The Easiest Tool I Know to Communicate Software Ideas in a Remote World

Photo by Dylan Ferreira on Unsplash

In today’s remote world, communicating your software ideas has never been harder. While you may have an idea of what you want, conveying it to others requires extra thought and work.

You have to be really explicit in how you describe things.

As a software creator you’re like a chef trying to create the signature dish for your restaurant.

Describing the unknown

Picture of Stack of Pancakes
Picture of Stack of Pancakes
Photo by Kim Streicher on Unsplash

Let’s say you had an idea for the world’s first pancake. How would you describe a pancake to someone who’s never seen one? That’s what describing software can be like.

For your pancake you’d need to describe the size, shape, color, texture and height. Is it porous or impermeable? Does it have holes or is it smooth? What happens if you pour water, milk, or syrup on it? Do you eat it solo or does it accompany anything? Can you stack them together?

These questions may seem silly but I bring up pancakes because each culture has it’s own interpretation.

If you didn’t dive into the details of explaining your pancake accurately, you could end up with a Crêpe, Serabi, Oladyi or a Souffle Pancake. These are just a handful of the world’s interpretation of a pancake and none of them are wrong, but none of them are what you wanted.

While this post may have made you hungry for pancakes, it’s point was to illustrate how important details are when communicating ideas.

We also have the added difficulty that most of our communication is now not in real time. We don’t know when the recipient will actually receive our message.

When we’re together in a room it’s easy to explain things in words and then huddle around a whiteboard. Now, your teammates may be spread across the city, country or globe and communication methods we took for granted in the past aren’t accessible.

Pictures are Worth 1000 Words

Photo by Hal Gatewood on Unsplash

One tool I’ve used over 10 years to communicate my ideas is Balsamiq. Balsamiq is a wireframing tool. It’s sometimes compared to prototyping tools like Sketch, Figma, and Adobe XD but it’s really in a class of it’s own. A lower class.

One of it’s taglines is “it’s the fastest, most focused low-fidelity wireframing tool in the industry” and I can attest to that tagline. Where the other aforementioned tools try to create pixel perfect prototypes Balsamiq is all about keeping things simple.

With Balsamiq you create designs like a 10-year old with a box of sharpies. Since you can’t create pixel perfect designs, your mind is free to focus on communicating your idea and not if your button color should be aqua or turquoise.

In Balsamiq you get a set of standard UI components and icons that are tailored to web, iOS or Android development. In the application you’re presented with an open canvas and can just start adding different components from their library. You can also import more UI components from their community library found at Wireframes To Go. The site even has hardware layouts for point of sale systems and Arduino Uno.

Sometimes Pictures Alone aren’t Enough

How to create links between wireframes in Balsamiq

In the software world most of projects involve taking a user through a set of interactions.

When my teammates are working at different hours and I want to take them through a user’s journey of the application a single picture isn’t enough. What I need is a clickable prototype.

Balsamiq allows me to connect my different wireframes together and create a clickable PDF. This is a great way to share an idea and let my teammates interact with my wireframes as an end user going through the application.

In today’s current working environment communication has never been harder and more important. We have to rethink our past methods of communication and using balsamiq is a tool I rely on to share my ideas and it’s a tool I wanted to share with you.

I write about managing software teams and building software products through human-centered and agile processes.