Prototypes play an important role in the design process. They help communicate ideas to stakeholders, specify interactions for developers and test early product versions with users. When you’re interacting remotely — either as a team or with clients — your prototyping tools should make collaboration easy. Among the multitude of prototyping tools, Axure is a powerful option I frequently use. It’s not browser-based as other tools are, but Axure still offers some convenient options for remote design.
Working together on prototypes remotely
On larger projects it’s not unusual that more than one designer is working on a prototype. With the Team Projects feature, Axure lets multiple designers work together on one prototype file. You can either host your shared prototype on Axure Share (on Axure’s servers) or on your own SVN server (especially if security is vital to your project). Axure recently introduced an on-premise solution for Axure Share which might be a great option for maximum security and convenience. So far it is only available on request.
Once you have created a Team Project, other team members can join the project and you’re ready to collaborate. Each team member then needs to always “check out” a page to edit it and eventually “check in” again to let others edit the page. Although this can sometimes become tedious, you avoid working with multiple files. The version history included in each Team Project can really help in situations where things have gone wrong.
As I mentioned, checking in and out frequently can become annoying. That's why people have come up with other solutions that don’t let you work on the same document, but let you share widget libraries. That seems to be a smart approach I haven’t tried myself yet.
Sharing and discussing prototypes remotely
Being able to quickly share new versions of prototypes and discuss design decisions is vital to an iterative process. Sometimes it's pretty hard to get decent feedback remotely though. I remember one project with clients from Dubai where we received Word documents where all stakeholders had coded their comments in different colors. That’s feedback you want to avoid. Of course, getting effective feedback is a general communication issue and a matter of good project management, but being able to comment directly on prototypes helps.
So how can you do that with Axure? Again, there’s the self-hosted solution and there's Axure Share. Choosing one is mostly a question of your client being OK with relying on third-party servers. If that’s the case, you can use Axure Share. From within Axure, you can directly publish your prototype and enable the Discussion feature which provides a chat option embedded into the prototype. The Discussion feature feels a bit clumsy and is not as elaborate as in other tools, but in some cases better than email ping-pong. Additionally, Axure Share provides custom domains and branding for your shared prototypes. If you opt for self-hosting your prototype, just upload the HTML files Axure generates. For the Discussion feature you still need to use Axure Share though.
Another interesting approach is to use a dedicated feedback tool with your Axure prototypes. With tools like BugHerd you paste some lines of code in your prototype and get a more visual way to add comments.