UI design is essential to creating a delightful user experience. It focuses on the visual experience of a digital product, including colours, typography and imagery, as well as navigational elements like buttons, scrollbars and gestures. UI design tools can save a huge amount of time and effort when it comes to creating both realistic prototypes and final designs. Moreover, they’re fundamental for facilitating collaboration and ensuring a smooth workflow. That’s why every digital designer needs a reliable set of tools at hand, and UI developers should know about them too.
Why Do Developers Need to Understand UI?
UI designers and developers might have different tasks, but they most certainly have to work collaboratively. Ultimately, the end goal is to create a digital product that is easy to understand and operate while also being visually pleasing. The duties between the two roles are distinct. UI developers are responsible for coding and programming, especially in relation to how software will respond to the user. UI designers, on the other hand, focus on applying how the program operates to create a compatible and compelling visual experience.
Top UI Design Tools
As well as general web design tools that can be used by non-coders, there are specific tools with key features that are fundamental to professional UI designers. The tools are always changing, new ones come and go, but there are some key tools that are worth knowing about with noteworthy features to look out for. Eight of the top design tools commonly used by UI designers include:
This is one of the most popular UI design tools, so it should be on every UI developer’s radar. In fact, the tool has set many of the standards that can be seen across other tools. Figma is a browser-based vector graphics editor that empowers fast design and prototyping with a smooth workflow. One of the most noteworthy features is multiplayer design, otherwise known as co-editing, which enables designers, developers and other stakeholders to collaborate in real-time on these same files. Figma is slightly more expensive than some of the alternatives but boasts an impressive amount of features. It covers everything from ideation to prototyping, all in one intuitive interface. With this in the toolbox, many other tools become obsolete.
Sketch was one of the first UI design tools on the market and has been going strong for over ten years. While it doesn’t dominate like it once did, the vector graphics editor is still a strong contender. However, it’s worth noting that the tool is only available for macOS, so all designers and developers will need to be on board. The plus points are that the tool facilitates high-fidelity prototyping, real-time collaboration and design hand-off, all with an intuitive interface. However, it’s worth noting that there aren’t as many new features as with some of the newer tools.
3. Adobe XD
Again, one of the older tools, but still a good one. Adobe XD is an incredibly reliable vector-based UI tool that supports Windows as well as macOS. It’s easy to use, especially for those who are familiar with other Adobe products. On that note, it integrates seamlessly with Adobe Photoshop, Adobe Fonts, Adobe Stock and more, making it easy to hand off user interfaces. There’s not a lot that can’t be done with Adobe XD; from ideation and low-fidelity designs to animations and realistic prototypes, it supports the entire UX and UI process. The tool is stacked full of useful features and Adobe are continually adding updates with improvements, so the tool looks set to stay in the mix for some time to come.
Marvel is an incredibly simple UI design tool that is focused firmly on democratising design and is a great choice for beginners. Wireframing and rapid prototyping are faster than ever thanks to the simplicity of the tool. What’s more, this makes it easier for developers and other stakeholders to collaborate and ensure their ideas are heard. One of the other key selling points is that, unlike all the other UI design tools, Marvel offers user testing tools too, enabling prototypes to be validated. Meanwhile, if you want to power up your workflow, Marvel can also integrate with many of the other popular design tools.
5. Axure RP
A great solution for technical projects, Axure RP is able to handle powerful functionality, complex interactions and dynamic data. As well as the standard features that most UI tools offer, Axure also delivers wireframe components that can help designers to plan information architecture.
A true end-to-end platform, UXPin can deliver high-quality, interactive prototypes. With no coding skills required, it’s popular with both new and experienced designers. For those familiar with the likes of Sketch and Photoshop, the UXPin interface will seem familiar and easy to navigate. With thousands of ready-to-use design components, built-in libraries and embedded user flow capabilities, along with many other helpful features, you’re able to create and manage solid design systems.
7. Invision Studio
Claiming to be one of the most powerful screen design tools out there, Invision Studio provides everything required to draw, wireframe, prototype and animate. The tool sits as part of the InVision suite for collaborative tools and comes with a vector-based drawing tool, infinite canvas and a range of impressive rapid prototyping features and animations. While it’s not as intuitive as some of the other tools, it’s one of the most popular amongst professional UI designers.
Zeplin is a cloud-based solution that bridges the gap between UI designers and front-end developers. The tool delivers an organised workspace to publish designs and generate specs, assets and code and ensures a smooth developer hand-off. Zeplin manages the whole process, you simply publish the finished designs and select the relevant platform. Whether web, iOS or Android, Zeplin then generates all the necessary assets.
The Importance of Collaboration for Effective UI Design
While UI design is a distinct and fundamental discipline when it comes to creating digital products, it doesn’t work in isolation. Finding tools that facilitate collaboration are fundamental. UI designers and developers need to work closely to ensure that designs can be coded into real-functioning websites and applications. By ensuring that UI tools deliver the technical specifications required, designs are much more likely to turn out exactly as they were envisioned.