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What are some of the good tools for UX design

Man is a tool-using animal. Without tools he’s nothing, with tools he is all. – Thomas Carlyle

Many UX tools have come and gone.  Many others have evolved and continue to build on that.  Every UX researcher and designer has their favorite tools.  The new generation of tools support remote collaboration, designing in the browser, ability to access designs anywhere any time across any platform, built-in asset libraries and more.  UX Design is a practice where tools and frameworks shape your ideas into reality. Having said that, asking the right question is important.  Asking ‘what UX tool should you use’ will box you into particular set of tools. Instead, ‘what design activity you need to perform’ is a better question. 

Ask meaningful questions
Image Credit: azquotes.com

At the end of the day, you should not be confined to only the tools.  Improving your problem solving ability using design thinking should be the primary focus.  Tools are only an enabler to your design sensibility. This is a message I share with my students in the courses I teach. Read more about how do you solve the most pressing problems for your customers

I discuss four aspects in this article –

  1. What are some of the free to use UX tools
  2. What are the some of the paid UX tools
  3. How to learn UX tools
  4. How to choose the right UX tools

I’ll be updating this article whenever I come across new UX tools that I think will help you in becoming a better researcher and designer. Do subscribe to my blog to get automatic updates.

What are some of the free to use tools for UX design

Many free to use tools are available for most stages of the design thinking process. These tools are good for students and beginner level UX professionals.  Get hands-on with the tool, experiment with it, learn from the experimentation – an easy way to choose the right tool.

ActivityTools
BrainstormingGoogle Documents
User FlowsWireflow, Draw.io
UI Designframe box, iPhone mockup
PrototypingOrigami Studio, InVision
Design HandoffFigma (free plan), InVision (free plan)
Design SystemsInVision DSM (free plan)
User TestingZoom
VersioningGitHub

Read more about ideation including brainstorming.

Read more about how rapid prototyping helps save time, cost, effort.

What are some of the paid tools for UX design

Many paid tools are available for every stage of the design thinking process. Most paid tools let you try them out for free.  The trials are time and feature limited.  Here’s a wonderful compilation of tools that the industry has used in 2020. This is a must read for anyone interested in learning more about the tools of the trade.

The rise of remote work has pushed the adoption of tools like Miro for brainstorming, Figma for user flows, Maze and Lookback for user testing.  Miro has seen massive growth in 2020 (560%, 5% to 33% adoption by survey respondents).  Figma is popular because it supports designing in the browser and enables collaboration.  The table below summarizes the results of 2020 Design Tools Survey done by uxtools.co.

ActivityMost Rated PrimaryMost Rated Secondary
BrainstormingWhimsicalMiro
User FlowsWhimsicalOverflow.io
UI DesignFigmaAffinity Designer
PrototypingWebflowProtoPie
HandoffZeplinFigma
Design SystemsFigmazeroheight
User TestingMazeLookback
VersioningGitHubBitbucket

If you are looking for a minimal set of tools for your design process, consider the following.   Figma is rated 4 or higher across most design activities. 

ActivityTool
BrainstormingFigma
User FlowsFigma
UI DesignFigma
PrototypingFigma
Design HandoffFigma
Design SystemsFigma
User TestingMaze
VersioningGitHub

As you know, I do not earn anything from these recommendations, nor do I have affiliation with these companies.  I’ve tried to be as objective as feasible.

How to learn UX tools

Learning, thinking, and writing should not be about accumulating knowledge, but about becoming a different person —Sönke Ahrens

The right learning network brings the right knowledge when you need it.  Steve Jobs cultivated a learning network that was a major contributor to his massive success. By plugging into the right learning network, you harness the knowledge of other accelerated learners.  Strategy evolves as lessons are learned.  A good strategy might be executing a suboptimal plan at a fast pace.  Move faster to learn faster.  Learning is a marathon and perfection is a weighted vest. 

There are 3 ways to learn any tool –

  1. Learn from free tutorials provided by the toolmakers
  2. Learn by using the tool
  3. Learn from external resources and courses

Generally, learning from free tutorials and practicing by using the tools would suffice.  Sometimes learning from external courses and resources may help, especially when working with advanced tools.  For example, you may learn from video tutorials on YouTube.

Learn by using the tool

Design each part of your learning around practicing.  Practicing by using the tools is important.  Practicing with intent sticks!  Make practicing with intent a primary value.  First, think about what you’re doing.  Then, think about how to do it.   Practicing with intent ensures you’re using the tool in a realistic setting.  Build solutions that work for your users. Read more about how to measure quality of user experience and goals of product.

Doers need to think, and thinkers need to do – Matt Purcell
Doers need to think, and thinkers need to do – Matt Purcell

Image Credit: cartoonstock

What has most value

It is essential to have good tools, but it is also essential that the tools be used in the right way – Wallace D Wattles

Choosing the right UX tools is an important decision.  If you choose the wrong one, the impact you make through your design work will suffer.  Because you have to show your design deliverables to stakeholders regularly.  I find 6 key criteria that matter when choosing the right UX tool.

CriteriaDescription
UsefulnessDoes the tool solve your problem ?  How good is the solution ?
Learning curveIs the learning curve steep ?
Ease of useIs the tool easy-to-use on a day-to-day basis ?
Ease of collaborationDoes the tool make it easy to share your work with others ?
Ease of integrationDoes the tool integrate easily with other tools that you use or planning to use ? Does it make the handoff between design phases easy ?
CostHow expensive is the license ?

If a tool exceeds expectations in all 6 criteria – congratulations, never let it go!

I’ll be updating this article whenever I come across new UX tools that I think will help you in becoming a better researcher and designer. Do subscribe to my blog to get automatic updates.

What are your favorite tools that you have been using ?

Do share in the comments!

Like this article ?  How about giving it a like and share ?  Thank you!

By Ramesh Chandak

Principal Content Developer & Technical Program Manager

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