Designer’s Toolkit: Road Testing Prototype Tools

We’ve all been there: you’ve got a few days to throw together a prototype. For expedience sake, you go to one of your large, well known tools to get the job done. The files quickly become bloated and crash—hours of hard work lost. There’s got to be a way to create prototypes at a similar level of fidelity with a lighter weight tool.

After test driving some alternative prototyping tools I discovered that there are indeed other good options. Here is an overview of what I found, followed by assessments of each tool, with hopes it will help fellow designers in the prototyping trenches.

Choosing the tools

After researching existing prototyping tools, I narrowed a long list of about 40 to a small set of 10 that looked the most interesting. Some factors that influenced which tools I selected include:

  • Hearing about the tool from fellow Cooperistas or other colleagues.
  • The popularity of the tool based on what I read in other blogs.
  • Whether it looked cool or exciting from my first impression of the design and features.

This is not a comprehensive set of tools, but includes the ones that I was interested in checking out.

Deciding what to prototype

Once I decided which tools to try, I needed something simple to prototype that could be replicated across each of the tools. Cooper recently redesigned and launched a new website (which is awesome), and some of the sections are still being finessed and revised. I decided to use one of those sections, the About page, for my prototype.

As a starting point for the prototype, I used some design studies that one of our design interns, Tanya, had been working on. I thought the prototype would be a good opportunity to illustrate someof the behaviors within the Our People section, including a filter behavior that allows users to discover Cooper employees’ interests, and a transition for revealing more information about each employee.

Since some of the tools that I selected only offer support for iOS apps and devices, I decided to focus on prototyping the About page for display on an iPad.

The evaluation

There are many questions the come to mind when deciding whether or not to use a tool for prototyping. If this is a new tool, how easy is it to learn? Can I create a prototype that communicates the right design attributes at the right level of fidelity? How easily can I share this with my team, clients or user testing participants? How flexible is the tool for creating prototypes across multiple devices and platforms? These are the questions that fed into my evaluation criteria.

  1. Time to create prototype: How long it took me to create the prototype once the tool was up and running (this was largely influenced by ease of use and learnability); shorter times were rated more favorably.
  2. Fidelity: How well I could simulate the intended interactivity of my prototype with the tool (scrolling, transitions, flow between pages and states, overall display and appearance).
  3. Collaboration/sharing: Quality of features for sharing the prototype with others and/or working collaboratively on the prototype.
  4. Usability testing: Quality of features for conducting usability testing with the prototype.
  5. Support: Amount and quality of tutorials, help documentation, libraries (UI elements, widgets, icons), templates, etc.
  6. Interactions/gestures: Quality of features for adding gesture-specific interactivity to the prototype.
  7. Animations: Quality of features for adding animated behaviors to screen transitions and individual elements within a screen.
  8. Device testing: Quality of features for testing the prototype on other devices.

The result

I was successful in creating a prototype with each tool, but not all of the prototypes communicated the interactivity I was trying to simulate. Each tool has features that support slightly different tasks and needs, so some were better suited for the task I was doing than others.

Starting point

I was working with existing screen mock-ups as my starting point, so I did not want or need to build all of the individual elements from scratch. Tools such as, Axure, Protoshare, Easel, Justinmind and Fluid are designed to allow you to create elements and screens from scratch, in order to add interactivity and actions to individual elements. Because of this, it took me longer to use some of those tools since I was trying to import existing screen comps instead of building new ones from scratch. However, these tools would be great if you need to simulate more complicated interactions or behaviors because they provide such a granular level of control.

Speed vs interactivity

Some tools are extremely fast, such as Flinto or InVision, but with the tradeoff that the interactivity is limited to creating hotspots for linking together static screens. Another tool, Protoshare, worked great for simulating interactivity and animated transitions of individual elements, but had minimal support for actually testing on a device.

Learnability and ease of use

As a first-time user of all of these tools, learnability and ease of use became one of the most important criteria to me. My experience was better with tools that I could easily get up and running and quickly figure out how to use. Tools that presented an overwhelming amount of features or had limited support documentation often took twice the amount of time than simpler and easier to learn tools, typically with no significant difference in the level of fidelity of the resulting prototype.

Flinto, InVision and Solidify were fast and easy to learn given the simplicity of the design and limited functionality. Some more robust tools like Protoshare, Justinmind and Fluid had a moderate learning curve, but offered strong support and documentation to help new users learn the tool.

So, what tool should I use?

None of these tools will become my go-to tool for all of my prototyping needs. I see valuable aspects of each for different circumstances.

For a fast turnaround

If I need something created in a pinch that doesn’t need to communicate much interactivity, I would use a tool like InVision (or Flinto if it is for an iOS app).

For complex interactions

If I am prototyping a complicated desktop application with a lot of dynamic content or interactivity between elements on a screen, I might try using a more robust tool like Axure, Protoshare or Justinmind, with the understanding that I will need to invest some time to learn how to use it. If I needed to prototype complex interactions for a website design I would use Easel because of how easily you can generate CSS/HTML.

For usability testing

If I need to run usability testing on a click-through prototype and collect a significant amount of feedback, I would try Solidify, which is specifically designed to support user testing.

Although some of these tools have overlapping capabilities, I was surprised to discover that they each offer distinct enough features to be useful in different scenarios. The chart below should help you pick the best tool to try for your particular needs.

Share your experience

I would love to hear about how you decide what tools to use, what your favorite tools are and why, or your take on any of the tools discussed in this post. Please share in the comments.

If you want more information check out the details below about what I found to be the pros and cons of each tool.



  • Live simulation of prototype on device with Briefscase iOS app.
  • Option to add animation and sound transition effects to links.
  • Blueprint mode clearly defines specs for design elements.
  • Support for standard and retina displays.


  • Significant learning curve and minimal online support.
  • No controls to animate individual elements in a scene.
  • No support for gesture interactions beyond tap.
  • No way to create a scrollable area; had to crop all screens before importing into Briefs.
  • Limited features for building elements in the app.​


Flinto generates a URL to a web display of your prototypes, so you can check out the prototype I created with it here.


  • Easy to learn.
  • Extremely fast—created first prototype in only 5 minutes.
  • One click to share prototype with other users on a device or via web browser.
  • Easily edit by dragging and dropping new files over existing files.
  • Automatically creates scrollable area for overflow content.
  • Customize app icon and start-up screens for device testing.
  • Option to add transition effects (from a limited set) to links.


  • No control of individual elements, only control at the screen level.
  • No features for creating or modifying elements in the tool; all screens and mock-ups must be imported.
  • Interactivity limited to hotspots for moving between screens.


InVision generates a URL to a web display of your prototypes, so you can check out the prototype I created with it here.


  • Easy to learn.
  • Fast—setup account and created first prototype in 10 minutes.
  • Quick and intuitive to add screens and create hotspots (drag + drop).
  • Sharing and commenting system for collecting feedback.
  • Asset management features via web tool or Dropbox-like folder for easy file sharing and editing.
  • Simple web display of prototype.


  • No options for adding animation to individual elements or transition effects to links.
  • No support for gesture based interaction.
  • No features for creating or modifying elements in the tool; all screens and mock-ups must be imported.
  • No device-specific features for projects.


  • Option to add animation to individual elements and transition effects to links.
  • Good training and support documentation.
  • Fine grain control for adding interactivity to individual elements.
  • Effective simulation of high-fidelity interaction behaviors.
  • Support for gesture based interaction.


  • Steep learning curve; not easy to use for a first-time user.
  • Time consuming—2 hours to create first prototype.
  • Designed to build out screens in the tool. Difficult to use existing mock-ups as starting point.
  • Animated behaviors are buggy and do not always work consistently.
  • Hard to assign behaviors to specific elements because element labels unclear.



  • Good training and support documentation
  • Fine grain controls for adding interactivity to individual elements
  • Good for prototyping complex interaction behaviors
  • Built-in library of widgets that can be customized with specific actions and behaviors
  • Flexible—can be used to prototype products for any digital platform.


  • Steep learning curve; not easy to use for a first-time user
  • No way to preview prototype before exporting to HTML
  • Web display of prototype is not supported by all browsers; Chrome requires a plug-in to view
  • No device-specific templates or features.



  • Fine grain controls for interactivity and appearance of elements
  • Option to simulate a single page or the entire prototype.
  • Collaborative features allow multiple people to edit/review a project
  • Good training and support documentation
  • Quick and intuitive to add assets via drag + drop
  • Option to add animation to individual elements and screen transitions.


  • Moderate learning curve; took some time to get oriented as a first-time user
  • Must have a Protoshare account to view a shared prototype
  • No device-specific templates or features.
  • No support for gesture based interaction, only support for mouse interaction.
  • Designed to build out screens in the tool. Difficult to use existing mock-ups as starting point.


Solidify generates a URL to a web display of your prototypes, so you can check out the prototype I created with it here.


  • Easy and fast to sign-up and get started
  • Flexible—can be used to prototype products for any digital platform.
  • Great for setting up simple, click-through prototypes
  • Excellent features for running usability tests, collecting qualitative and quantitative feedback, and generating reports of testing results
  • Quick and easy to share prototype with others.
  • Option to add hover states to hotspots.


  • No options for adding animation to individual elements or screen transitions
  • No support for gesture based interaction
  • No features for creating or modifying elements in the tool, all screens and mock-ups must be imported
  • No option to maintain scroll position when linking between pages.



  • Fast to sign-up and get started
  • Easy to learn; clear walkthroughs and demos of key features.
  • Export HTML/CSS for individual elements or entire project
  • Integration with bootstrap framework
  • Collaboration features for realtime editing or review
  • Simulate responsive website layouts across devices.
  • Fine grain controls for styling individual elements on a page


  • Designed to create prototypes for websites only
  • No option to add animation to individual elements or screen transitions.
  • No support for gesture based interaction.
  • Must have an Easel account to view a shared prototype
  • Designed to build out screens in the tool. Difficult to use existing mock-ups as starting point.
  • Cumbersome to manage multiple pages within a project; did not discover an easy way to navigate quickly between pages.



  • Device-specific templates and features.
  • Quick and intuitive to add assets via drag + drop
  • Simulate feature generates a web preview of fully interactive prototype with a device frame.
  • Fine grain controls for adding interactivity to individual elements
  • Support for gesture based interaction.
  • Option to add animation to individual elements or transition effects to links.


  • Moderate learning curve; took some time to get oriented as a first-time user.
  • When multiple actions assigned to a single element, actions will not implement simultaneously, only in sequence; made simulation of transitions display inaccurately
  • Animations and transitions are somewhat buggy


Fluid generates a URL to a web display of your prototypes, so you can check out the prototype I created with it here.


  • Large library of elements for different devices
  • Quick and intuitive to add assets via drag + drop or uploading files
  • Fast to create new pages and link pages together
  • Support for gesture based interaction.
  • Option to add transition effects to links.
  • Quick and easy to share interactive prototype via URL or QR code for devices.


  • Moderate learning curve; took some time to get oriented as a first-time user
  • Some features are not easily discoverable; depended on support documentation to learn how to accomplish some tasks.
  • No support for adding interactivity to individual elements.
  • Some unexpected behaviors across the screen view and flow view.


Nice snapshot of current tools and their capabilities. In my evaluation process few months back, Interactions/gestures feature was the key determinate as its the future. I couldn't settle for hotspots. Therefore, I ended settling for Axure. I've been pretty happy with it.
Thanks for this great run down. Have you tested some of the new Adobe products such as Edge or Muse?
Nice write up. Similar to my article posted a while ago:
Wayne Greenwood
My favorite iOS rapid prototyping tool is AppCooker for iPad. I use Paper on the iPad to create quick freehand sketches, define screen flows and transitions using AppCooker, then send iterations out for review & feedback with AppTaster for iPhone. When I'm ready to replace the sketches with pixel-perfect mocks, I design screens in Photoshop and suck them into AppCooker via Dropbox. Boomshakalaka. @MC_UX
Al Briggs
Shame you didn't include Antetype! I'd be interested in your opinion on that too.
Thanks for including Flinto in your comparison! Readers may be interested in this blog post which explains Flinto's philosophy, including why we don't offer visual design tools: We also have a video introduction to the Flinto editor here:
Thank you for the thorough overview! It's incredible how many new tools have come out just in the last year.
Emily, great article... have you ever try to prototype with Indigo Studio?
Mike Earley
Thanks for taking the great amount of time to write the article. I definitely think it would be beneficial to see the various produced prototypes from each application. I've run into some of the same usability issues that you've run into on the various products--learning curve. I have no affiliation with Infragistics beyond my personal love of the product, but I can say that Indigo Studio's the best prototyping app I've found so far. The learning curve is actually pretty low. It supports drawing integrated storyboards. Compared to Proto.IO, Solidify, inVision, Axure, and JustinMind (also, Omnigraffle and Balsamiq), I've found Indigo Studio to be the best application of the bunch.
Martin Crisp
Hi Emily, This is one of the more useful articles reviewing the different UI Prototyping tools out there. I like the way you have organized your experiences into a way that helps readers make decisions. Of course I would have liked to have seen our product PowerStory included in this review as it takes a very different approach using Use Case Storyboards and Test Case Generation, but you can't include every tool out there. Here is an article I wrote that might be though provoking for you. We all love prototypes, but in this article I decided to question a few things. Martin Crisp CEO, PowerStory
Rob Jones
Thanks for writing this... I have been exploring prototyping for mobile apps and totally love flinto... it's so much easier and faster than Xcode storyboards. Briefs looked very interesting but the lack of scrolling screens in your prototypes is a complete non-starter for me.
Rob Jones
Thanks for writing this... it was very informative! I cannot recommend flinto enough for rapid prototyping of iOS app flows; SO much easier and faster to use than Xcode storyboards. Initially Briefs looked promising, but the lack of scrolling in prototypes is a non-starter for me.
Another interesting tool for prototyping
Andrew Mottaz
Thanks for the review! Just wanted to point out a couple of things regarding ProtoShare: First, we have a library of mobile templates ( ) that you can access from the ProtoShare editor. Second, we have an export capabiltiy with publish to web which lets anyone view a prototype without login ( not available in trial accounts though ), and the business edition of ProtoShare has view on device functionality so you can run a prototype on any mobile device with a modern browser. Finally, you can drag any image directly onto a canvas if you want to start with an existing mockup. I know you had a lot of ground to cover, and thanks again for the review!
Andrew Mottaz
Thanks for the review! I think there were a few items missed on ProtoShare: if you have the Business edition, we have a ton of mobile stencils and a view on any mobile device feature. You can also share with non-protoshare users via our export to web feature (not available on trials). Great column, and must have been a ton of work.
Micha Huber
Thanks for the nice tool overview. But I miss very much basic tools like pen & paper (by far the fastest, most flexible and intuitive choice in many cases), coding tools and basic slideshow tools (often used in combination with hand sketches). From my point of view, prototypes should always help to answer a set of specific questions. They should support the designer/developer to 1. communicate his idea to a user/customer 2. quickly evaluate internally the best solution 3. test for a specific use cases (usability and/or technology wise) 4. create excitement for a service/tool long before it's finished. Therefore digital wysiwyg tools (e.g. Axure) can not be the answer to everything a prototype (and the process it's used for) should accomplish since they are restricting the user. For the described example in the post above (the “about” page) I would suggest to code only the filter with basic functionality directly (code can be reused later and it can be tested accurately). For all other functionalities the use of basic slideshows, created in simple tools such as Indesign or Powerpoint (fast, but not reusable, the idea can be communicated externally), have proven more effective to me. If lots of alternatives need to be developed and shown in a very short time, sketching with pen & paper may come in handy (very fast, but not reusable, the idea can be communicated internally).
Emily Schwartzman
Antoine: I have not had a chance to test out Edge or Muse yet, but will definitely add those to my list of tools to look into.
Emily Schwartzman
Shlomo: Awesome! That’s a comprehensive set of tools that you’ve evaluated! I’d be curious to hear which ones you find yourself using most frequently after going through the evaluation process.
Emily Schwartzman
Wayne: I’ve also heard promising things about AppCooker. That would be a good candidate for the next round of tools that I look at! I’m interested in your workflow between Paper, AppCooker and AppTaster. We often use OneNote to create quick freehand sketches, but it doesn’t export easily to a format that would work well for a prototype. I’d be curious to try out a similar approach using those tools.
Emily Schwartzman
Al: Antetype did catch my attention while researching tools, and it is definitely on my list of tools to try out.
Emily Schwartzman
Nathan: I was very impressed with Flinto; great tool and incredibly fast!. It was highly recommended by a number of colleagues. I think that the design goals stated in the article you linked are definitely expressed in your product. Thanks for sharing some insight behind Flinto’s philosophy.
Emily Schwartzman
Marcin: I have not tried out Indigo Studio yet, but have heard good things about it. Do you have experience using it for prototyping? If so, what types of prototyping needs do you think it works best for?
Emily Schwartzman
Mike: I’d hoped to share all of the prototypes, but wasn’t able to export some of them into an easily sharable format. When possible, I did include a link to the prototype in the article, so there are a few examples in there. Thanks for your recommendation of Indigo Studio. I’ve heard good things and will definitely look into it.
Emily Schwartzman
Rob: I also had a positive experience with Flinto; it was super easy and fast. Briefs also has a lot of potential, but I found the lack of scrolling screens to be extremely frustrating, especially for prototyping mobile apps. However, based on what I found when searching for help/support on this topic, scrolling for screens is a feature that they are working on to include in a future release.
Rafał Grabie
Yes. Good, solid review. Especially the table to which it's impossible to disagree. I am an Axure fan, I found this solution very handy in hi fi prototyping to which I am convinced it's the best way of evaluation future product even on the early stages. Saying Pulp Fiction ... "little differences" are of great importance. The more hi fidelity is your prototype the less risk you take in serious businesses. I found a little lack of hi fidelity prototyping in Axure. You often have to figure out how to prototype something you have on your mind instead of just doing it focusing on primary goals. But I used to use Axure and even mastered making things which seem to be impossible to achieve. Then I came over an idea how to ease the life of Axure user a little bit. I started to hack generated prototypes and found the way of injecting my custom javascript into them. Then I found I can provide Axure's very good object model and API to scripts that can be embedded in Axure. I set up an open source project with my work so everyone feeling curious can examine the demo prototype:
"Indigo studio" is super fast and easy to use. Great animation options. No need to crack your head around the tool, just go ahead and prototype.
Robert Reimann does actually allow you to rename any object on its stage. It also does allow you to import screen comps, though typically youu would want to slice them up for the different interactions you're simulating (you can attach interaction hotspots where you need them. Also, I don't know if you found the layer control menu (it's on the left, but its not obvious that it is there at first, since for some reason it is closed by default), but having that tool to select and reorder layers is pretty critical. Also worth mentioning is the ability to contain one object within another; the contained object is clipped to the container, and scrolling can be turned on and handled automatically. Nested containers allows some pretty sophisticated simulations of behavior (since you can create actions in one container that turn objects on and off in another container, or even on another screen. On the down side, having a lot of that sort of thing makes load times long and debugging a pain. Its other real strength is its ability to instantly share proto updates that run natively on devices (since it is web based, it's as simple as reloading the page on the device browser after making a correction). also supports customizable splash screens and iOS home page icons for its web-app mockups. It definitely has a learning curve, but I found it pretty useful once I got past it.
Jim Foley
Anyone have experience with Balsamiq? Wireframes only - perhaps that's why it's not included in the review. Very easy to learn, I have my HCI students use it for their initial concepts.
Mark Lamb
Great article, although I'm surprised Keynote didn't make the list.
Seanna Miller
Hi, Emily! Thanks for the article - I pulled it up during a lunch n' learn today and one tool that was left off was iRise. Looking through some of the comments, I'm wondering if you would consider updating your analysis with some of the other tools? Super helpful as a starting point, so thank you again!
Ronan Quinn
Hi Emily, thanks for including on the list. For anyone who wants to get started, we've also made some cool new 'how to' video clips on our YouTube channel to show how easy it is to get creative with Fluid UI. I hope this helps! :) Cheers, Ronan (Fluid UI)
Mikey Micheletti
Hi Emily, Thanks for the good article. I've been finding Flinto very useful when I'm creating production graphics or comps for mobile apps. It lets me try out high-fidelity comps on a mobile device that I can carry out into the sunshine. I don't seem to use Flinto much during earlier design stages (Balsamiq remains my go-to UX tool), but it's great as a visual design evaluation tool.
Dave Yates
I've been through a redesign process recently involving, initially, flat designs which I have then had to user test remotely and as each test cycle has been completed, I have developed a rolling prototype for the next phase. At the same time, I have just signed up to Adobe's Creative Cloud deal which gives you access to their entire product set. Part of it includes Adobe Muse CC . it is a tool designed to be menu driven for graphic designers to easily churn out web pages, javascript, paralax pages ...and so on. It generates very poor CSS/HTML, but as a prototyping tool, that doesn't matter in my situation. Muse can generate interactions on top of flat designs for rapid and simple prototyping, and I found building entire pages from the ground up to be very straightforward. It has its limitations (e.g. Generating some drop-nav functions was not easy), however You can download the prototype and custom code within it, if you need to. It probably goes under the radar for most UX's, because it doesn't market itself as a prototyping tool, but it should, because as a web design tool it's code is probably too poor to use commercially, but as a UX tool it is a very handy. Incidentally, I use Cisco Webex for remote 1-2-1 user testing. It's not perfect, but in terms of screen sharing and session recording, it does the job. I looked at and Skype as well as trying to kludge something around Silverback. If anyone knows of anything better I would be grateful (please don't say Skype! It claims it will do it,and their support team try their hardest, but it does not work without everyone involved upgrading to premium, even though Skype claim that should not happen).
Ritch Macefield
Good Overview. For the more advanced tools, like Axure, investing in some training can be worthwhile. One update - Axure 7 has a preview facility. Ritch Macefield CEO, Ax-Stream Axure's Approved Trainer for Europe
Marc-Oliver Gern
I am a big AXURE fan and I've tried many tools mentioned above and on top of that: WebFlow, Blueprint, Twitter Bootstrap, Jetstrap, the list goes on and on. I stuck with AXURE for two reasons: Great support from the team and the community AND great flexibility. Version 7 brought some awesome changes too, such as multi device testing, web fonts, tab events, math and string functions and so on. I am really happy.
It'd be nice to know what versions you used in your evaluation. I use Axure. It's amazing. Version 7, in beta, has introduced a ton of enhancements, as Marc-Oliver mentioned. Date enhancements alone are amazing, but they've added a lot in this version, which is free for people who purchased 6.5.
Talia Cohen (Sagy)
Hi, thanks for a great overview of prototyping tools I would like to share with you our very good experience with Axure. I have recently completed a UX course in a highly professional UX company where they evaluated various prototyping tools (as you did) and decided to adopt Axure. Out SW group have decided to purchase Axure licenses and started prototyping new features and even new camera using Axure. We find Axure highly learnable (It is based on Windows - Ctrl^C, Ctrl^V, etc). Within hours after I trained other SW engineer, she was able to continue prototyping. There are also dozens of short training videos in Axure site. It generates HTML5, Css, javascript mockup which you can share on the Internet. This enables very easy usability tests, sharing and consulting. It allows you to build your own library of components with your app. look and feel. And it’s really fun to work with.
George Abraham
Some of the commenters mentioned Indigo studio. So just for kicks, I figured I'll do a video of making this prototype. Sorry if I misunderstood the interactions (toggling gamers filter, Viewing Sue Cooper's details) Since you are mostly using full page images to mimic this interaction, I did not dwell too much on animation, and kept your original images. I end up switching out the images based on the interaction. Here is the prototype: Here is the video (5 mins in real time) showing the Indigo Studio workflow. Somethings may not come across well due to choppy video. Project files you can download to take a peek. twitter: @indigodesigned

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