Archive for the ‘Web Design’ Category

The use of wireframes is a great way to create a mockup of the website you are designing or as you add new functionality to your existing site. The mockup can then be used to give your users a way to envision what the site might look like in order to give you feedback. Does it meet their needs? Does it do more than they need? Do they find it over complicated? All good questions to use in getting it right.

One of the more recent articles I could find, Mashable’s July 15, 2010 10 Free Wireframing Tools for Designers lists, you guessed it, free tools. I must say first that I haven’t used any of these tools.  I include the article as it provides both background to wireframing and examples of tools to use without spending money.

My wireframing tool of choice is Balsamiq Mockups. Built on the Adobe Air platform, Balsamiq does have a cost of $79 for a single user and $379 for 5 users (both desktop installations). A cloud based version is also available for team design as well as other apps for integration with 3rd party web apps.  The basic version I use includes mockup components for creating iPhone apps.

The following screen shots should give you an idea of how Balsamiq works:

The first screen shot is of the mockup viewed within the tool.  This is edit mode.  You can see some of the various components that can be used to mockup a web page across the top of the page.  I like the ease of use – a drag and drop feature that allows for the addition of any component as I work.  I also like the notes feature that allows me to provide information to team members or users I can’t meet with.

Balsamiq mockup tool

Click on image for larger view

The second screen shot is the same mockup but viewed in full screen – great for showing the mockup to users.  It includes a pointer (the blue) arrow that can be used to draw attention to a feature.

Balsamiq mockup full screen

Click on image for larger view

As the author of the article mentioned above states:

Wireframing is a crucial step in web design and development as it allows for rapid prototyping and helps to pinpoint potential problems early in the process. It can be invaluable to have a visual representation of content, hierarchy and layout.

Sounds like a process worth its weight in gold.  See 18 Wireframing, Mockup, and Prototyping Tools to Plan Design for more suggestions of these web site tools and/or Free Wireframing or UI Design Kits for mocking up mobile applications.

Do you use a wireframe tool that you find useful and would recommend?


The folks at Bennett Jones have won another intranet award, this time from the Nielsen Norman Group (whose business focus is usability) in their report, Intranet Design Annual 2011: Year’s 10 Best Intranets.  In the announcement, Jakob Nielson referred to Bennett Jones while talking about knowledge sharing:

Offering repositories for case studies, samples, and other existing information can help people with similar problems avoid having to start building their solutions from scratch. Examples range from Habitat for Humanity’s fundraising templates to Bennett Jones’ Share Your Work widget. Sometimes, knowledge sharing can be as simple as a Q&A tool to connect employees with questions to colleagues with answers.

He also noted that,  “Knowledge management progressed from cliché to reality, based on simpler and thus more-used features” along with a description of the Bennett Jones intranet,  “The Bennett Jones intranet team built, through strong planning, user research, and smart, thoughtful design, not just a new intranet, but also a mission critical knowledge management work tool.”

Congratulations to Brian Bawden,  National Director of Knowledge Management at Bennett Jones LLP and  Akiva Bernstein, CEO of V51, the SharePoint consulting firm that worked with Bennett Jones to build their intranet.  Keep those awards coming!

This is Part 9 of the “What Functionality and Content Should I Add to My Intranet” series.  To view previous parts of the series, click on Series link listed under pages on the right or use the link in the first sentence.

While we will still have print resources (books, etc.) around for some time, the fact is that, more and more, lawyers are doing the majority of their research online.  It’s all free on the web, right?  Wrong.  To create this powerful library, requires more than just listing some links to free resources.

 As the use of electronic resources has grown, so has the desire and need  to organize them by librarians or information specialists in law firms.   In fact, in many firms, the library’s research pages were the first intranet pages developed at the firm.   You may be familiar with the various levels of these sites/pages. 

Level One:  A page with a list of free resources and the electronic resources/online services the firm subscribes to organized by practice group.  The list generally noted the free vs fee based resources and often included brief descriptions of what the resource could do.  It may be a collapsible list or one that was distributed across pages.  This type of list was useful at the beginning of using electronic resources but quickly lost its value.  The time it took to keep the lists updated, especially if the same resources was listed within more than one group page,  made it prohibitive to maintain.  Outdated sources/links meant the researchers had to find their own way to the resources.

Level Two: At some point, it became obvious to most that trying to manage the free resources was endless.  While the library staff continued to keep lists of these resources, most of the work was dedicated to creating a page that focused on the fee-based services with the most valuable free resources being used.  This focus helped to define the functionality of the pages and serve as a starting point.  The pages also had access to an “Ask a Librarian” form for submitting requests along with the ability to search the library’s online catalog of books, journals, etc.  It was a step forward but was generally maintained using static HTML and was difficult to keep current.

Level Two.Five:  An intermediary step and one that needed to be done for step three, content was being delivered to the desktop dynamically from an in-house database at many firms.  This provides a one to many approach where a resource may be in the database one time but pointers to the practice groups help define which of the research pages for the practice groups have the resource included.  This definitely made update easier.

Level Three:  Fast Forward to today where you’ll find some firms starting to provide personalized access to electronic resources and online services via a portal.  This can be done by identifying each user by who they are with their network userids.  Depending on the information stored in active directory or some other database used for access to the research portal, they could also be identified by title, group, area, dept, office, etc.   Whatever works to provide that personalized access.    This is the future of providing access to information.  Once you have the system in place, if designed well, it should be easy to maintain. 

SharePoint could be used for this by creating a list or Access database that would have the resources along with the permissions based on  the SharePoint user accessing the portal.  Ideally, the integration of portal to content should be done using the firm’s library system.  If that system is supported by a SQL database, SharePoint could be used. 

Many times, libraries will start out using a separate content manager to implement this type of portal.  What they may not realize at the time is the amount of support that will be needed to maintain both the library system and that separate database.  In the long run, it makes sense to do the work to integrate with the system that you will be using to manage the resources including subscription payments and contract management.

I won’t go into any more detail but have some wire frames that demonstrate both the Level Two and Level Three portals/pages.

 Level Two Portal – Click on image to enlarge it for viewing.

 Level Three Portal – Click on image to enlarge it for viewing.

These wire frames were created using a nifty tool, Balsamiq Mockups.  An inexpensive Adobe Air application, it lets you drag and drop elements that make up a website.  You can use it for creating  wire frames for mobile apps as well.

As a director of information resources at a law firm, I led a team to develop a Level three portal back in 2002 that won the SLA Innovations in Technology award in 2003.  At the time, it didn’t seem what we were doing was out of the ordinary but I’ve since learned it was.  What shocks me today is that very few firms have put something like this in place since.  The shock comes from knowing how much more productive researchers are when they have a good access point. 

If you have been waiting for a commercial product to come on the market to provide this functionality, you might be interested in looking at AgentLegal (full disclosure – they are a partner of NPCI).  I’m not aware of any product like it.     In addition to providing personalized access to resources, the portal version of the product also provides a foldering sytem for organizing and sharing research results.  Useful for the individual user but also as a tool to be used to create team folders by client, matter, legal topic, etc.  Contact us for more information at

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