Ottawa-based Scratchpad launched its design prototyping service in private beta this week to let users collect their favourite design elements from around the web, and use them to mock up their own designs. The company hopes to take some of the guesswork out of a web designer’s job when a client approaches them with only a mental concept but can’t figure out how to convey what they actually want.
The idea for the company came about when founder and CEO Andrew Draper, whose previous ventures include Snapable and Manpacks, was chatting with a non-designer friend who expressed his frustration at how he knew what he wanted his design to look like, but couldn’t translate it onto paper. “He was kind of explaining a problem and I kind of ran with it and built it out. And as we were going through the motions it became clear that there was something here, early feedback has been kind of overwhelming that this is something people have been wanting and really looking forward to,” Draper said in an interview.
Scratchpad users install a bookmarklet that lets them clip their favorite design elements on any website, from logos to menus or any other visual feature. Users click and drag over a portion of any website and can group those elements into categories like buttons, calls to action, header or footer. These clippings are saved to Scratchpad, and can then be used to build a mockup or prototype a website design. For non-designers, it offers a platform to collect a variety of elements they want for their own website and quickly create something to show to designers to give them a starting point for what they want the end product to look like.
The service is also targeted at designers, who can build it into their creative process when they’re looking for ideas or want to test out a few design concepts and pitch them to clients before creating something a little more elaborate on Photoshop. Scratchpad allows them to create mood boards where they can put together fake layouts with a variety of colours, typefaces and other elements to bring to clients to get their initial buy-in before going further into the process.
“I’ve been a designer for a number of years and have a very similar process in that I often screenshot things I like and collect folders on my hard drive. And when I start a new design, I’ll go looking through them and grab a couple dozen pieces and start throwing them together and then customize it from there based on stuff I like. So it was a real easy extension to ‘what if I could do this all in one place,’” Draper added. “Not everyone has Photoshop, not everyone wants to generate screenshot after screenshot.”
The company will offer free accounts, with subscription plans available based on the number of mockups users create. There are other rapid prototyping and wire-framing services out there, including the likes of Rome-based Balsamiq, which simulates a whiteboard drawing experience that users can share, modify and collaborate on with others. Another service that caters specifically to designers and web developers is Easel, which provides an in-browser platform to create mockups and designs. Draper said he views Scratchpad as the first step before a designer or potential designer would use something like Balsamiq.
“There are a number of different clipping services with the scrapbooking concept, the clipping and collecting is similar to Pinterest, and we’re just bringing that into the design niche and making these collections useful from a mockup standpoint.”
Draper does have his eye on mobile devices and tablets down the road, however the big challenge will be the screen size and how that would play out with clipping UI elements. Scratchpad’s platform will likely launch in public beta in the next week, and given that it’s catering to both designers and non-designers, it could be a good way for users to move beyond sketching their idea on a napkin.