Design tools are the foundation of a designer’s craft. They are the tools designers use to bring their creativity and ideas to life. Choosing the right tools can significantly impact a designer’s ability to unleash their full potential.
With so many design tools on the market, it isn’t easy to know which ones to choose. From wireframing and prototyping tools to UI design tools, digital whiteboard tools, and design handoff tools, this article explores five great tools that will help designers create impactful user experiences in 2023.
Launched in 2016, Figma revolutionized the world of design tools by introducing a cloud-based platform for creating outstanding designs. It transformed the traditional, siloed desktop applications that required downloads, installs, and constant updates, to an online tool that saves designs in the cloud and can be shared via links. This has greatly simplified collaboration, prototyping, and developer handoff.
In a 2022 survey by UXness, 68% of respondents chose Figma as their top choice for wireframing and prototyping tools. The popularity and success of Figma caught the attention of Adobe, who acquired Figma in 2022 in their largest acquisition to date.
Figma stands out for the many features that make it an ideal choice for designers:
- Being a cloud-based web application that can run on any operating system with a web browser, it enables seamless teamwork and collaboration across different devices and platforms.
- It simplifies the design process by eliminating the need for multiple tools for wireframing, prototyping, or reviewing. Everything can be done from one place by sharing just a link.
- Iterations are easy and less time-consuming as feedback can be given directly on the Figma file through comments. With one URL acting as the single source of truth, exchanging hundreds of files is unnecessary.
2. Adobe XD
Adobe XD is a powerful user interface and prototyping tool released in 2015 as a response to the growing popularity of Sketch, a UI/UX vector editor. Adobe XD quickly gained acceptance among designers due to its unique features that were either difficult to use or not available in other Adobe applications like Illustrator or Photoshop.
With Adobe XD, designers can easily design and prototype user interfaces for web and mobile applications. They can create wireframes, mockups, and interactive prototypes of the software, design, and edit graphics, and share their work for collaboration and feedback.
Additionally, Adobe XD has a feature that allows designers to share assets and artboards with other Adobe apps such as Illustrator, Photoshop, and After Effects, making it a versatile and convenient tool.
The focus on user experience in Adobe XD has made it a favorite tool among the design community. Some of its unique features include:
- A repeat grid feature that enables designers to quickly replicate items such as a set of buttons, reducing manual effort and saving time.
- The auto-animate feature allows designers to create animations between artboards with just a few clicks, eliminating the need for coding.
- Voice prototyping feature that lets designers create interactions using voice commands, making the design process more intuitive.
- Support for augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) user experiences, allowing designers to create immersive prototypes and test them in a 3D environment.
Overall, Adobe XD is a powerful and versatile tool that has become a favorite among designers; it has many unique features that can make the design process much faster and easier, it also has a lot of possibilities to share and collaborate with other Adobe apps.
Released in 2010, Sketch quickly established itself as a popular design tool, offering a simpler and more efficient alternative to vector-based tools like Adobe Illustrator. It uses a single-page document model, as opposed to multiple artboards in Illustrator.
Built specifically for macOS, Sketch is renowned for its icon and graphic design capabilities. It has a variety of plugins and integrations that make it compatible with other tools like InVision and Zeplin. Many big companies such as Google, Facebook, IBM, Shopify, Twitter, and Uber use Sketch.
One of the key features of Sketch is its support for creating responsive designs. This allows designers to create layouts that are adaptable to varying screen sizes using Artboards. These design elements can be resized and rearranged, and they will adjust accordingly within the Artboards.
Sketch also offers a variety of other useful features for UI design, such as support for nested symbols, shared styles, and automatic layout alignment.
Here are some of the main features of Sketch:
- A wide range of Sketch plugins can be installed to improve functionality and automate certain tasks. These plugins are regularly released and updated to simplify design processes.
- The Infinite Canvas feature allows designers to create and switch designs between flexible Artboards. Artboard presets help to organize the work with predetermined dimensions.
- Various export options allow UI/UX designers to collaborate with other designers using Sketch Cloud.
- Designers can zoom vector images to the pixel level with Sketch. The designs can then be aligned with Snapping or Smart Guides features. Additionally, the Snapping feature can be used to fix broken pixels.
Sketch is a powerful and efficient tool that offers many features for UI design, is easy to use, and has many possibilities for collaboration and integration with other tools. It’s a great tool for graphic and icon design, and a perfect alternative to Adobe Illustrator.
4. Axure RP
Axure is a widely-used prototyping tool with a large and active user community. First released in 2008, the tool has continuously evolved and is now at version 10. It is compatible with both Windows and Mac.
UX and UI designers use Axure to create wireframes, mockups, and interactive prototypes for websites and apps and generate documentation for development teams.
Axure is one of the most popular wireframe prototyping tools on the market and has been used for prototyping websites and apps for some of the world’s most recognizable brands, such as Google, Adobe, and Netflix. It offers a “Team” edition allowing centralized libraries, project and team management features, and version control.
Some of the unique features of Axure include:
- Team Collaboration: The collaboration tools such as team project, commenting, and sharing capabilities allow designers and developers to work together on a project in real time.
- Dynamic content and conditional logic: The tool can be used to create dynamic content and use conditional logic to change the functionality of a prototype based on user interactions.
- Widget libraries: There is a wide range of built-in UI widgets, such as buttons, forms, and menus, as well as a library of customizable UI elements that can be used to create wireframes and prototypes.
- Version control: Axure has an internal version control system to keep track of the different versions of the wireframes and prototypes.
In summary, Axure is a feature-rich prototyping tool that offers a lot of possibilities for collaboration and team management; it’s widely used in the market, and it’s compatible with Windows and Mac.
The tool is perfect for creating wireframes, mockups, and interactive prototypes; it also offers many features to generate documentation for development teams.
Balsamiq is a wireframing tool created as a personal project by Peldi Guilizzoni to create mockups easily and quickly for his work. The tool’s name, Balsamiq, is derived from the Italian word “balsamico”, which means “remedy” in English, aligning with the tool’s goal.
Balsamiq’s unique interface mimics the look and feel of hand-drawn sketches, setting it apart from other wireframing tools and making it easy to convey ideas casually. It has a very active user community and a user-friendly forum to share ideas and ask for community support.
The simplicity of the tool’s interface has received many positive reviews, especially from beginner designers. The UI design tool emphasizes rapid wireframing and has some useful features such as:
- Low-fidelity wireframes: The design elements of Balsamiq are intentionally basic and sketch-like, encouraging designers to focus on the structure and layout of interfaces rather than getting caught up in details.
- Drag-and-drop interface: Balsamiq uses a simple drag-and-drop interface to create wireframes quickly.
- Library of pre-built UI elements: Balsamiq has a library of pre-built interface elements, such as buttons, text boxes, and form fields, which can be added to wireframes with a single click.
- Sketching feature: The sketching feature of the tool can be used to draw UI elements freehand on the canvas, giving more customization to the wireframe.
In summary, Balsamiq is a wireframe tool that was created as a personal project; its unique interface mimics the look and feel of hand-drawn sketches, making it easy to convey ideas.
It’s simple and user-friendly, perfect for beginner designers, and has many useful features such as low-fidelity wireframes, drag-and-drop interface, pre-built UI elements, and sketching features.
In 2022, the design industry saw many tools and technologies that aimed to make design more seamless and efficient. Among them, Figma, Adobe XD, Sketch, Axure RP, and Balsamiq stood out as the most popular and widely used tools among designers.
However, as the industry continues to evolve, new tools and technologies will emerge.
The tools discussed here constantly evolve to meet users’ needs. Therefore, choosing the right one depends on:
- The design that needs to be achieved
- The usefulness of the tool
- The ease of sharing the design with team members
- The seamless integration of the tool with existing devices
In other words, the choice of design tool should be based on the specific design needs, the features and capabilities of the tool, the ease of collaboration and sharing, and the compatibility with other tools or devices.