Grappling with the perennial question: am I using the right tool for UX design?

I’ve been using Balsamiq
for years, gets me some pretty quick “sketchy” wireframes worked out without
fussing too much over the pixel-ish details, and is usually enough for my very
tolerant developers to coalesce around the ideas I’m otherwise hand-waving too
much about.  Great for communicating “what
controls will go where”, but not terribly great at communicating layout [the
controls can only be manipulated a little], and always feels a bit limited in
terms of what kinds of controls I can bring to bear.
Lately I’ve been struggling in certain scenarios with coming
up with something more flexible – and while I can’t quite put my finger on what’s
missing, I *do* know that I’ve been avoiding opening up Balsamiq more
often and going back to my pen-and-paper notebook for sketching out simple
Maybe I’m actually trying to design flows, not “pages” [i.e.
prototypes not just wireframes], so maybe it’s not just about “what goes where
on the page” but “how does a user intercept functionality”.
Regardless, every time I see another discussion of “wireframing”, “mocking” and 
“prototyping” tools {as much as those are ill-defined – or at least
not-terribly-precisely-used – terms}, I end up looking for something that would
fill this mysterious void.  Here’s what’s
been on my radar lately:
  • The celebration of pen & paper: e.g. Shades of
    Grey: Thoughts on Sketching
  • Axure: saw this
    demo’d at PDX-UX user group a couple of months ago.
      Wonderfully productive, near-code (without
    the code-construction overhead) to demonstrate not just a static page, but also
    to richly illustrate the user interactions in a way that drives real
    conversation with stakeholders about what’s working and what’s missing.
      Has a striking similarity to Visio for how to
    build the work product in this tool.
    Requires customization to get the full value for your money.  Great bang for your buck when pre-testing
    usability before ‘coding’.
  • OmniGraffle: so very
    different from Axure – saw this demo’d next to Axure at the PDX-UX group.
      Orientation to line drawing (freehand on the
    iPad), rather than a set of pre-canned shapes.
    Great for people that do their wireframes in Illustrator – much faster.
  • Invision:
    import your own graphics from other tools, wire them together with
    interactions, and share the crap out of them.
    Online, reasonable monthly rates. 
  • UXPin: similar plans to
      Killer value prop for a guy
    like me who still doodles on paper: “You can now literally put your design
    ideas from paper into the App and continue your work. Amazingly simple.”
  • Mockflow:
    very ‘sketchy’, as much or moreso than Balsamiq.
      No major visible differences at a 2-minute
  • Visio: hardly “sexy” but not uncommon in these
      Excels (!) at Interaction
    Design diagramming, which is complementary to the topic at hand.
  • Microsoft Expression Studio: I am conflicted on
      I’ve used a lot of the related MS
    tools (FrontPage, Visual Studio, SharePoint Designer, Visio) for related tasks,
    but I can’t get my head out of the notion that Expression tries to do
    everything (design, workflow, code, UI) and can’t help [given Microsoft’s poor
    but consistent track record] but do everything *
    almost* well.

And here’s a couple
of the discussions
on this topic that I most recently butted up against.  The quora discussion makes a solid case for
high-fidelity prototypes, the different approaches used with different audiences,
and the real difference between prototyping and wireframing.  To wit:
Wireframes are static – you will fill in the
interactions implicit between these static pictures.
Prototypes should be dynamic – explicitly illustrating
as much of the *interaction* as possible – as much attention to the
interactions as the wireframes.
I like to think of prototypes as “storyboarding” like directors
& DP’s do for movies, and wireframes as “photos” snapped with varying
lenses on the camera.
Now for the $64K question: What do you use and why?

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