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An Independent Software Company Site - Website UX Review

We took a leap and asked UX Expert Paul Boag to review our website, balsamiq.com. He gave us high marks for the tag lines and calls to action on our product page, but disliked how unfocused our homepage is and felt that "Life's too short for bad software!" doesn't do enough to explain what we do. He liked our use of content marketing and our About Us page, but disliked some of our visual design choices.

Transcript below.

Topics covered in this video: Main navigation, Landing pages.


Transcript

Hello, my name is Paul Boag and you're watching the last in the second season of First Impressions, a video series where I give my first impressions of websites that have been sent through to me by the lovely people at Balsamiq. It's been a great season, we've looked at loads of different websites.

And now we come to our final one. And I've got to say, when I've opened this up to load it into the browser for this particular video, I laughed out loud. And the reason being is Balsamiq have submitted their own website. And I've got a confession to make. Although I've been using Balsamiq as a tool for years, because I've been using it for years, I haven't looked at their website very recently.

So, believe it or not, I don't know my way around it particularly well. So, what we're going to do is we're going to dive into it together and see what good and bad things Balsamiq have done on their site. So, let's start. Okay. So, this is the Balsamiq website. "Life's too short for bad software!"

I think we can all agree with that. But, is that the best start? Is that the best way to begin? This is a weird thing to do because obviously, I know the people at Balsamiq quite well, and so it feels a lot more personal to critique their site, but I'm not actually convinced that is the best line because what does it say?

What does it mean? Does it mean life's too bad for...life's too short for you producing bad software or does it mean life's too short for using Balsamiq's competition, which is bad software? I'm not quite sure what they're getting at there. I actually prefer the second line underneath, "With Balsamiq Wireframes..."

So, we're instantly told it's a wireframing tool we're looking at there, "anyone can design great user interfaces, websites." I love the way it's going through different options, web apps, mobile apps, this is perfect, right? So, it says what they do on the tin, but best of all, they emphasize, "Anyone can design."

Right? And really, I think that is one of the things that makes Balsamiq stand out, that they have this attitude of opening design up to anybody, that design isn't just for those who have design in their job titles. And that's one of the things that I love the most about Balsamiq's attitude towards it.

So, having a strapline that actually reflects that, that everybody can contribute to design, everything's got something to say, then I think they should emphasize that. That should be the thing they play upon. "Since 2008, our mission has been to rid the world of bad user interfaces." I like that.

I like having a snappy, succinct kind of history. I'm not necessarily sure that it needs to be there. It's like we've got three straplines. Do you know what I mean? "Life is too short for bad software," "The Balsamiq Wireframe, everybody can design,"and "We're going to rid the world of bad interfaces."

I'm sure... I like that line and I like the fact that they've been doing it since 2008, which is an eon ago isn't it? In internet terms. But maybe that's better off in the About Us section or somewhere else. Anyway, let's keep going. "We make UI design accessible to…" Now, I love this, right? One of the best things that…one of the questions that people have when they arrive on the website is, "Is this for me?"

Right? Whatever I'm looking at, whether it's a blog, or an app, or whatever, a company, is this service, product, whatever, for me? So, they deal with that right out the gate. UI design accessible. And again, it's this principle of getting everyone involved in UI design, right? Notice, it doesn't actually emphasize UX professionals there, business owners, product managers, business analysts, developers, agencies, anyone getting into UX, that principle of moving into the field for the first time.

"UX professionals also use Balsamiq because it's the fastest..." And again, this is a great line. But I think maybe you're emphasizing the wrong bit at that point. So, instead of UX professional...I know that's what you're saying above, you're highlighting all the different jobs. But what's really key here, "because Balsamiq wireframe is the fastest, most focused, low-fidelity wireframing tool."

Fastest, most focused. Right? Brilliant. So, then we come on to the product. Okay. So, we've got video. I'm not going to watch the video for now.

And then we're on to [inaudible]...look. Look at this handsome chap here. I mean, on that basis alone, you want to buy the product. So, you want to learn UI design, so they've got courses and information about that. That's a really good important thing that Balsamiq do that I really like and we'll come on to that more, no doubt.

Later, I'll go through to that, about this educational material, and I'll tell you about why I like that. Bit about the company. How We Give Back. Now another thing that I really like about Balsamiq... I know I'm praising them a lot. Seriously, I'm going to start picking soon. But, one of the things that I like about Balsamiq is they're very embedded in the community.

They do a lot of things, as it says here. They sponsor, they give away free software, etc. And they really have...when you talk to them, they really have this desire to give back to the community that has very much enabled them to be successful. Brilliant. Love it.

But I'm not sure I would emphasize it on the homepage. Do you know what that reads to me? That reads, "Look how wonderful we are." Right? It's smacks of arrogance or smacks of self-congratulatoryness. I don't think that's a word, but you get what I mean by that.

I think maybe it's not where it is, but maybe it's the way that it's worded. If it just changed to something like, "We're here to help," or, "We want to give back," or…so, you say, "We're here if you need sponsorship," or, "We're here if you [inaudible] software," rather than, "Look how amazing we are. Look how…" you know. It's like someone giving to charity and then walking around boasting about it. It just leaves a little bit of a bad taste. So, I'm not so keen on that particular part. The other thing that I feel we're a bit lacking is kind of detail on the product here.

We've got this video, but where are all the features? What does it do? What does it look like? I just don't know because it doesn't tell me anywhere on this homepage. I won't play the video because I've actually seen this video before. If you haven't watched it for yourself, go and watch it on the Balsamiq website. It's actually a really good video and it really breaks down extremely well what Balsamiq does and the mindset behind Balsamiq.

But the problem is, it's all in the video, right? It's kind of enclosed in there. So, you can't see it at a glance, you can't look at it at a glance, it's kind of buried away. So, I would take some of that video content and float it up to the homepage because not everybody wants to watch a video.

It's a good-length video. It's about, yeah, 1 minute and 18 seconds long and it works very well. But the problem with it is, as I say, it's all trapped within the video. Also, I'm not sure I would put it in YouTube because you get all of this interface rubbish around it that you don't actually need and give it space to breathe as well, make it full width, give it more, so you can really see the product and what it does, etc.

And also you don't necessarily want all this More Videos stuff on the end of it. Okay. So, let's go to the navigation and have a look what we've got here. So, we've got a page dedicated to Product. Let me have a look at that. Okay. Now we're seeing...

Right. Same video again. Now we're seeing more of the things I would expect to see about the product itself. Yeah, we're getting some...being able to actually see the kind of interfaces you can create, which is really good. Which version? It's got the different versions here.

Now, that's...hundreds of thousands... Yes. Right. Okay. For me, this is the homepage. Why is there this page and that page? Right?

I realize that Balsamiq want to emphasize that they do other things like the learning tools, how they give back, a bit about the company. But, basically, I feel like these two pages could be the same thing. I think you could almost drop the homepage, which would be a shame because we'd lose that lovely picture of me.

But I would drop the homepage and just put people straight to the Product page, right? Because, again, look, straight. This is what we do. Quick and easy wireframing tool. Bang. This is what it does on the tin. Sketch user interface ideas and everyone gets on the same page, great strapline.

And look, much stronger calls-to-action now, that we know... I wondered…yeah, I was going to comment on where's the calls-to-action? Right? Yeah, they're there, but it's kind of a bit buried. So, I would go in on this Product page if I were you. Now, I suspect the reason that they haven't, knowing and the guys at Balsamiq is, "Oh, we don't want to appear too salesy."

But I don't think you will be. People expect if they're going to go to the Balsamiq site, they need to get access to Balsamiq. It's fairly obvious, really. And there's still all the UI design stuff. And you can probably integrate the teaching stuff at the bottom or something like that.

So, let's go through this page. So, what you see here is a really good example of very clearly explaining what it is you offer, clear calls-to-action, reinforced with some social proof immediately underneath, right? Great screenshots showing what the product does, how the product works. This maybe is a little bit wordy, more wordy than it needs to be.

I think the key things that you want to communicate here is Balsamiq is a low-fidelity wireframing tool. Right? It's fast as well. One of the things that it says in the video, which I really like is that they compete with pen and paper and they win.

Right? I love that line. The trouble is, it's very easy to compare Balsamiq with some of the high-fidelity product typing tools and go, "Oh, it looks a bit rubbish." Right? Yes, it does look rubbish, but for reasons. As it says in the video, that's because we don't want the customer to get...they're at the end, stakeholders to look at it and think, "Oh, that's the final design."

It's supposed to look rubbish, it's supposed to be fast, it's low-fidelity. And I think they really need to push that more through the copy than they do at the moment because getting that through your head is a really important thing to do. Zero learning curve, power where you need it. Yeah, great, very simple features.

So, we've got… Let's recap. We've got one-liner that summarizes it, social proof, calls-to-action, a bit longer description, great demo of the product, great set of features that it enables, designed for collaboration. I think maybe that, to be honest, that's just another feature, but they've pulled it out and made a big deal out of it.

That's probably because, originally, Balsamiq started as a desktop tool before they introduced the cloud. Yeah, whether it needs quite as much emphasis over some of the other features. Everyone's first UX tool. Great. Showing how it's for different people and different people can use it. Our sweet spot.

See, again, I think you could dump that one and replace it with that line, "Balsamiq really shines during the early stages of UI design." Yeah. And this is kind of quite a nice line, but I would maybe introduce something along the lines of...this is where I say we compete with pen and paper.

Right? Improve your designs by getting immediate, meaningful feedback. Okay. I don't know whether I would… I would focus on... Yeah, yeah.

Okay. Feedback, maybe. By experience, most people don't like... feedback is perhaps a wrong word. Feedback makes me think, "Oh, my colleagues are going to pull my design apart." Right? What you want is, I would emphasize, you've got something low fidelity you can quickly test on, right? So, I would emphasize maybe testing over feedback, but maybe that's being a bit picky.

More social proof. Picking the different versions. The pros and cons of the different versions. Yeah. No, that's fairly clear. I like that. More social proof.

Wow, they really making use. And then more social proof. Hundreds of thousands of customers, look at that. Look at how… Yeah, that's a good graph to have, isn't it? Yeah, that's a very powerful piece of social proof. So, yeah, totally. You know, I totally think that's brilliant.

Then it's reinforced by…I mean, what a great list of clients. More social proof again. Then back again to the calls-to-action because you've lost the calls-to-action that were higher on the page. You brought them back in at the bottom because one of the things that users do is they start off like this, they go down like this. They look a little bit and then they skip to the end.

Right? And so often, the last thing people see on our website is basically a load of terms and conditions, right? So, at least end of the page with a good big call-to-action, otherwise, it kind of gets lost. That, ladies and gentlemen, I hate to say it, but is a good example of a landing page designed to convert. Yeah, there's a few things maybe I'd do a little bit differently, but generally speaking, that is a strong page, and much stronger, in my opinion, than the homepage, which is why I feel like that possibly is a better page to go to.

Okay. What else we got? So, we've got the Learn UI. So, again, this is where they've created various Courses, and Community aspects, and Resources, and Inspiration. Now, this, in my opinion, is content marketing done well. I really need to stop praising these people.

But it is. It's good content marketing. Right? A lot of people have a blog and they launch but, "Oh, we got 10 views,"and then they just fill it with press releases, news stories about awards you've won, or stuff that nobody is interested in. Balsamiq are not talking about themselves here. What they're talking about... or they're teaching people.

They're giving people value. If you're going to have any kind of blog or a section like that, it has to provide value, it has to give advice. What they're doing is they're educating their audience about how to get the most out of their tool, but also setting themselves up as "thought leaders." I hate that word, but essentially, that's what we're talking about in this area.

All right? So they've got Courses, they've got Communities of other people you can join and talk to, they've got Resources, things like dictionary of terms, all kinds of stuff that you can dive into. They've also got an excellent video series, but that's another story. Okay.

So that's good. So that's the way you need to be thinking about content marketing, is thinking about providing decent advice. Let's go to About Us. Now, About Us page is almost always useless, in my experience. Yeah. I mean, this kind of thing, yeah, it's kind of nice, actually.

It's good to have the contact information of everybody within the company to be able to find somebody quickly, to see pictures of them. All good stuff. Actually, they've done quite well. They've not fallen into the normal traps. It's maybe quite a lot here, maybe much more than needs to be here, but it is pretty good.

That's so annoying. Okay. So, one of the things that I like is that they've started with some key things that people... Some of these are good, some are not so good, right? Small company, right? That's always good. People like supporting small companies, so that's a good thing to say.

Although, they're not blooming that small. Look at all these people they've got now. They talk about being profitable, right? That's a bait which means we're in it for the long haul. How many apps have you signed up for that have then closed the doors within a couple of years and all of your stuff is trapped in that app? Privately owned.

Sorry, we're not for sale, which is great as well, because that's committed. They're building a long-term product, right? Genuinely caring. Yeah, they are, but everybody says that anyway. Clear focus. We bite off what we can chew. Again, I don't know how much that adds, but maybe it says a little bit about who they are.

Contagiously passionate. So, these three maybe are a little bit kind of woolly and a bit kind of markety, but these three I think work really well. Obviously, contact details you'd expect. Then you've got this blooming long list. This I quite like. "Why does Balsamiq exist?" Right?

What does the Balsamiq offer? How is it good? What's it about? And then they talk about a little bit about community stuff. How do they teach? So, this is quite a good page. There's probably more detail than most people would want, which is why they...

See, they nicely summarize stuff. That's the way. If you want to communicate a lot of information online, absolutely, do so, right? But provide people with a way of scanning it and summarize it nicely, which they've kind of done at the top. And even down here to some degree, the way that they're breaking it up with these sub-headings means you can just dip into the bits you want without feeling you need to read all of it.

I mean, to be honest, all of this is a bit much if I…it's got hundreds of links in, there's tons of information. This probably needs cleaning up a little bit and knocking back. So, that's that one. How We Give Back. Well, I've kind of already said a little bit about this. It needs repositioning, in my opinion, so it's not so much, "How do we give back?" but, "How can we support you?" or...

I know you've got Support in the menu anyway, but just a little bit less self-congratulatory, I think, will probably help there. Support is pretty much what you would expect. Right. So, I've been… Oh, I quite like that. Yeah.

Actually, a number… You kind of know that clicking on a logo leads home, well, we do, but lots of people don't. It's surprising how many people don't realize that. So, having a little rollover certainly helps. I mean, ideally, you'd have Home in the actual navigation, but that's quite a nice little touch, I have to say. Right. So, I've been very complimentary, but you know I couldn't stop there, could I? You've got to pick it apart a little bit.

For me, the big failing of this site is not the content, is not the layout, but is the esthetics. The whole thing, in my opinion, feels a little bit clunky and old-fashioned in its visual appearance, right?

Their logo looks like it's been drawn by a toddler and I understand why, because we're trying to talk about a low-fidelity tool, but it makes it... it makes them appear unsophisticated, right? And the company is really not.

Yeah. The smiley face is great, but it just… Maybe you want to... I don't know. You could take something like that and a good logo designer could enhance it so that maybe one-half is low-fidelity and the other half is high-fidelity or something. Then there's the color, t'is a very aggressive. They rely very much on this red and this black.

Okay? And to be quite frank, that is not a good combination. When you're using the same color combination as the Nazi Party, you know you've potentially got some issues there. Red and black both reduce dwell time, the amount of time someone's going to spend on a website.

So, I think, really, they've got some problems around brand identity, in my opinion, but then, of course, we're talking about something that's very subjective at this point when we start getting into esthetics. And this is completely the kind of thing that you would need to test in order to get right, but I suspect that that's not helping them. The typography is a bit clunky as well.

There's quite large kerning gaps between their text that isn't helping their readability at points. And it's also really kind of basic, down to their buttons and everything like that. They're trying to reflect the low fidelity of their product, which I can kind of understand, but for me, it doesn't quite work.

But, boy, there's a lot of good stuff in this site. There's a lot of things that are done really well. The two that I would encourage you to take away more than anything out of here is when you sit down next time to design a landing page where people first arrive on a site for a product or a service, have a look at the Balsamiq landing page because there is a lot of good stuff you can learn here from clear what does it do, big bold calls-to-action, the use of social proof throughout the thing, clearly outlining the features of the product, providing a video demo of the product, making it clear who your audience is and who you're trying to help, what benefits the product provides.

This is a good landing page. So, definitely learn from what they've got there. The other thing that I think you can learn from them is that this whole thing about content marketing. If you've got news or a blog on your site, that's not enough anymore, right? You've got to be offering a lot more than that.

You've got to be creating a resource that helps people do their job, achieve their aims and goals, overcome their pain points, answer their questions, complete their tasks. That's what you need. Right? Just some news is not going to cut it anymore. So, I think that's a really good one. I'm very pleased that they sent it through. That's quite a brave decision to make on their part.

They could have copped out, but they didn't. And I've hugely enjoyed reviewing it and I think that it's something that we can all learn from it together. But that's it for this season. I hope you enjoyed this season of First Impressions. Hopefully, we will be back again to do a third season, but until then, thanks for watching.


By Paul Boag
Got questions or feedback? Email learn@balsamiq.com.