As a user experience designer, you are going to be bombarded with a plethora of UX tools to choose from. But the key to successful productivity is to wade through all the wannabes and find the right tools that fit your style of working. Remember, there is no tool that is perfect so let’s take a look at some that might make the cut for you.
There is a very unpopular phrase I heard recently at a design meetup. This 10-year-old design veteran comes up and tells me “If a picture is worth a thousand words, a prototype is worth a thousand meetings”. Words of wisdom indeed. It got me thinking that in an age where testing has become so important, how much do we really pay attention to the tools we are using to prototype? It does not matter if you are carrying out basic tests or super complex ones, the fact remains that the UX tools you use will define the entire working flow of your project.
Why Select a UX Tool?
Traditionally, software developers were given a blueprint of what they had to build. A consultant with a few years of engineering experience under his belt was hired and was expected to build desktop applications. This led to us getting those god-awful and completely avoidable SAP like systems. Thankfully, a lot has changed. Customer demand has led to greater productivity and companies are now finally focussing on how they can integrate great user experiences into profitable business models.
As designers, we are bound to do things that our clients tell us to do and not pay attention to what their customers want. Clients tell me to build them an application that looks great. But they often forget that their customers not only want a great-looking app but they’re also looking for solutions to their existing problems. This is precisely where I step in, figure out the problem and take the client through a design thinking exercise. Using the right tools at every stage makes my job easier.
Prototyping with Love
I love prototyping tools. They really are magic wands to me. With a flick of my mouse, I can make my designs come alive. I love to see people interact with my prototypes and it shows me things I’ve often taken for granted. User testing is the perfect solution to building great apps and it can really ground you and destroy your ego. I’ve noticed that using the right set of UX tools can help circumvent a lot of traditional methodologies. Prototyping and testing get rid of unnecessary emails, long phone conversations, and multiple iterations in large huddles. Prototyping is concise and serves the exact purpose of your project. If lead generation via UX is on your mind, you’re at the wrong article. Check out my list of lead generation tools to help you make that decision.
One of the coolest features to come to prototyping tools is collaboration. You can now create working flows and demos for your clients, share them with them in workflows and get other designers in your team to help you out – all in real-time. By building a collaborated prototype, your clients will be able to see changes and implementations on the go. At the end of the day, building a prototype simply gets the job done.
Risks with UX Tools?
That being said, there is a risk factor involved too. But, it’s the good kind of risk. Product owners benefit from prototyping and user testing because it allows them to test any hypothesis they have. It’s a great tool that validates your design and at the end of the day, if your design is not solving your problem, you have to go back to the drawing board. Testing a design in the prototype stage is the ideal way to save time in the development cycle and help your team get a clearer vision of the goal.
Driving customer engagement via user experience is a must and preparing mockups and wireframes will solve the problem. If you move directly to the development stage of your process, you are going to miss out on your key performance requests and you will end up spending time going back and forth with multiple teams. Start by building wireframes of the problem you want to solve. This should be done immediately after your design thinking exercise.
How to Choose UX Tools?
User experience is a very powerful metric when it comes to branding. I use a selected set of prototyping tools that help me get the job done effectively. When you decide to use a tool to take you around this process, remember to ensure that you are opting in for something that works with your style of functionality. There are plenty of options out there, so be aware of each of their pros and cons. You want to pick a UX tool that is capable of telling the world your story. I have written a little about visual storytelling that can give you an idea of how to achieve this.
Choosing the right prototyping tool is vital. You will soon realize that your canvas will need to adapt to your thought process. Understand your client’s needs and opt for a solution that bridges the gaps between developers and designers. There are a few other factors too that you need to keep in mind when choosing the right prototyping UX tool. Understand that every new software or solution will require you to go through a learning curve. Ensure that you can follow the on-screen instructions and tool-tips well. You should aim to find a solution that helps you master advanced functionalities such as shortcuts and quick-rendering in under a month.
No prototyping tool should be used if it does not have a sharing or collaboration feature. You may think this is not important at first but believe me, you are going to regret it if you start working on a local, non-cloud architecture solution. There will come a time you will want to share and present your solutions with clients and other designers and if you cant do it, you’ll hit roadblocks.
Cost should be a valid factor when opting for a prototyping tool. As I said, there are plenty of options. Some free, some premium, and some freemium. Whatever you choose, remember you get exactly what you pay for.
Popularity is another feature you should look out for. The more popular the solution, the more are its options and variations available. Generally, popular UX tools have a number of essential integration services such as Dropbox, Trello, Zepplin, Jira, etc. So keep an eye out for these as well. Remember, the more popular the app, the greater is going to be your invoice too.
Finally, the last feature you should look for in a prototyping tool is what kind of design fidelity you need. If you are simply building wireframes, you can opt for something free and basic.
My Top 5 Prototyping Tools
As you progress through this list, you should try to evaluate for yourself what makes sense for you and what doesn’t. I’ve tried to put my reviews into place based on my personal experience but as I’ve mentioned before, the trick is to see what works for you.
Invision UX Tools
Invision is probably one of the oldest and fastest-growing design boards I have ever known. They keep adding features regularly and it’s become the go-to app for many designers. It also has easy integrations with third-party solutions such as Trello, Slack, Jira, etc.
Adobe Experience Design
Adobe XD is one of the newer entrants into the prototyping world. It comes bundled with your Creative Cloud account so you know that it can sync perfectly between Photoshop, Dreamweaver, and Illustrator too. I like Adobe XD because the learning curve is fun and Adobe keeps sharing engaging videos on how to use their tool effectively.
This is perhaps my least favorite but I know that there are others that will fight me to the death in this argument. It was a tool that was pioneered by Facebook back in the day and it showed some real potential. It has this standalone app called Origami Live that allows designers to test their prototypes on actual mobile and tablet devices.
Sketch UX Tools
Here is one for the heavy hitters. Sketch is a prototyping solution on Steroids. It has all the possible third party integrations, has features that can rival any other solution on this list, and has real-time rendering support for multiple devices. It has built-in user testing flows, commenting systems, review systems, low and high fidelity design capability and so much more. I don’t need to say anything more.
Balsamiq UX Tools
If you are just getting started with UX tools, I would highly advise you to start using Balsamiq first. It’s the first tool I learned on and it has helped me grasp everything I need to know. Please note that this solution should only be used for wireframing and not prototyping.
While you set forth on other choices, you should note that your search is probably not going to end. Take a call, go with your gut and stick to the solution you opt for. Once you master these UX tools and if you feel that the solution provider has stopped offering updates, move on. You can read everything I say here with a pinch of salt but the truth is it all comes down to you and your decision. You have to be able to find what works for you. Down the line, I expect design solution providers to build much more sophisticated platforms. Things will change in a couple of years. It’s best that you start preparing for the next generation of UX tools now itself.
As a UX Consultant, I help companies build beautiful applications and solutions while solving their business problems. You can reach me out on Twitter or via Mail if you would like to talk about a project.