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Starting Up (Is Hard to Do): Mocking Up Your Idea

People get inspiration from a variety of places. I get ideas while browsing the web, showering in the morning, waking up from a deep sleep and drinking at the bar (I would love to see an infographic on how many ideas were hatched over a brew). You’ve been hit with a flash of genius for a new software application, so now what’s next?

Write it Down

Whether you scratch it out on a piece of paper or put it in you phone with Evernote, be sure to write your idea. If you don’t do it right then and there, life will get in the way and you have the high probability of forgetting that next million-dollar idea. I make sure that I have a notepad and/or a phone right next to my bedside at all times.

There is an added bonus of writing your idea down – it makes it more real. By putting the pen to the paper (or finger to the touchscreen), you take this thing that is living out in the ether of your imagination and make it more tangible.

Mock it Up

There’s a saying that my parents told me growing up, “No telling what might be accomplished if everyone in Texas would stop fixin’ to do something and actually do it.” While this was more directly related to my vocabulary (namely to prevent me from saying “fixin’” quite as often), I think that the advice is relevant to developing an idea.

You can get a better hold on your idea as you start to mock it up. I have found that when my idea is in my head it makes complete sense. However, I struggle to explain some features or transitions as I begin putting pen to paper.

To get an appreciation of this, let’s try to explain Sorry, a board game many have played growing up. Imagine you are transported to an alien planet and have to explain how to play Sorry. Your first priority should be to make a crude drawing of the board and pieces; after all pictures are worth a thousand words.

The same would go for your application. Make a crude drawing to help you with the logic. Create wireframes of the different screens that your user may encounter. You don’t need to hire a graphic artist for this, you can use piece of paper or even the lovable Microsoft Paint. It doesn’t have to be pretty.

There is an application that I use for all my mockups called Balsamiq. Their software has a drag and drop GUI where you can easily place different buttons for both web and mobile development. Balsamiq is incredibly easy to use (there is a video where they mockup the iTunes interface in 5 minutes), and you can give them a test run for free.

Layout Your Logic

Returning to our previous example, now that you have drawn out the game board and pieces for Sorry you should begin putting some logic on how to play the game. Some things to consider could be: how to set up the board, determining who starts, general rules on how to play the game, what happens if players land in the same spot, how to stop playing in the middle of the game, determining if players can tie and how to end the game.

Explaining even this simple game can be quite challenging. Fortunately, you have your drawings of the game board and pieces to help with the explanation. Use your visual mockup in the same way.

As you explain the game, you can use these pictures to compliment your explanation. Give each screen a unique name and provide a path where each button takes you. Put yourself in the shoes of the users and map out a web of where they can go. Where you find the flow getting to complex, simplify it. Where you find dead ends, unblock them or prevent the user from getting there.

Creating both a visual and logical framework for how your application can work will not only help you move from “fixin’ to do” to actually “doing,” but also help you to understand your idea on a much deeper level.

Starting Up (Is Hard to Do) is a weekly series published every Friday on the Rackspace Blog from a guy who is in the trenches of starting up a business while working a day job. Check out Garrett’s previous post that introduced this series.

About the Author

This is a post written and contributed by Garrett Heath.

Garrett Heath is a Racker who works in Rackspace Marketing and has had experience as a technical project manager in the Cloud. He enjoys writing about how the cloud is spurring innovation for startups, small businesses and enterprises. You can read his personal blog for where he likes to eat in San Antonio.


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