Mike Kulakov Shares His Mockups Tips and Tricks
A while ago I came across an article from our latest Champion, Mike Kulakov, called "Balsamiq 101: Wireframe quickly & effectively" and, to be honest, I was a little envious. One of my jobs here is to write documentation and tutorials to help people get started with Balsamiq Mockups and here was a concise, well-structured, right-on-target guide for new users that I wish I had written.
Mike's article has an outsider, yet expert perspective that I think many of our users will really get a lot out of. It spans feature categories and provides the right amount of information. It also showcases the philosophy behind Balsamiq Mockups: Excruciatingly simple. Filled with hidden powers. We liked it so much we added it to our tutorials and contacted him for this blog.
In particular I enjoyed how he included some of our more hidden features (like toggling markup, creating line breaks, keyboard shortcuts and symbols) yet made them accessible and easy to understand. He also included some of his own power user tricks like this one for screenshots. His use of images to reinforce the techniques and concepts was also well done.
The subtitle is of Mike's article is "Smart tricks to help you increase your productivity" and I think that's exactly what it contains. So, if you are a new or even experienced user and haven't yet done so, read it here and then come back for his interview below.
Q&A with Mike Kulakov
Who are you and what do you do?
Weavora is fairly small company with a focus on custom web development. This is our 5th anniversary this year. We consider ourselves quite successful and even unique, at least in the local market (Minsk, Belarus).
What is the story behind Everhour?
As often happens, the last couple of years we were on a search for an ideal tool (time tracking in this case) and due to the lack of it, finally come up with the idea to create our own product - Everhour, time management for data driven teams.
First we used it internally but gradually more and more of our customers joined, then clients of our clients, etc. At some point, we decided to publicly release it.
Mockups for Everhour
So far we are fully bootstrapped. Some of us are busy with consulting projects, while others are fully focused on the product. At some point, we may completely switch to it. On the one hand it is difficult, but on the other it teaches us efficiency and frugality.
What do you like most about what you do?
In consulting, I especially enjoy my involvement in the early project stages. This includes getting acquainted with a client, discussing a problem and coming up with an execution plan.
In the execution stage all technical parts fall directly on the shoulders of my team, while the user’s experience remains on me. It is the most creative and interesting part of my daily job.
In product development, promotion is obviously the most interesting part. Developing partnerships, blogging, creating campaigns, etc.
What's challenging about your job and how do you deal with it?
There are two things:
Every Monday I try to accomplish all my administrative work in one sitting. Multitasking reduces productivity.
It is extremely difficult to combine creative and administrative tasks. And I have to deal with both. The former is always pleasant, however you can’t avoid the latter which may kill the initiative.
Every Monday I try to accomplish all my administrative work in one sitting so that afterwards I can dedicate myself to creative work. Multitasking reduces productivity.
I need to be extremely organized and keep track of time.
If I define tasks poorly I’ll be constantly distracted with additional questions. If I do not have a solid plan I’m wasting the entire team’s time. 1 team hour equals 10 man hours in total for us!
I usually spend 1-2 hrs on planning over the weekend in order to be set up for productive work on Monday.
What inspires you?
I get inspired by success stories of other entrepreneurs and of course by my own progress. One important practice to cultivate is the ability to notice and enjoy even the smallest achievements.
And, of course, positive feedback from our customers or Everhour users makes us work even harder 🙂
Why do you use Balsamiq Mockups?
Among other things at Weavora, I spend a ton of time on PM activities. I talk a lot with clients about the project and requirements in particular. This is where Balsamiq is especially handy. I'm sure that we are on the same page with the client and the team will easily and quickly come up to speed.
As for Everhour, basically every feature begins with wireframes. It saves us time and money. Before I invite someone to jump into discussion (and spend my teammates' time) I should have all the details outlined. Thus I always find out inconsistencies or gaps in the concept by myself.
Over the years, I developed to the following basic axioms:
- An image is worth 1,000 words
- Wireframes are easier to support
Regarding #1, people often skim text, especially when there is a lot of it. This results in many errors, misunderstanding, different perspectives on the problem, perceptual speed, etc.
On long-term projects, especially if they are agile, many things are constantly changing and textual documentation deteriorates rapidly. In addition, it's just boring to support text. With mockups it is way easier.
Every day I see this Aha! moment when mockups were super helpful and thus heavily promote this approach.
What prompted you to write an article about how you use Balsamiq Mockups?
When you have developed a habit of drawing mockups and you do it every day it comes really fast, but there are some common problems which hinder and sometimes even irritate (or at least break your flow), such as:
- Lack of practice/knowledge: How to do this or that? Can Balsamiq do that? ...
- Framework: How to organize mockups or elements correctly, how to reuse them (i.e., symbols, groups, etc.)
- Poor imagination
An example from Mike's article
That's why I love sharing my own experience. For me it takes 20 minutes to draw a beautiful and detailed wireframe for a Gmail interface, while for others it could be 1-2 hours.
My article on Medium is kind of an attempt to reduce this threshold, share professional experience and inspire other people.
In addition to that, there was a slideshare presentation and masterclass I made for a few teams.
Have you written any similar articles for other tools or products?
There were a few:
- How-To: Continuous Integration with TeamCity and Behat
- 6 Reasons To Love HipChat (loved by the HipChat team)
- Productivity Tools We Love
- Our Project Management Stack
What other tools do you use for your job that you really like?
- Skitch - just perfect for doing screenshots
- Sketch - any design work
- HipChat - all communication
- Google Docs - any documentation, notes and further collaboration
- Groove - a hot line with our users
Do you use Balsamiq Mockups differently for client vs. in-house projects? If so, how?
Interesting question. Hmm. I think no. In both cases I use Balsamiq for a concrete purpose - UX prototyping. The approach remains the same. In any kind of project I try to use Mockups as efficiently as possible.
What are the differences between in-house and client projects? Do you prefer one over the other?
I can’t say that we prefer one over the other. Each one has its own pros and cons.
It is easier to take risks in your own venture because it's your money. With client projects we consult completely with the other side before making any decisions. The final word rests with the client. And it’s very lucky if there is a dedicated person on the other side who you can instantly address your questions to.
Working with big companies you can't see the whole picture. You always work with less information than employees of this company really possess (always)!
One day we plan to switch to in-house products completely. But we're afraid that it may be boring :). Also, having a variety of projects brings greater experience.
Thank you, Mike, for the interview and your great article. You are a Champion!
Do you have a story to share about the awesome things you do with Balsamiq? Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with your stories or blog posts!