InVision, an NYC-based startup looking to help designers make their visions an accurate, interactive facsimile of the finished product before a single line of code is written, today announced a seed round of $1.5 million from investment firm FirstMark Capital. InVision already has an impressive customer list which includes Dell, Zappos, and Google to name just a few.
InVision’s web-based prototyping tool is unique in that it helps designers create a mock-up of their vision (for either the web or mobile devices) that not only mimics the final product aesthetically, but also functionally; it outputs clickable wireframes or functional prototypes that allow users to either demo how the product will work without worrying too much about visuals, or present essentially a feature-complete version of the site or app complete with final art. Finally, the whole thing can be done quickly and easily via the web, and easily shared with stakeholders. Compared to other tools like Balsamiq and Handcraft, it requires no coding knowledge and also allows for designers to have much more early-stage input.
“Design isn’t about picking from a library of pre-fixed widgets and controls and things of that nature,” InVision co-founder and CEO Clark Valberg told us in an interview. “For designers, the question is how do I take whatever the business problem is, whatever solution I think might be appropriate, that business problem and the solution all get synthesized in some kind of pattern. It’s the uniqueness and the effectiveness of that pattern that determine the success of the design.” Valberg says that other products on the market don’t allow people to effectively reverse engineer experiences they find on the web that are best able to accomplish that success. InVision, with its focus on giving designers a free hand, is uniquely equipped to provide that, Valberg believes.
An area where InVision provides some of the most value is among startups, Valberg noted. “I’ve had situations where people were taking prototypes [made with InVision] and angels and things like that, and getting investments based purely on prototypes,” Valberg said. “Someone literally closed an investment of around $500K based solely on a question of ‘How long will it take to deploy this and start taking users?'” In other words, InVision allows startup founders to reframe the discussion of development; they can communicate a complete end-stage vision up front, and technical details become a question purely of logistics.
Another benefit is that when investors want to have input on the technical side, it’s easier to accomodate them. “How much gamification thinking can you put into your product when you’re 15 layers of code deep?” he offered as an example. “A product that has code in it is like a cruise ship – it’s much harder to change direction. The less you think about code, the more creative the whole process becomes… You can design a version that looks like version five, before you’ve written a line of code for version one.”
So far, the market for prototyping apps doesn’t have a clear leader. There are a lot of options out there, and each has advantages and downsides, but few stand out and offer access to people who don’t necessarily have any technical know-how. InVision’s early success, including its client list, deep library of customer testimonials, and this funding round, suggest it could be the one to watch in terms of pulling away from the pack.