Designing a good GUI is arguably one of the most difficult – and critical – phases of application development. It’s absolutely one of the most overlooked, and part of the reason for that may be the fact that we haven’t had many tools that allow us to quickly and easily throw together a GUI design that can then be put through its paces. Photoshop mock-ups, although easy enough to do, can be time-consuming – and if you’re purely a developer, you may not even have access to Photoshop in the first place. Fortunately, your days of scratching out GUI designs in crayon on the TGIFriday’s placements (don’t laugh – I’ve done it) are over.

Five years ago, people used a specific piece of software because it did what they needed. Even if the interface was miserable, it was the only thing out there that did the job, so they learned to suck it up. These days, there are so many pieces of software that do the same – or virtually the same – things, that the user actually has a *choice* – and the winner will almost always be the one that’s easiest to use.

The Pencil Project is a Firefox addon that takes much of the hassle out of GUI development, with an easy-to-use drop-and-drop interface with text editing and a library of shapes and form widgets.

From the Pencil Project website:

The Pencil Project’s unique mission is to build a free and opensource tool for making diagrams and GUI prototyping that everyone can use.

Top features:

  • Built-in stencils for diagraming and prototyping
  • Multi-page document with background page
  • On-screen text editing with rich-text supports
  • PNG rasterizing
  • Undo/redo supports
  • Installing user-defined stencils
  • Standard drawing operations: aligning, z-ordering, scaling, rotating…
  • Cross-platforms
  • Adding external objects
  • And much more…

Pencil will always be free as it is released under the GPL version 2 and is available for virtually all platforms that Firefox 3 can run. The first version of Pencil is tested against GNU/Linux 2.6 with GTK+, Windows XP and Windows Vista.

Obviously, if you’re a crappy GUI designer, or if you don’t take the time to test your designs, The Pencil Project isn’t going to save your hide, but for developers who care about GUI design, it can shave quite a bit of time off that design process. Assuming you’re the latter instead of the former, visit the Pencil Project website to learn more and download it now.

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I’m a tech geek/dev/infosec-nerd/scuba diver/blacksmith/sword-fighter/crime fighter/ENTP/warcrafter/activist. I'm the CTO at Mass Mosaic and the CEO of Grokability, Inc. in San Diego, CA. Tweet at me @snipeyhead or read more...

  • Nik

    Be sure to check out balsamiq.com as well.

  • Nik

    Be sure to check out balsamiq.com as well.