UX and UI design tools are evolving fast.
From doing early whiteboard exercises to working on the finished product, each stage of the design and product development process is now helped by a whole range of tools. The usability and accessibility of these tools have never been higher, and it’s making product development easier and more powerful for everyone.
From day-one start-ups to huge enterprises, product development is a process that’s essential to get right. That means it’s also essential to be using the right tools for the job.
Why do you need a UX/UI design tool?
There are a number of types of products that fall under the categories of “user interface design tools (UI)” and “user experience design tools (UX)”, and very often products will fit in both. Though, all of them work towards the same goal: helping designers to make incredible digital apps. The tools in this list all fit under this description, though they excel at different aspects of the product design process:
- User testing
- Visual design
It’s important to bear in mind the difference between UI and UX when assessing what tools you’ll need. Jonathan Widawski, CEO at Maze defines UX design as “understanding the overall journey of your users and turning it into a product,” while UI design is *“about using typography, images, and other visual design elements to turn a basic interface into something digestible and usable.” *
To put the UI/UX distinction in very simple words, UX design is about creating digital products that are intuitive and function well, while the aim of UI design is about making the product aesthetically pleasing.
How do I choose the right UX/UI design tool?
There’s no single UX/UI design tool that perfectly fulfills the needs of all designers. That’s why it’s important for designers to reflect on what they need, and also to do their own research on existing options.
While narrowing down the options, bear the following questions in mind:
- How useful is this tool?
- How usable is it, and how quickly can I start using it well?
- Is this an affordable option for our company?
- How does this tool enable collaboration with other team members?
- How well does it integrate with other UX/UI design tools?
- What operating systems can the tool run on?
While choosing your user interface design tool, it’s important to keep essential UX design principles in mind, which are about making products that are informed by research and user feedback, are designed with empathy, and are accessible for everyone.
Maze is a powerful rapid testing platform that allows designers to run in-depth tests with or without prototypes, and to test and validate ideas, concepts, or copy.
The range of testing available is hugely valuable to designers working in every stage of the process. Deep user insights can be garnered from usability tests with open-ended follow-up questions, which brings designers and real users more closely aligned than ever. Meanwhile, actionable quantitative metrics from A/B tests, success rates, misclick rates, and page heatmaps can directly inform designers on a direction to take.
Maze offers broad integration options, tying in third-party prototyping and wireframing tools like Figma, Adobe XD, InVision, Marvel, and Sketch. Pairing Maze’s testing features with these UI design tools means that good design decisions are constantly being justified, while poor ideas are scrapped early on.
The software continues to be useful even before or after designers move from the prototype stage to creating the actual product. Running research surveys and gathering user feedback ensures that the product never strays too far from what users want or expect. Running on assumptions is never a good idea—as Gabriel Kirmaier of UX Bites says, "When we learn from the user, we make better products."
Maze works on: Browsers
Pricing: Maze is free for individual projects, while paid plans are available at $25 per user/month
Sketch started out as purely a visual design tool for web-based products and is now one of the most popular design tools around. The software is another favorite with UI designers getting started with UX design, and it’s easy to see why—considering its intuitive interface. Its ability to create beautiful interfaces makes it a solid competitor to Figma for product design.
Since its beginnings, it has now started to add more functionality, including real-time collaboration features and a prototyping tool, and also integrates smoothly with third-party plug-ins.
While it dominates the design world on macOS, it’s only available on that one operating system—so Linux and Windows users will have to look elsewhere.
Sketch works on: macOS
Pricing: $9 per user/month
XD is Adobe's UI design software, focused on creating product prototypes, mobile apps, and websites. It provides designers with the tools they need to create fully-fledged prototypes, including workflows, element creation, animated transitions, other dynamic elements, and more.
A benefit of using a tool from a suite as impressive as Adobe's is that they, unsurprisingly, integrate perfectly with each other. And while tools like Photoshop, in particular, do reach the high end of pricing, larger companies will find the Creative Cloud package enticing, since many products are made available together, such as Illustrator and InDesign.
Adobe XD works on: Windows and macOS
Pricing: A free plan is available for single documents, with $9.99/month as starting plan price.
Balsamiq has been an industry-leading wireframing tool for some time now, and it’s easy to see why. The hand-drawn design forces UX/UI designers to keep their wireframes super low-fidelity. This allows them to focus entirely on functionality and user flow while keeping visual aspects to a minimum.
This design tool is known as one of the easiest to start using, even for a UI designer who doesn’t have much technical knowledge. It’s simple enough to allow users to create mockups quickly while providing enough icons and tools for designers to put their ideas onto the page without compromising. Its affordable price point also makes Balsamiq a favorite for small teams and companies just getting off the ground.
Balsamiq works on: Browser, macOS, and Windows
Pricing: Plans start at $9/month
Figma is one of the most popular design tools around. Featuring a cloud-based design tool, it’s used for designing and building prototypes with gorgeous design features. The software is also applicable for creating wireframes and other deliverables like mood boards. The layout is huge, making it possible to have multiple iterations placed on the same project and easily compare between designs.
One of Figma’s big pluses is its collaborative features, which allows multiple users to make changes to a design simultaneously, without the need to download files locally. Its browser functionality means anyone can use Figma on different operating systems. Finally, Figma integrates smoothly with tools like Maze, Zeplin, and Confluence, making Figma a great option for everything design-related.
Figma works on: Browser, macOS, and Windows
Pricing: Free plan available for up to 3 projects, paid plan starts from $12 per editor/month
InVision is a versatile design tool that has a strong focus on enabling a top user experience. Using Invision, a UX/UI designer can go from outlining the user journey to collaborating on early design, to wireframes and prototypes, and finally to its design handoff features. Having a single platform that takes users from early brainstorms to development is exceptionally useful.
Of all the above features, InVision’s prototyping tool leads the way. Users can create interactive prototypes, which automatically adjust according to the device and orientation, along with their colleagues. Alongside this is InVision Studio—the new standalone digital design and UX tool. InVision Studio offers an impressive suite of features, such as a vector-drawing tool, interactive designs, and built-in animations.
InVision works on: macOS, and Windows
Pricing: Free for up to 3 documents, paid plans start at $7.95 per user/month
Marvel is an all-in-one design tool that offers tools for design and wireframing, through the prototyping to user testing stages. The software is incredibly easy to use, making it perfect for quickly generating prototypes and designing simple and effective user interfaces.
While Marvel has tools for each stage of the design process, its main focus is on prototyping. Users can implement gestures, import designs, add screen elements, and do everything else they need to create functioning prototypes at speed. While not as sophisticated as other tools on this list, it’s a top choice for new designers and developers looking for a tool that can get them up and running quickly.
Marvel works on: Browser, iOS, and Android apps
Pricing: Free plan available for a single user and project, Pro plan comes in at €9/month
Axure provides a platform for creating wireframes and lo-fi prototypes which is easy to use but also doesn’t compromise on function. The software allows users to quickly create prototypes with data-driven interactions without having to use any code at all.
Axure makes it particularly easy to add features that can otherwise take some time to set up, such as dynamic panels, animations, and graphic interactions. And, as with others in this list, Axure allows multiple designers to work concurrently on a single project file. The end result is the rapid production of well-functioning prototypes, though its high-end pricing makes it more appealing to enterprises.
Axure works on: Windows and macOS
Pricing: Starting plan is $25 per user/month
Framer, formerly known as Framer X, is a fantastic tool for working on screen design and creating high-fidelity prototypes. Framer is known for having somewhat of a learning curve by requiring a basic level of CSS and HTML code knowledge for aspects like interactions and animations. However, final prototypes made with Framer are about as close to a final product that a prototype can get.
While the prototyping tool is Framer’s core feature, it has also been developing a range of other tools, including wireframing, and visual design. It’s even developed some basic tools for user testing, which makes Framer a useful all-in-one tool at a mid-range price.
Framer works on: Browser (free) and macOS (Pro)
Pricing: Free for up to 3 projects, then $19 per editor/month for Pro plan
UXPin offers tools for product designers to take their creations from start to finish—with a big focus on the finish. Its prototypes are the most complex and “final” on this list, resulting in products that are within a whisker of a final functioning product.
What’s more is that this end result can be achieved without designers needing to know how to code, even when interactions, animations, and more are implemented. The drag-and-drop functionality makes the tool super easy to use, even when making high-fidelity prototypes.
Users can import their designs from other tools and integrate them smoothly. So, layers aren’t lost when adding user functionalities to static images.
UXPin works on: macOS, Windows, and browsers
Pricing: Basic plan starts at $19 per editor/month
FlowMapp offers a range of tools built to help with UX/UI design, as well as tools for communication, collaboration, and content planning. Focusing on the UX tools, FlowMapp helps to plan the UI and UX of apps, digital products, and websites with their flowchart tool and even offers user research functionalities.
The sitemap tool is super easy to use, letting users collaborate and create individual pages and plan the content and unique page goal for each of them.
Finally, FlowMapp’s service branches out into other useful services, such as their Personas feature which allows users to build buyer personas. This makes FlowMapp a solid option for small teams and does help to keep the teams on the same page, potentially improving user experience.
Flowmapp works on: Browsers
Pricing: Pro accounts $15/month, with a basic free plan available
Origami Studio is a tool originally built to be used by Facebook’s designers, now made available for free for everyone. It offers a more complex prototyping tool than others on this list, giving designers the tools needed to create more hi-fi prototypes.
The tool’s patch editor is used to build the logic behind prototypes, with a well-stocked library of existing patches to be used. This leads to a focus on individual pages, allowing users to depict exactly how the page is intended to work. There’s a bit of a learning curve, especially for new designers, since Origami is intended to help designers create hi-fi prototypes.
Origami Studio works on: macOS, Android, and iOS devices
Pricing: Origami Studio is entirely free
Proto.io is another quality service that enables UX/UI designers to create high-functioning prototypes while remaining fairly friendly to beginners. This combination is not easy to pull off, but Proto.io does it brilliantly, creating final products that work and feel like a finished product.
It’s particularly popular with students due to its smooth learning curve, while also providing a wide array of tools to start putting together interactions within the prototype. With Proto.io, designers can plan, create, and even test hi-fi prototypes, while also allowing team collaboration throughout the process.
Proto.io works on: Browsers
Pricing: Freelancer account starts at $24/month