I’m more of a coder than a designer but that said, I’m really into user experience and the role that plays in design. Maybe that is why when I do design work I find it useful to prototype ideas. Typically I’d do a rough mock-up in Fireworks, blocking it out, using guides to identify the grid layout (see Mark Boulton and his SXSW presentation with Khoi Vinh) but there are other tools or methods that can be really helpful.
Page Description Diagrams
Following this blog post on Blue Flavour, I’ve looked more into PDD. Seems like it can be useful to work with clients on whereas typically wireframes can confuse the issue as you explain to the client that they need to ignore the aesthetics. By explaining the core pages or templates in terms of priorities, this can inform the design and gives some real ground for discussion with the client.
Although I’ve used Fireworks in the past, I’ve experimenting with a few tools recently such as the Air App Balsamiq and some Photoshop elements (thanks to @nicepaul for twittering that one) from Designer’s Toolbox. By using this library of browser elements, the wireframes can go a stage further very quickly into something that can quickly replicate the look and feel of the browser.
Of course, wireframes can go as far as you need them to so I often replace elements of the Fireworks or Photoshop file with UI element ideas to build up a few mock-up.
The only way you really know if a design works is by using it, and getting feedback from other people too. You can make assumptions based on your own experience or those of a persona you might’ve designed around (37Signals elaborated on by Andy Budd). I find that having a loose persona helps me, if only to step outside of my own point of view and wonder what other experiences people might have. It is easy to make entirely wrong assumptions about a generic user type, so before relying on a ficticious persona model, it’s worth researching it a little and talk to people like your target audience.
I know that I’m my own worst client too so I’ll often bounce back between these stages many times for my own projects, which is useful to recognise. It’s useful to have a process and understand why it might be useful but you needn’t be doggedly sticking to it. The process is a tool and should be used to help your design, not restrict your creativity!
Whatever works for you