The Tools We Use: Mac Vs. PC, Visio Vs. Omnigraffle, Coke Vs. Pepsi, Who Cares?

Disclosure: I’m a Mac user. I’ve been one for over 18 years. But I don’t drink the koolaid.

Every time I change jobs, I usually start doing wireframes in a different application. One place I worked at, their language of choice was .NET; another place, it was Java.

On a message list I subscribe to, someone put across the usual, “We want to make the case to get everyone Macs and convert from Visio to Omnigraffle.” Now, I’m all for feeding the Apple obsession as much as everyone, but the religious wars are over.

Tools, schomools. If it looks like a hammer, use it.

Here’s a few reasons why I think the whole tool argument is pointless:

You say tomato, I say tomato

Most of the applications are close enough to each other in feature sets that it really shouldn’t matter much. Other than a few random features here and there, Visio and Omnigraffle are so close that Visio files import cleanly, and some of the templates each use are identical across platforms down to the annotations.

My clients can’t tell which wireframe or site map came from which program, and I seriously get very few requests for “Ya know, this looks like a Visio file.” They do say, “Nice detail.”

The same arguments go on in software development regarding Java and .NET, yet semantically, they’re almost the same. Most Mac and PC Programs are identical.

Why start a religious war when you don’t have to?

We should be familiar with all the tools

I know, some of us had a career before the web, and mine was print. I used to work in a service bureau, and had to output print files to film (remember printer’s film?). Occasionally, we had to fix something, so that meant I had to have enough familiarity with the programs to use them at a competent level.

Because of this, I’ve probably used over 30 graphic programs to open files, fix files, and design work. Remember Aldus PhotoStyler? CorelDraw? Macromedia Freehand? CricketGraph? I do. and I’ve used everything from Quark Xpress to Adobe InDesign to get concepts across.

Our job is to know software and how to communicate; consequently, we should be able to figure out how to use the programs despite their usability issues.

It’s about getting the idea across, not about the tool

I’ve never had a client say, “You know, Omnigraffle is the best way to do this.” They always were, “We just want the results.” While we all have our favorite tools, it’s not about the tool, it’s the process. If that means jumping between Microsoft Word to write a report to Visio to build a wireframe, that’s what it takes. One of the other IAs I know uses PowerPoint. I would never use it, but she has made it work with tons of clients.

The ideas behind the wireframes are what’s most important: I’ve seen information architects that generated the worst looking wireframes be some of the most effective because they took the time with the client or the developers to talk through the issues.

If it works on butcher paper, and the client is happy, butcher paper it is!

The takeaway — it’s what the team prefers

If you are that much in favor of one platform or program over another, fight for it. If you’re the only person there, you’re going to pick your tools usually.

But if you work on a team, consider how everyone works together before you advocate something. Just because you have a personal preference, someone else might not feel the same.