First, I won’t assume that you are reading this article because you are specifically looking for UI design tools, which means that you already know the difference between UI and UX. Instead, I want to tell you about the distinction between UI and UX design to clean the ground.
UX (user experience) covers all forms of interaction between the user and the product. So, UX design aims at shaping this experience.
UI (user interaction), on the other hand, focuses on how this experience is shaped by looks and feels. It is more about the facade of the product through which the users interact with your product.
In short, although they are complementary, they focus on developing and enhancing distinct but similar parts of the product. So, although most of the tools UI and UX designers use are the same, their usage areas are not exactly the same.
For UI designers, it is crucial to create hi-fi wireframes, mockups, and prototypes and render minimally viable products. In short, they aim to create wonderful experiences for the users.
For UX designers, it is more about drawing a bigger picture of the overall experience.
In this article, I will mention only the powerful tools that UI designers might find useful, but if you are interested more in the UX part of it, you can check out this great article on UX design tools.
Here is the short list of user interface design tools I’ve overviewed.
Sketch is the most popular and handy tool you can use for UI design. Although it is available only on iOS, it is still the industry standard to bring your designs to life. You can preview your designs on mobile devices, which is a great feature.
It is an all-in-one product to use throughout your design. Just jump in and start creating with its 30-day free trial plan.
You can use it for designing interactive prototypes and collaborating with the team members. And it is not only your own team members you would keep in touch with. The community that uses Sketch is pretty productive and supportive.
Also, the snap-in-place feature and the guides make your work much easier and faster. You can add images and customize your work to see what your finished product will look like.
And lastly, its long list of applications and third-party plugins it can integrate with makes it the best.
2- Adobe XD
If you are familiar with other products in the Adobe Creative Cloud, you know how Adobe shapes the design industry. Also, automatically you almost know how to use this tool. The main difference between other members of Creative Cloud, Adobe XD has prototyping functionality.
Its prototyping tools and vector drawing feature make it a popular design tool.
The 3D layer showcasing tool is perfect for inspecting the layers closely. It is a plus that you can use it on every operating system, and it is also available as a mobile app.
You can either subscribe to the complete Creative Cloud or pay only for Adobe XD.
If you are in pursuit of a seamless flow of the design process and collaborative environment, Figma is the best for you. Its best feature is cloud-based collaboration. There is a crowded community waiting to share with you and support you via Figma. Also, you can test your design’s usability across devices on Figma.
As it is a browser application rather than fully-fledged desktop software, it is much easier to design user interfaces on Figma. So, it doesn’t matter which operating system you use.
Its only problem seems like its lack of vector graphic tools, but it is still one of the best for its unlimited cloud storage and auto layout for responsive design.
As for its prices, you can work on up to three projects with two editors for free. You need to pay a reasonable price if you want to access all of its features and cloud storage.
Thanks to its wide range of wireframing tools and react-based features, UXPin is an end-to-end tool for design teams. It is a fantastic tool as you can create prototypes consistent with the end product and benefit from its design system creation tools.
Its only downside might be its slowness due to the large number of features and tools it accommodates.
5- InVision Studio
InVision gives you whatever you need to create realistic prototypes that function perfectly. It is best for rapid prototyping.
You can collaborate with your team and edit your design file in each step of your design and development. Adding to that, you can use the digital whiteboard called Freehand to brainstorm and share your ideas with ease. Also, it provides you with the freedom you need to design and scale your work for different screen sizes and work on raster files.
Like Adobe XD, you have the option to use it offline as a desktop tool, but it has a less difficult user interface.
You can create a maximum of three documents and collaborate with up to ten users for free, but it doesn’t offer a free trial of premium tools without a subscription.
Zeplin outstands among other tools with its high capability of simplifying the developer handoff process. You know how exhausting it can be to convey a detailed and working design to the developers.
Zeplin achieves smoothing this step by adding guidelines to your design and making it easier for the developers to generate codes with a set of developer tools. In other words, you can create complex workflows to achieve the best result.
Zeplin integrates with various design apps such as Adobe XD, Sketch, and Figma. Also, communication tools like Slack and Trello can be integrated into it.
Along with offering a free plan for one project, it has several plans according to the number of people you have on your team.
Marvel is another all-in-one tool for creating functional prototypes and designing perfect user journeys. It allows you to work on high-fidelity prototypes as an efficient browser-based prototyping tool.
Just like Zeplin, it smooths out communication with developers with its handoff feature. It helps you close the gap between designers and the development team, which is one of its greatest assets for developers.
Another great feature of Marvel is the user testing tool, which helps you manage your design and come up with more creative design solutions.
8- Origami Studio
Origami Studio is created by designers of Facebook and has a free forever plan available on iOS and Android devices. It has all the features of Invision and Sketch. Still, it appeals more to design professionals with a certain amount of experience using similar tools, so its learning curve is slightly higher than others.
Its advanced design features include a patch editor and a vast library of patches to make your prototypes interactive and add animation to your design.
Uizard is a fantastic tool you can use in each step of your design process.
Even though it’s a more complex tool compared to its alternatives, its low learning curve makes it a tool for beginners and worth using.
Thanks to its real-time collaborative tools, you can align the distinct parts of your design team to create complex prototypes.
Balsamiq is known for its intuitive interface without the display of unnecessary icons and rapid wireframing. If you want to create life-like prototypes, Balsamiq wouldn’t satisfy you, but it is great for early phases of the projects or beginners in UI design. You can create low-fidelity wireframes without much prior knowledge.
Its library is more than useful, with UI elements ready to use in your service. Adding to its core functionality, it provides integration with cloud storage platforms such as Google Drive, so you can archive or share your work.
You can also add links to your prototype for Usability testing.
Although it doesn’t offer any free plans, you can use its 30-day free trial.
11- Axure RP
Axure is another powerful software tailored for the needs of seasoned professionals.
Its best features are conditional logic and adaptive views, but its emphasis on communication makes Axure a special tool. Axure Cloud works as the Creative Cloud of this premium tool.
I can’t say it’s an affordable tool easily, but its wide range of elements deserves its price.
One more tool to improve your UI and UX: UserGuiding
Onboarding your users is one of the most crucial steps you need in order to improve user engagement and lower churn rates. Your onboarding UI design is what would help them reach the “aha moment” and become loyal users of your product. Check this article out if you are unsure what aha moment means.
If you are familiar with the term, you already know how onboarding helps with it. So, you already know how much time and energy it requires to create a perfect user onboarding journey.
Along with all the tools I mentioned earlier, you can find UserGuiding useful for creating a better onboarding experience for your users.
With UserGuiding, you don’t need to deal with codes or start from zero. It means you don’t need to bother your development team to design an onboarding journey. UserGuiding is a zero-code product to let your users get to know you better and dive into the value-rich world of your product.
You can create modals, pop-ups, and tooltips to guide your users on the onboarding screen and do it easily with its simple interface.
Plus, you can start your 14 days of free trial now and see if it works for you.
At first, it might be hard to find which essential tools serve you best. To decide on which design platforms you will take off your design path, you should consider your prior knowledge of the design tools and what features are indispensable for you.
While some user interface design tools are more comprehensive and have a high learning curve, some are the perfect fit for beginners or designers who want to create basic wireframes with a user-friendly interface.
To decide which features you need most, you can think of the quality of wireframing and prototyping you want to create. You can check out the key features of the design software alternatives and go for more advanced features to create high-quality wireframes. Or, you can stick with the basics and prefer more essential ones.
It is also crucial to consider your development team when choosing one of these tools, especially when working on a mobile app design.
Frequently Asked Questions
What do UI designers need?
As a UI designer, you need a handful of tools in each step of your product.
For digital products, according to Brainstation’s Digital Skills Survey, the preferred choice of UI designers for wireframing and interface design is Sketch. Other tools such as InVision Studio, Adobe XD and Illustrator, Figma, and Marvel follow the list.
Another tool that should be in the arsenal of UI designers is InVision Studio. According to the same survey, it is the most commonly used tool for prototyping.
Do UI designers need to code?
Well, both yes and no.
It is not a strict requirement for UI designers to know how to code as it suffices to create only the product’s visual design. However, it is for your benefit if you know some developers’ tricks, especially if you are in the tech industry. UI and UX designers usually don’t work in code-free environments. So, knowing how to code will allow you to communicate well with the developer team and make your design ideas come true.
Also, some tools allow you to work with coding features and to use them efficiently, and it is better to have some coding skills.
Which language is best for UI design?
Although it is not written in stone, HTML and CSS languages would be useful while designing user-friendly interfaces. You can use these languages at least to communicate your design details to the programmers. It is important to speak the same language and be on the same page with developer teams to create the best version of your product.