Why aren’t there more/better software design tools?

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You have a brilliant software idea. Now you need to design an attractive prototype. You look around you. Looking up and down. Chances are you’ll dig up a total of three usable tools.

That’s right, three.

Rapid prototyping is a wasteland

Welcome to the largely overlooked world of rapid prototyping.

If you are designing on PC, you can choose from three tools:

  1. Axure RP ($290)
  2. Mockup Builder (Free)
  3. Serena Prototype Composer 3 (Free/$300)

If you are prototyping on Mac, your three choices are:

  1. Axure PR
  2. Balsamic mockups ($79)
  3. Sencha Architect ($400)
Balsamiq Mockups is a cross-platform rapid software prototyping tool that allows a UX designer to quickly create a mockup of software screens. This is a prototype I created for a next generation CRM program. One major problem: no out-of-the-box icons for folders or documents.

If you develop mobile apps or websites, there are more choices, including Protoshare ($29/month), a web-based (SaaS) software solution, and Tiggzi ($40/month). If you like designing apps entirely on iPad, there’s AppCooker ($40), AppSketcher (free), Blueprint Lite (free), Interface HD ($10), iMockups for iPad ($7), and Mockop (free), as well as many others.

According to an educated guess, there are about 12 million programmers in the world. This is equal to the population of the metropolis of Los Angeles.

Now imagine you’re one of those 12 million people living in Los Angeles and only have three, maybe four auto repair shops to choose from. What’s wrong with this picture? The size of the global information technology industry was estimated at $3.8 trillion in 2012, according to Gartner.

The same CRM mockup created in Azure RP, another cross-platform prototyping tool, which creates more buttoned-up designs. Tools that cater to various software design work styles are a must.

Here is another compelling example. I searched the Home Depot site for cordless drills and found 348 search results. Try it yourself. And that’s for a global power tool market that will only reach $27 billion by 2015.

The opportunity to disconnect

Notice a disconnect here? In a previous article, I wrote about the need to create 1,000 user experience (UX) design studios in the United States alone. These studios would need a healthy infrastructure of innovative rapid prototyping and coding tools. Yet, it’s clear that when it comes to building software, designers don’t have much choice.

What kind of prototyping tools do you need? On the one hand, they must be collaborative. I know this because I found a sparse factoid about the design activities of programmers that suggests that, unlike the relatively solitary activity of coding and testing, designing interfaces requires a lot of collaborative work.

Finding the above stat buried in a Microsoft site full of bug-finding articles was a worrying sign in itself. You would think that, given a $4 trillion information technology economy, there would be a lot more research into software design habits.

Please bridge this innovation gap, entrepreneurs and venture capitalists! We need a lot more help to get the software working as expected. And contribute to my crowdsourced ideation engine and suggest more ideas on what kind of software is needed to help create a next-gen software economy.

Main image courtesy of Shutterstock.

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