00] after that. want to put a little exclaimer out. Um, but I did notice that a lot of the stuff that was being created wasn't very good. Okay. And I didn't like coming from a design perspective, but the intent was there.

[00:12:14] Gerry Scullion: So it's worth noting that he was able to create a design, but that doesn't make him a designer. So, um. One of the principles, and I notice that there's a good chapter in the book about the principles of wireframing, and what I noticed when I looked at that example of their work, a lot of the principles of wireframing were just not there, okay, but it was, it was a conversational starter, it was A shitty draft, as we like to say in service design.

[00:12:45] Gerry Scullion: Um, and that was the goal. I guess his goal was to get his intent across to me and it worked. Like, you know, we had a conversation afterwards and he left the business, only joking. But, um, what I want to talk to you a little bit more around is what, [00:13:00] um, what are the key principles of wireframing from your perspective?

[00:13:06] Leon Barnard: Sure. I think, you know, going to what you just said, I think maybe a mistake that that intern made was presenting the wrong information at the wrong time. So I think one of the principles is being aware of where you are in the design process and this idea that the fidelity should correspond to certainty.

[00:13:27] Leon Barnard: So don't go. you know, when you're meeting with a client, don't say, oh, here's some idea I came up with, you know, when you're ready to pitch your, your design idea to them. But if you're just in a room early on sketching out ideas, sure, the more the merrier, like, you know, let's have these. a bunch of different ideas, you know, kind of this double diamond.

[00:13:48] Leon Barnard: So there's a divergent phase and a convergent phase. And so when you're early on in the process, the best thing you can do is come up with as many ideas as possible. All these terrible ideas, get it all down, get it [00:14:00] all out there. But if you're already kind of to the point where you're starting to talk about implementation and these sorts of things, then, you know, the, The ship has kind of sailed on that one.

[00:14:11] Leon Barnard: So the design process should really be very deliberate and you should be designing at the right level of kind of fidelity for where you're at in the process. So I think a mistake that a lot of designers make is they start designing something kind of in the mid high fidelity range too early on. Um. Uh, instead of kind of more time in this uncertain phase where you, you know, it's kind of rough, it's a little bit ugly, you're not sure about things, you feel like, oh, if I show somebody this, they're going to think I'm really unprofessional, but if it's just you and, you know, somebody else that, you know, a co worker, then um, You can work those things out together, especially if one of you has technical expertise, another one is an expert in the users and their, you know, their problems and those sorts of [00:15:00] things.

[00:15:00] Leon Barnard: So it's really understanding where you are in the design process.

[00:15:04] Gerry Scullion: Absolutely. You mentioned there's something around the feedback, feedback pieces, like there's a correlation between high fidelity and the quality of feedback that you can get at that stage. Talk to me a little bit more. You mentioned this in the book as well, um, around the feedback process. Um, what's your experience in, in the fidelity to the quality of feedback ratios?

[00:15:27] Leon Barnard: Sure. So you will get very different kinds of feedback depending on the type of the level of fidelity that you show. So it's not necessarily difference in the quality, but it's very different types of feedback. If you show something that's very high fidelity, you'll get feedback on the fonts and the colors.

[00:15:44] Leon Barnard: And I don't like this. And, you know, but The nice thing about presenting something that's very low fidelity is that there's less of those details to kind of critique or criticize and you're really starting to have a different conversation about, Wait a minute, does this [00:16:00] screen, should this be earlier in the process?

[00:16:02] Leon Barnard: Or how do you get to this other feature? You know, what happens, you know, in this edge case or whatever, you're really talking about different things like, like flows and really the, the, Basic experience and maybe the layout. Maybe you can say, Oh, well, this navigation, we might have 100 items in it. So it should be, you know, a sidebar instead of a tabs or something like that, you know, and not just about, I don't like this gradient or, uh, or whatever.

[00:16:29] Leon Barnard: So, yeah, I would say it's kind of what it boils down to.

[00:16:32] Gerry Scullion: absolutely. One of the things I remember with Balsamiq that it handled really well was in the browser kind of stuff. I remember moving it from application into browser based components and being able to log on. I felt like I was in the future when I remember logging on to Balsamiq. Um, I can doing it in the browser on the train.

[00:16:53] Gerry Scullion: I was like, just, just prototyping here and nothing to see folks. Um, I remember, I remember that leap. What are [00:17:00] the, the kind of, the limitations of the product? Like you mentioned there, like Peldi's got this vision and. Obviously, you still stay true to that. What are the limitations when you start working into, um, omni channel experiences?

[00:17:14] Gerry Scullion: Like we can talk about mobile, but other types of digital experiences. Is that something about SamXC as being really important, uh, for the, for the roadmap for the future, or are they happy just to keep it within the digital realm, the traditional digital realms of being browser and mobile?

[00:17:33] Leon Barnard: Uh, we are adding some support for using touch devices. So there's a couple, there's something we added a couple of years ago where you can draw a rectangle or some text and things like that, which you can do with your hand so that you can actually interact. You can do some design on a touch device, but as far as like, say, making some kind of widget that's responsive when you resize or something like that, that's, we've kind of decided [00:18:00] that's out of scope.

[00:18:01] Leon Barnard: So at some point, there will be some friction or some frustration if you try to build this whole product in Balsamiq, design some product or experience in Balsamiq, and then you're like, okay, now I'm ready to build it. Or now I'm ready to go to, go to high fidelity. And you can't easily just kind of export that to a different kind of tool, or you can't easily take it to the next step.

[00:18:22] Leon Barnard: Um, But, and so we are thinking about some ways to possibly, you know, export to SVG or, or some plugins or something like that. But, um, you know, but then again, if you think about it more, Balsamiq more like a piece of paper or whiteboard or something, um, you know, that's like, it's really the the process that gives you the output.

[00:18:46] Leon Barnard: It's you, you know, it's not thinking so much about the wireframe as an artifact or a deliverable. It's more the ideas and the communication that you get out of it. So, you know, if you're thinking about it in the right way, then it's a little less [00:19:00] frustrating that, Oh, I can't just translate this into the real thing because.

[00:19:03] Leon Barnard: It's really a different phase of the process.

[00:19:06] Gerry Scullion: Hey, sorry for interrupting the episode, but I wanted to tell you about today's sponsor, Miro. Many people connect it to just being another business collaboration tool, but for me it's so much more. I use it to manage my own Ikigai, to help me keep track of my own life and career. This one here that you can see won't get shared to anyone else, so it's a private board.

[00:19:28] Gerry Scullion: Only I can see it. Now, the beauty of all this is I didn't need to create these canvases from scratch. People on the Miroverse upload them and there's a constant stream of updated frameworks there for all us change makers all around the world to use for free. Many of which come with really detailed instructions on how to use them.

[00:19:49] Gerry Scullion: So for more information see www. miro. com forward slash podcast where you can get three free canvases for free for life. Let's get back into that episode.

[00:19:59] Gerry Scullion: [00:20:00] so. One of the things that I remember, another example, when I was working in Cochlear, their medical device business, you've probably seen the video of babies having their, um, their profoundly deaf and their hearing being restored through a, yeah, so that's an Australian technology business called Cochlear, they're an amazing business, but I remember I was the sole user experience designer for most of Cochlear.

[00:20:23] Gerry Scullion: There's maybe three of us, but most of the territory, the stuff that I was doing with the customer was with me, like, you know, for a couple of years. Um, and I thought it was really, really, um, empowering to have this tool that was scalable. This is 2011. Okay, 2011, 2012 and I was competing with the likes of Axure, which were more expensive, but there was a higher, you know, learning curve and it was very exclusive and it was one of the things that I was always trying to do was trying to lower the baseline of other people being involved in it.

[00:20:54] Gerry Scullion: And what I saw was the huge power of having the team being part of it. [00:21:00] the wireframing process. And I was really happy to see that there's a chapter in the book about wireframing as a team. Why do you feel it's so important that it has its own chapter?

[00:21:12] Leon Barnard: Um, yeah, really good question and really good insights. So a lot of that comes from my experience working in technology and software companies and You know, a lot of people, you know, and it was so new to me and so different coming from a background where I focused on. It's all about the experience and the design.

[00:21:33] Leon Barnard: And this is how you're supposed to do things and reading all the books and all of that stuff. And then you come in and you have these, you know, deadlines and you have sprints. And, you know, there's no time for user research and, you know, everybody has different priorities, you know, and a lot of it's driven by sales are, you know,

[00:21:51] Gerry Scullion: Yeah,

[00:21:51] Leon Barnard: the customer that is paying us a ton of money is saying we need this feature or else you're not going to get the deal.

[00:21:58] Leon Barnard: And nobody ever teaches you that when [00:22:00] you're learning about UX, that you have to do this feature because the business says so. And so finding way. So I really learned a lot when I. I made the mistake of kind of trying to do things the way I thought they were done, which is just me off in my corner trying to come up with the best design possible.

[00:22:17] Leon Barnard: Oh, you hand it off to the developers, they go build it. But all these designs would just sit on the shelf because they're talking to their development manager who's talking to the PM who says this is what we need. And, you know, just build it like this. And they're kind of bypassing the UX team. So really learning to work with the individuals on the team and find out how you can say make their job easier.

[00:22:39] Leon Barnard: You know, Oh, you're building a form. Let me give you a mock up for it. Or let me write some of the CSS for you so that it's kind of all cohesive because they don't like doing the front end stuff. So a lot of it is just learning how to think like a team. And so in the, um, in the book, in that chapter, we use this like [00:23:00] relay race analogy, like when you pass the baton, you know, that, that, Yeah, It's about having really fast runners, but it's also working on a process for doing these handoffs, these handovers, where you say, well, what, what do you need for me?

[00:23:13] Leon Barnard: What's my role as a designer or developer? How can I best assist you in the process and really trying to learn this mindset of kind of thinking and working like a team and not just every person out for themselves?

[00:23:29] Gerry Scullion: You touched on the mindset being really, really important and the mindset from moving from, um, paper into Photoshop. I don't know if people remember, we used to do our designs in Photoshop, folks. And we used to set up your guides and you'd be like, uh, you know, and you're estimating your time. You'd be like, okay, I'm going to get two days to get the Photoshop file set up.

[00:23:53] Gerry Scullion: And then you'd be like, okay, now, now I'm ready. I can design at scale now. But, um. I remember when we [00:24:00] were getting into that whole kind of world, it was just so different to, to have a step in between and have something that the team could collaborate with was really, really empowering. And it's right, it is a mindset.

[00:24:13] Gerry Scullion: It wasn't just a case of like, it's a tool. And it helped lower the bar. Um, what is, how are you seeing, um, wireframing happening now within teams? Like, in the research for the book and so forth, and maybe when you're training other clients and stuff. How do you see them wireframing, and what are the pitfalls that you're seeing them, and you would hope for them to overcome?

[00:24:40] Leon Barnard: Yeah, really good question. I think that is the biggest barrier. Uh, and that's why it was nice to have the opportunity to write an entire book on wireframing, because you can use a tool you can, you don't need a book on how to use Balsamiq. Um, you know, you can just get up, up and running and figure it [00:25:00] out really quickly.

[00:25:00] Leon Barnard: So it's really not about how to use a wireframing tool. It's how to think about and approach wireframing. So, um, when I talk to people about wireframing, I really emphasize, um, you know, the process, what it's used for and really bring it back to remember there's a user that you're trying to help and they have a problem.

[00:25:23] Leon Barnard: Don't, don't put on your design hat. Like you're trying to make something that looks cool that you know The problem is that a lot of people who use wireframing tools if they're not designers They go with this idea of what they think a designer does which is make things that look pretty But they don't realize that really a good designer is asking a lot of questions.

[00:25:45] Leon Barnard: They're coming up with a lot of ideas They're showing their ideas to other people and getting their feedback. I mean You know, the way that, say, a senior designer thinks is they're, they're spending less time kind of in their design tool and more time asking [00:26:00] questions and being a little bit more free with it.

[00:26:03] Leon Barnard: Like you don't have to create something that looks finished or perfect. And so I think that that's still happening a lot now. Um, and so I think that's why that was maybe, if anything, the biggest motivation for writing this book is just trying to teach people how to. think in this wireframing mindset, because I feel like that is, that is missing.

[00:26:23] Leon Barnard: And when people say, Oh, well, I can, I can make my wireframes in Figma. It's like, well, but then you're going to want to make them differently than if you were, you know, then you might lose sight of those important things that you need to be thinking about early in the process. So it's not just, if you Can make them, but it's kind of what, what you're prevented from doing, you know, or, or if you're able to go in with the right mindset, then you can use any tool, but it's getting that mindset in the first place.

[00:26:49] Leon Barnard: That's, that's a challenge.

[00:26:51] Gerry Scullion: So for me, pen and paper still trumps everything that's out there in the world, like, you know, getting my initial sketches down. But obviously, [00:27:00] as you said, there's the right time and place for these certain tools. There comes a point where it needs to be scalable and stuff. So there's been a glut of, um, tools that have been released in the five, six years preceding the book.

[00:27:15] Gerry Scullion: Figma being one, but then there's also the tools like Mural and Miro. Um. What are you seeing, um, the step offs or the hand offs happening? Because I love the analogy of the relay race. If people start in pen and paper and they move to, to Balsamiq, um, I love the fact that Balsamiq doesn't allow you to get into, you know, this kind of finesse.

[00:27:40] Gerry Scullion: And even, even with the navigations, it's still kind of like you can do a hotspot and that's it, folks. Um, has it, has it improved any, like, you're not offering any other... Stuff that I'm missing out here, am I? It's

[00:27:52] Leon Barnard: Um, no, I mean, there's some, there's some nice things that we're adding, like some AI tools where you can drop in an image or text and it [00:28:00] will, it'll read it, you know, converted to a wireframe. Um, but, so we're doing a lot of things to make the experience simpler. and easy, easier rather than adding more, making it more powerful.

[00:28:15] Leon Barnard: Um, so really I think that we are much more concerned with pencil and paper being a competitor, competitor than, than Figma. Um, and I think that, and maybe the same thing for Mural and Miro too, I think those tools are nice because they're, they are Meant to replicate the experience of say a whiteboard, which I think is more the space that Balsamiq competes in.

[00:28:38] Leon Barnard: So, um, you know, the advantage is that Balsamiq is, doesn't try to do everything. So it's just, it's kind of a one, uh, one tool, um, tool, you know, one, uh, one knife, uh, tool. Um, and so we are really trying to make it as simple as, Okay. possible so that it's fast, it feels faster and easier than a [00:29:00] whiteboard or paper because that's really the most intuitive, the most natural.

[00:29:04] Leon Barnard: Um, so we're

[00:29:05] Gerry Scullion: So you get it into the hands of the end user for testing and feedback and that whole loop. Um, so... With, with regards going back to the mindset pieces, um, where, what are you seeing when organizations start to wireframe? What, what are the questions that, what are the bits that go off in their brain that kind of say, actually, if we just do this, we could do that.

[00:29:29] Gerry Scullion: What are the bits that it helps unlock for the teams?

[00:29:34] Leon Barnard: I think it's, it's this idea of kind of like branching, I guess that, that. One, that you don't know all of your ideas or that ideas emerge from other ideas. So if you go into say a high fidelity tool, you have your idea and you build it and then you kind of drill into the details of that one idea. But when you're doing something high level and it's so easy to [00:30:00] replicate, to recreate, to edit, then you'll get to a point where you're like, Oh, that idea I had first had in my head, I realized I didn't think about these other things or you find some flaws in it or doing something makes you think of something else.

[00:30:12] Leon Barnard: And then you kind of branch off into a different direction. And the cost for that is so low to try something new, even if you don't know where it will lead, it's much more like, like writing, you know, they say, just, just write, just type, just get it all down all the stuff and don't judge it. And so. You, that's the best way to get to the best idea is to have a lot of ideas.

[00:30:34] Leon Barnard: And I think that's something that I've seen that's really powerful when you go in with a certain idea and you get that down and then that leads to a bunch of other ideas, which lead to more ideas. And then all of a sudden you're like, Oh, I had no idea that this is where I would end up, but I really liked this.

[00:30:50] Gerry Scullion: yeah, I love the fact that, you know, it's about idea generation or prototype generation really at its core. Um, when I was [00:31:00] using Balsamiq, you know, really as my, my, my go to day to day tool when I was practicing as a user experience designer, mainly these days I'm a trainer. Um, it was about refining, continuously refining the same prototype over time and over time.

[00:31:16] Gerry Scullion: Um, How does, uh, wireframing differ from a prototyping generation type tool versus refinement? What are you seeing there, the skills, the important skills for user experience to be able to do, um, and what advice do you give to new designers who are out there at the moment that maybe become too attached to their prototypes and, um, refine from that point on?

[00:31:44] Leon Barnard: Yeah, well, I think that's what's. One thing that we like to say to UX designers is, is start with Balsamiq. We're not telling you to throw away Figma or your, your other tools, but start with it. Because I don't really see Balsamiq as a tool [00:32:00] primarily for UX designers. It is, it is limited. If you live and breathe design in UX, you want a powerful tool.

[00:32:07] Leon Barnard: Um, you know, so at some point, you're going to want to Uh, switch over to Figma when you're getting to that second half of the, the diamond where you're in the refinement stage. So, you know, in the book, we talk about the three phases of wireframing and the, the last phase. So it's kind of low fidelity, mid fidelity.

[00:32:26] Leon Barnard: And then the last phase, instead of switching, you're thinking to high fidelity, it's thinking about the handoff, you know, because those first two phases are kind of for you. But then the next phase is, okay, how can I refine this diagram so that the idea I have that I like is more clear to the people I'm communicating with.

[00:32:43] Leon Barnard: So it's not how do I make this more realistic, but how do I make this more understandable? So that's kind of the boundaries, the limits of wireframing. It's not good for getting to that refinement phase. Um, but hopefully If you've used it for the beginning, then you're not [00:33:00] so attached to it because it looks really rough and it doesn't let you get more, uh, kind of more polished.

[00:33:05] Leon Barnard: But it's definitely not, it's not the be all and end all for UX designers at all.

[00:33:10] Gerry Scullion: I can remember the fear of executive teams seeing Balsamiq and what I've created, and that all kind of like, there's something wrong.

[00:33:21] Leon Barnard: Mm

[00:33:22] Gerry Scullion: I'm using Comic Sans and I've told everyone Comic Sans is the enemy. Why have they done Comic Sans in Balsamiq? And I do remember that fear of kind of going, they're going to think that they've hired a kid.

[00:33:36] Gerry Scullion: I'm Tom Hanks in Big. Um, that, do you think that is still hanging around, that whole mindset? Do you still think that is, um, something that designers have a little bit of reluctance to show? I know why it's there, but do you still think it's something within the industry? Because that to me is, is a snapshot in time of where design was at.

[00:33:57] Gerry Scullion: We were like, okay, we, we have to, well, [00:34:00] we have to blow them out of the water with, uh, your fireworks and animations whenever they click open this up.

[00:34:08] Leon Barnard: I think it's still there. Um, you know, I think a lot of the UX pro, you know, there's a lot more like boot camps and there's a lot more UX training now. And so they really get trained in tools and. Pro, uh, you know, portfolios that looked really that look really good, and it feels like that's the ultimate goal.

[00:34:25] Leon Barnard: And so I think you almost need the confidence or the cockiness of a senior designer to go in and show them something you made in balsamic because you feel confident that you've asked the right questions. And it's and it's about the conversations that come out of that conversation. Um, but if you, um, You know, it is that fear is, is warranted or it's still there.

[00:34:49] Leon Barnard: I don't think we're training designers to focus on the ideas and the concepts. I think we're, we're still training designers to make things that look really pretty and it's so much [00:35:00] easier to do now. And so I think it's definitely, uh, definitely a problem.

[00:35:05] Gerry Scullion: now I have should have pointed out at the very start, there was three people involved in this book, obviously, Leon here, and there was Billy and there was Michael, um, they all sound like friends of mine, actually, like, you know, Billy and Michael, um, maybe need to talk about what each, um, Perspective brought to the book.

[00:35:26] Gerry Scullion: Um, and I love the fact, as I said to you at the start there, that you're all from the same business and you're all working towards the same kind of mission, really of enabling wireframing to become more accessible for, for everyone, really. But I'm keen to understand what the different perspectives because I know you mainly are in education and enablement.

[00:35:46] Gerry Scullion: I guess it's probably a nice way of saying it. And what about Billy and Michael?

[00:35:51] Leon Barnard: Thank you so much for reminding me. Uh, I try to start each interview by mentioning them, but I, we got into it, uh,

[00:35:58] Gerry Scullion: okay. We got, we [00:36:00] got out of the block pretty quick.

[00:36:01] Leon Barnard: yes. Um, so, Billy and Michael also worked as UX designers, so they have similar experience, but their specialties and interests are a little bit different. So that was really helpful in writing this book because none of us have written a book before.

[00:36:16] Leon Barnard: It was all very new to us. Um, and so it did felt like we were working on as a team where people had different chapters to focus on. Um, Mike has really done a lot of work. recently on the process of feedback and giving feedback and communicating feedback in an effective way, um, in his design work, but also just in general and in his recent leadership roles at Balsamiq.

[00:36:41] Leon Barnard: So he wrote a lot of the chapter about, about feedback and kind of based on this idea of like a design critique where the focus is not about. Like versus dislike, but it's really like, it's also this team mentality. We're all on the same team here trying to get the best design possible. Um, Billy's background is in graphic design, [00:37:00] so he has a lot of knowledge about good layout and design principles.

[00:37:05] Leon Barnard: So he was able to write about these concepts of, of hierarchy and, and space and, um, kind of the complexity. untangling complexity once you get into the more refined parts of a design, like that you're actually going to start shipping, thinking about that level of detail. So we all have similar work experiences, but different areas of expertise within that.

[00:37:29] Leon Barnard: So it was, it was really useful to have those collaborators.

[00:37:31] Gerry Scullion: Absolutely brilliant. Yeah. I'm keen to know, did you work in a wireframing mindset when creating the book?

[00:37:39] Leon Barnard: Um, you know, it's funny, we started out, the book took a lot longer than expected, and I feel like we kind of

[00:37:46] Gerry Scullion: Never heard that before. Usually people say to me,

[00:37:48] Leon Barnard: right?

[00:37:49] Gerry Scullion: much quicker.

[00:37:51] Leon Barnard: only took me half as long as I thought. I think we started out in

[00:37:54] Gerry Scullion: 14 years.

[00:37:56] Leon Barnard: Yeah, I think we started out in kind of a waterfall mentality, [00:38:00] actually, where we each wrote the different chapters.

[00:38:02] Leon Barnard: Yeah, and I think it took a lot longer to come together because, you know, we get the feedback. The book, by the way, is published by A Book Apart. So we had really great editors there and they'd give us Feedback on the chapters and we'd work on our own chapters and handed back to them and kind of went back and forth a lot and it just what it was kind of stalled for a while and what was missing was more of a collaborative effort where we were all reviewing each other's chapters and really working on it more as a team.

[00:38:31] Leon Barnard: So it's it's natural to work that way in where you're kind of you're doing your part. Other people are doing their part. So, um, I feel like we did kind of fall into

[00:38:42] Gerry Scullion: team?

[00:38:43] Leon Barnard: Not exactly rewrite, but we did a very thorough editing process where we really moved a lot of things around and so I guess we, I guess, I guess we did kind of blow it up and that entire chapters were moved around, sections were moved from one chapter to another, other whole parts were cut [00:39:00] out.

[00:39:01] Leon Barnard: So, and that's when it really started to pick up steam and come together. So, um, for, you know, if we ever write another book. What?

[00:39:09] Gerry Scullion: it. It was wadgyle kind of waterfowl and wadgyle with a little bit of Billy Michael and Leon kind of strongly acting as editors towards. It's, it's crazy whenever. We talk about things that are non digital and other ways of working. It's, it's really interesting how easy we fall back into those old habits that we, we practice and we, we kind of talk about and we preach to people and then we're like, we go back to our, our kind of a home and we fall into a, into a waterfall way of thinking and

[00:39:42] Leon Barnard: Mm hmm. Mm hmm.

[00:39:44] Gerry Scullion: Um, Leon, with the book, as you mentioned there, it's on a book apart. Um, They've got a serious stable of awesome books and you know, a huge fan and believer in what they've all achieved over the last 15, [00:40:00] probably 16 years. I don't know how long they've been publishing these books now, but they're always awesome. Is the book available, um, in, uh, on Amazon or any of those other places? Or is it, is it just on a book apart?

[00:40:12] Leon Barnard: Um, it is now, they just recently reconfigured everything and working with a new publisher that is able to, I don't know all the ins and outs, but is able to distribute it through other book sellers. So, it's on Amazon now, then in the U. S. a big, uh, a big site is, uh, bookshop. org, which is a. better supporter of like independent publishers.

[00:40:33] Leon Barnard: Um, Barnes and Noble, if you look in your, whatever country you're in, a lot of the big black wells, I think, in, in the UK is a big one that has it. So, um, it is available from a lot of places as well as from, and it ships all over the country now, um, for, for cheaper, which is what that allows.

[00:40:51] Gerry Scullion: Okay. Oh, brilliant. Look, I'll put a link to the book in the show notes, folks. So if you want to, you know, check out the book and check out Leon, check [00:41:00] out Billy and check out Michael and connect to them on LinkedIn, ask questions, start conversations. It's a fantastic book. Um, and it's one that, um, I can't believe I'm about to say this, but for Christmas gifts for your team, for, for people who are maybe Skeptics are low kind of experience in the world of wireframing and you want to try and get them on the journey.

[00:41:23] Gerry Scullion: These are the kind of books that I used to buy in bulk and slip into people's bags in the weekend and kind of go, give it an old read there in the weekend. It makes my life much easier if you're able to help me. So again, you know, check out the book. It's really good. Leon, is there anything else you want to add?

[00:41:39] Gerry Scullion: Um, or have we covered off all the main elements on the book?

[00:41:43] Leon Barnard: I think we have. I really like what you just said about the wireframe skeptics. I would love, uh, all the wireframe skeptics out there to read it. And if you don't like it, return it or something like that. Um, but, uh, you know, it's kind of really tried to be a fresh take. At [00:42:00] Wireframing, and our goal is to convince you who it's for, what it's for, what it's not for, uh, and maybe challenge some of those assumptions that you might have about it.

[00:42:09] Leon Barnard: So, uh, this was

[00:42:10] Gerry Scullion: Absolutely. So look, congratulations on the book, um, you know, I'm sure it's going to be a huge success. Um, but yeah, stay in touch and let us know if you need anything else in the podcast.

[00:42:23] Leon Barnard: I really appreciate it. I really enjoyed this conversation. Thank you.

John Carter
Tech Vlogger & YouTuber

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