PowerMockup – create wireframes using Microsoft PowerPoint

PowerMockup website
PowerMockup

When designing (or redesigning) websites I tend to follow a five stage process:

  1. Gather / discover
  2. Structure
  3. Design
  4. Build and test
  5. Launch and maintenance

During the second stage (structure) I will focus largely on two aspects of the website’s structure: the overall site hierarchy and the structure of each of the pages, what are traditionally called ‘wireframes’.

Site structure

To design the site structure, for years, I’ve used mind maps and my mind mapping application of choice is Mindjet MindManager.

I love MindManager, and each version just gets better than the last. An important thing for me is that the software interface doesn’t get in the way of capturing and organising the information. It’s packed with subtle but powerful features such as keyboard shortcuts and the ability to drag information from web pages and Windows Explorer directories).

Page structure and wireframes

When it comes to designing page-level structures I pretty much always start by drawing wireframes using a good old fashioned pencil and pad of paper.

Wireframes are visual guides that present a skeleton or framework for the information on the page. They are concerned more with where information and design elements should sit rather than how they look.

If you think of it in terms of architecture, the building blueprint will show you that the kitchen needs a window between the wall cupboards, and in front of the sink, but it won’t tell you what colour or make they are.

As I said, I usually start all my wireframe diagrams with a pencil and pad, but occasionally I want something that I can save, edit and share with others via email.

Until now I’ve usually used either Balsamiq or Mockingbird, both of which have limited, free accounts. But recently I’ve been trying out PowerMockup.

PowerMockup

PowerMockup is a wireframing tool that integrates with Microsoft PowerPoint 2007 or 2010. It is essentially a library of PowerPoint shapes offering

  • 89 fully-editable user-interface (UI) elements
  • 104 wireframe icons
PowerMockup stencil library elements
Examples of some of the PowerMockup stencil library elements

And it is as simple to use as finding the element you want to use and dragging it onto your PowerPoint slide. The UI elements and icons can all be resized, and recoloured too which provides a great deal of flexibility.

Page size

Also, remember, although you are working in Microsoft PowerPoint which, by default, is set up for a 4:3 or 16:9 aspect ratio screen you can adjust the page setup for any screen size and aspect ratio. That way you are not limited to only designing for ‘above the fold’.

Example

As a quick example, I mocked-up the PowerMockup website homepage using PowerMockup in Microsoft PowerPoint 2010:

Wireframe of the PowerMockup  website using PowerMockup
Wireframe of the PowerMockup website using PowerMockup

My experience

Intuitive

I have to say that I was very pleasantly surprised using PowerMockup. Because it integrates with Microsoft PowerPoint I didn’t have to learn a whole new application: it was very intuitive to use.

Design

I really like the design of the elements too. My main criticisms of both Balsamiq and Mockingbird is that their UI elements have quite a sketchy, cartoony feel to them; particularly Balsamiq.

In contrast the UI elements in PowerMockup are clean, unfussy and unobtrusive. While Balsamiq and to a lesser extent Mockingbird’s UI elements have a Comic Sans feel to them, PowerMockup’s UI elements feel more like something classical like Helvetica.

Price

PowerMockup costs US $39.95 (approx. £25 GBP) for a single-user license, although obviously you also need a licensed copy of Microsoft PowerPoint 2007 or 2010.

The cheapest, standalone version that I can find, Home and Student, will cost you £75.00 GPB on Amazon UK), so you’re talking about a total cost of around £100 for one user.

If you already own a copy of PowerPoint 2007 or 2010, however, then you’re laughing and you may even qualify for a free license.

There are also two team licenses available: 5 users for US $119.95 (approx. £74 GBP), and 10 users for US $199.90 (approx. £123 GBP).

Conclusion

I’ve been genuinely very impressed with PowerMockup. What is not to like? It has a very extensive, very attractive, and very usable collection of UI elements and icons, and most importantly it’s really simple to use.

What might be nice is if someone could throw together a number of PowerPoint template files (with sensible background grids) to emulate the most common page dimensions, e.g. Blueprint CSS’s 950px width, 960 Grid System’s 960px width, plus some responsive-style tablet and mobile templates. Coupled with PowerMockup these could be a very useful, very affordable combination for small design studios and individuals.

I can definitely see myself using PowerMockup on the next design project I need to work on.

Finding the right keyboard – how I settled on the Logitech K750

What keyboard and mouse do you use, is it the one that came bundled with your PC? The last couple of PCs I ordered I made a point of making sure they didn’t include a cheap, budget keyboard. Instead I ordered my own.

Recently I’ve been on the hunt for a replacement for what has long been my standard, trusty keyboard, the Microsoft Digital Media Pro.

Microsoft Digital Media Pro

Microsoft Intellitype Digital Media Pro keyboard
Microsoft Digital Media Pro keyboard

For the decade or more I’ve used various Microsoft keyboards, for the last six years or so my keyboard of choice has been the Microsoft Digital Media Pro. It was a great keyboard: comfortable to use, solid and highly customisable

As you can see from the image above, the Digital Media Pro has lots of extra buttons:

  • Volume buttons (volume up, volume down, mute)
  • Zoom slider
  • Four media keys (play/pause, stop, previous track, next track)
  • Five My Favorites (sic) keys for launching your favourite applications
  • Hot keys (My Documents, My Pictures, My Music, Mail, Web/Home, Messenger, Calculator, Log Off, Sleep)
  • F-Lock key (toggles F1-F12 between standard function keys and predefined actions, e.g. Help, Undo, Redo, New, Fwd, Open, Close, Reply, Send, Spell, Save, Print)

In practice I always remapped the Calculator hot key to open My Documents as it was the closest reconfigurable key to my mouse; the shortest distance for my right hand to move.

I rarely if ever used the zoom slider, and since upgrading to Windows 7 I stopped using the My Favourites, as you can achieve something similar by holding down the Windows key and tapping a number (Win+1 will open the first application pinned to your taskbar, Win+2 opens the second, etc.). Similarly, I rarely used any of the other hot keys.

In the end I realised that the only extra keys that I used regularly were the four media keys.

And after six years of constant use I was beginning to get very sore fingers after typing with it, not to mention prolonged bouts of RSI.

It was time to get a new keyboard, both at home and at work. I like to use exactly the same keyboard in both locations so that I don’t have to think about where my fingers should go.

Logitech Media Keyboard K200

I spent a few weeks researching what kind of keyboard I should buy, investigating the options, and weighing up the pros and cons. USB or PS/2? wireless or wired? mechanical or membrane?

In the end my fingers were getting so painful I just ordered a really cheap Logitech Media Keyboard K200 as a stopgap. It cost me about £9.99 GBP.

Logitech K200 keyboard
Logitech K200 UK Media keyboard

The K200 is a full-size, 105-key keyboard with four media keys, and four hot keys. For a keyboard so cheap I was quite surprised by how comfortable it was to type on.

What let it down for me, however, was how flexible it was. When the adjustable legs were flipped out the whole keyboard bent in the middle whenever I typed on it.

As a temporary solution, however, it was perfect and within a few days my fingers were no longer hurting and the RSI was calming down. Time to find something more permanent, though.

Logitech Wireless Keyboard K360

I first spotted the Logitech Wireless Keyboard K360 in a gear review in .net magazine (issue 224, February 2012). The verdict of the review was “we found this to be a very comfortable keyboard to use, and — as wireless keyboards go -— it’s well worth checking out”.

Logitech Wireless Keyboard K360
Logitech Wireless Keyboard K360

The K360 comes in five designs, which makes a change from the standard grey, black or silver offerings from most keyboard manufacturers:

  • Fingerprint flowers
  • Victorian wallpaper
  • Indigo scroll
  • Purple pebbles
  • Emea grey/black

I wanted something simple and and non-distracting, so I ordered the black one from Amazon for £19.99 GBP.

The K360 uses Logitech’s Unifying receiver, a small USB dongle that plugs into the PC and which can be paired with up to six devices (keyboards and mice). I discovered pretty quickly that this needs to be plugged into a the PC itself and not into a USB hub. I multi-boot my PC and the USB hub wasn’t available during the power-on test so the keyboard was still unresponsive when it reached the boot menu. Plugging the Unifying receiver into the USB port on the front of my PC tower, however, fixed that.

As far as the keyboard itself goes, it has the feel of a very nice laptop keyboard, with its low profile and ‘Scrabble tile’-like keys. The keys themselves are good sizes and very easy to use. The travel is very short so you don’t need to use much pressure to type with, which was great for my wrists.

You can lay the keyboard itself flat on the desk, or flick out two little legs to raise up the keys a little. I found that arrangement more comfortable and meant that the keys were all easily reachable without having to move my hands too much.

I did find, however, that overall the keyboard did feel to be a little smaller than standard and my fingers did begin to cramp up after a few hours typing.

And with it being a compact keyboard, like a laptop, the position of the ‘editing block’ keys had also been moved: the arrow keys, insert, delete, home, end, page up and page down keys, as well as the print screen, scroll lock and pause/break keys.

That was the thing that I found most frustrating and which led me to looking for something else. For years my fingers have just known where to go to grab a screenshot, or move the cursor to the end of the line. With this keyboard I couldn’t just get on with typing, it slowed me down, it forced me to think about the device, it forced me to keep looking down to locate the keys.

I gave myself a couple of weeks working with it to see how quickly I could adapt, and to be fair, by the end of the fortnight I was feel much more comfortable with the keyboard. I was able to locate the moved-keys more quickly but it still didn’t feel natural.

What I did find very useful, however, were the media keys (previous track, play/pause, next track) and the volume keys (volume up, volume down, mute). I liked that the K360 didn’t have lots of extra keys cluttering up the design (like the Microsoft Digital Media Pro), but I did find those six extra hardware keys very handy indeed.

In short, though, overall the keyboard’s compact layout got in the way of my typing, and that’s not a particularly efficient way to work. I needed to find something else.

Logitech Wireless Solar Keyboard K750

That was when I opened the latest copy of .net magazine (issue 227, May 2012) and spotted a review for the Logitech Wireless Solar Keyboard K750.

The review itself wasn’t exactly glowing, “spending over £60 on a keyboard that’s nothing special design-wise seems crazy to us, but it’s your call” but it looked exactly what I wanted.

Logitech Wireless Solar Keyboard K750
Logitech Wireless Solar Keyboard K750

I ordered one from Amazon for £49.98.

Another keyboard?!” said Jane as I unboxed it. “What are you like?”

The K750 paired very quickly with my existing Logitech Unifying receiver and I was good to go.

It has a similar low profile to the K360 but is wider. It has more of a feel of a full-size keyboard and before long my fingers were finding the ‘editing block’ keys again (insert, delete, home, end, page up and page down) without my having to look down at the keyboard. Perfect!

The keys themselves are a little different to those of the K360: they are slightly dimpled which makes them feel surprisingly comfortable to type on. Your fingers sit easily in the hollow of the keys. Logitech calls this “hand happiness”: “Treat your hands right with keys that feel good and make every keystroke comfortable, fluid and whisper-quiet.” And they are right.

There is only one additional hardware key on this keyboard, to the right of the Pause/Break key. Press it and one of two LEDs lights up, next to a happy face or a sad face, to indicate whether the keyboard’s built-in solar panels are receiving enough light to top-up the rechargeable batteries. Logitech claim that even in total darkness the batteries would last for three months. Perhaps not long enough for Gollum to write his memoirs but certainly enough to get you through the night on a long coding or writing spree.

In the absence of additional keys the functions keys double up via the help of a Function (Fn) key sitting between Alt Gr and Ctrl to the right of the spacebar:

  • F1 – Web/Home
  • F2 – Mail
  • F3 – Search
  • F4 – Calculator
  • F5 – Media player
  • F6 – Previous track
  • F7 – Play/Pause
  • F8 – Next track
  • F9 – Mute
  • F10 – Volume down
  • F11 – Volume up
  • F12 – Sleep
  • Print Screen – Windows context menu

Typically, I regularly use the media and volume keys, and have once reached for Fn+F4 to launch the calculator. Thankfully these additional, and mostly extraneous options, are unobtrusive. I really wouldn’t have missed them if they had not been available, but I guess these days such media keys almost come as standard as though providing a solid, comfortable and highly usable keyboard isn’t enough.

At last! This is the keyboard for me.

Download Microsoft Money 2005 for free

ms-money-2005-02-homepage
Screenshot of Microsoft Money 2005

Despite not being developed for over 15 years, Microsoft Money 2005 still works perfectly in Windows 10 (and as far as I can see, also Windows 11) but you will need to download and install the last-available versions. This post explains how.

Continue reading Download Microsoft Money 2005 for free

Every Time Zone

Every Time Zone

An idea for an Outlook add-in

A few years ago I emailed the kind people at Sperry Software with an idea for an Outlook add-in.  It was a simple idea: an add-on for my Contacts that told me what time it was in their city.

If I’m planning on phoning my cousin Zack in San Francisco, for example I want to know if I’m going to be waking him up or keeping him from going to bed. But at the moment that information isn’t available in Microsoft Outlook, even version 2010.

Which seemed to me a bit crazy because in my Contact record for him I’ve already specified that he lives in the United States of America, and the San Francisco bit of the California region of the United States of America.  That really should be enough information for Outlook to work out that he’s currently 8 hours behind.

I got an email back from the president of Sperry Software thanking me for such a useful and simple idea.  He said that they’d start work on it after they’d upgraded their current add-ins from Outlook 2003 to 2007 and that I’d get a free copy of it once it was completed.

Disappointingly, I never heard another word from them about it.

I now use Google and ‘Every Time Zone’

Instead, I now use two solutions.

The first is good old Google.  If you type the word “time” plus a place name into Google, e.g. time san francisco it will show you the current time in that city.

Entering "time san francisco" into Google shows the current time there

The other tool is Every Time Zone: a web page that lists 12 different time zones with a movable bar that allows me to plan when to contact someone in another time zone.

What time will it be in Tokyo when it’s 4pm in London? Move the bar… it’ll be 1am. How about New York at the same time?  Easy 11am.

I’d still like something integrated, by default preferably, into Outlook. That would be a very welcome addition.

Update

What I didn’t mention yesterday was that in Outlook 2010 you can switch on a parallel timezone in the Calendar, which does help:

Showing San Francisco and UK times side by side

But you don’t want to have to switch between different time zones all the time, which is why I thought that integrating it into the Contacts was a neat idea.