The Best Beginner UX Design Tools to Get You Started

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So you’re thinking of getting into UX, or heck you’ve started researching. But with the abundance of programs, tools, and other “helpful” suggestions online, you might not know where to begin.

Fret not! In this post, I want to distill some of the most used UX tools and to understand “how” and “why” are these tools useful.

This list was compiled based on my professional expertise, so please treat it as a guideline rather than an ironclad rule. With that said, let’s first get a basic grasp of what the UX process entails.

Looking at this Norman Neilson graphic, we see a typical workflow in most ideal situations, which isn’t always the case.

UX starts with an understanding of our users. However, there’s also a need to understand fundamental wants, pain points, user needs, business requirements, and more, which is a fantastic subject to discuss about white-boarding our first big UX/Design tools.

Whiteboarding tools:

The term “whiteboarding” refers to the process of rapidly writing down thoughts, ideas, and other text so that everyone on the team (developers, product, marketing, and design) can see some of the project’s early concepts or ideas.

MIRO

Miro, which has lately and rapidly ascended to become a darling of the design and productivity scene, is one of the most widely used tools. By providing a robust and detailed web application that focuses on several topics I’ll discuss below, Miro enables remote, in-office, and hybrid teams to interact and collaborate across formats, tools, channels, and time zones — without the constraints of physical location, meeting space, or physical whiteboards.

Miro’s superpowers include its fairly large and devout fanbase. This has generated a large number of “templates” that other Miro users utilize and adapt to their own requirements, including user persona, user journey mapping, and other critical UX and design elements. Miro is flexible, with features such as shared notes (ability to @ someone), timers for work sessions, locked boards (permission system), and the ability to create lo-fi wireframes, video/group meetings within the app. As well, it integrates with other popular working applications such as Asana, JIRA, Iconfinder and more.

source: Miro

Miro offers a free account that allows most users to accomplish a lot of things and is only limited by the amount of “boards” your account can have, which does not hinder what you may accomplish within them.

More information about Miro can be found here https://miro.com/

MURAL

I know you were thinking of two platforms that begin with the letter M: MURAL and Miro? But hear me out. Another strong, comparable tool to Miro is called MURAL. It’s a digital workspace for visual communication.

MURAL helps everyone on the team imagine together to come up with new ideas, tackle difficult issues, and innovate more quickly. Visual collaboration has grown in popularity as a means of working across distributed teams (in part owing to COVID) because it ensures that each person’s voice is heard and allows groups and individuals to collaborate asynchronously.

source: MURAL

MURAL allows users to collaborate in a more natural and intuitive way. Its visual thinking canvas transforms old ways of working (paper, real whiteboards, and a few other tools) into a digital environment while also adding a new dimension to video conferences with Frameworks, templates, and Facilitation Superpowers such as timers, person voting, and private mode to make meetings and workshops more engaging and productive. Collaborators may use sticky notes, icons, shapes, connections, comments, and other components.

source: MURAL

MURAL is an HTML5 web application and works best with Google Chrome, but supports Firefox, Edge, and Safari. They have native apps for Windows10, iOS Mac OS, Android, and the Microsoft Surface Hub. MURAL also has integrations with some of your favourite apps, such as Microsoft Teams, Jira, and Zoom.

Learn more about Mural here https://www.mural.co/

Design Tools

FIGMA

Let’s get into the good stuff, because one of the top three gems in design software is Figma.

source: Figma

Figma is currently free with almost all important features except for a few that are aimed towards more of a business or organizational structure. In recent years, Figma has also gradually become another tool that designers and non-designers alike seem to enjoy using in terms of white boarding, allowing for asynchronous work and many users to contribute and draw, generate or utilize templates (notice a trend here?).

source: Figma

I won’t go through what Figma can do in detail, but rather why it’s such a useful and powerful design tool, like Sketch and Adobe XD (the other two Crown Jewels in the designer tool crown). With all of the options and tools that you would expect (design system support, grids, icons etc), Figma allows designers to create anything from lo-fi to pixel-perfect hi-fi wireframes (ability to use a design system, grids, icons etc) because Figma was developed as a team and collaborative tool. There are notes/comments integrated into the software that allow anybody to make one around any part of the canvas.

Figma offers a similar functionality to Sketch, XD, and Figma. It has an infinite canvas with several layers, pages, and sections, as well as a powerful prototyping tool built in (making it easier to generate clickable prototypes and share with other people or when sharing screen), one of the biggest benefits of Figma is that you won’t have to download any extra tools or apps because you won’t need them.

Let’s take a look at some of the drawbacks (depending on the person’s viewpoint) that I’ll mention; Figma does not allow for vector files to be uploaded externally into the program, so I call this out before going on to say that my main working tools were Adobe Creative Suite (particularly Photoshop and Illustrator) with the latter being a vector-based program allowing me to scale and resizing work on a whim while Sketch and XD do allow external vector graphics to be adjusted or utilized. Figma does not yet offer this functionality).

Figma is cloud-based, and you don’t “host” local files on your computer and instead have your documents live in the Figma cloud. Ownership of files is usually handled via a permission-based system similar to XD where Sketch has dedicated files that can reside on your computer and have file sizes associated (think classic Photoshop PSD files), but also includes a cloud-based mechanism for easier management of many owners (less work/sharing with 3rd party applications).

Learn or read more about Figma here https://www.figma.com

SKETCH

Sketch has a soft spot in my heart because it was the first serious design program that I utilized with the introduction of more contemporary design tools, which had previously been handled mostly by CS (creative suite, from Adobe). Nonetheless, Sketch is employed by many designers and businesses today.

Sketch is a unique program in that it’s a fully native macOS application designed to work well with Apple (and particularly Mac machines) and offers system settings and greater customization in terms of UI (rather than being restricted like other tools such as XD or Figma).

source: Sketch

Another disadvantage of Figma that I mentioned before is that it doesn’t seem to handle or work with vector images or graphics well. Sketch, on the other hand, has no trouble opening most .eps files and even converts them fairly easily, but the formatting sometimes isn’t correct enough for it to be used as a complete from illustrator to Sketch workflow.

source: Sketch

One of the primary drawbacks of Sketch is that while it is only available on macOS, it is also not free; after which you’ll be charged about $100 for using it. On the other hand, there is an “education version” (I recommend checking their website), and while there is a cost for the initial software if you do not renew it after one year of upgrades, fixes, and so on, you still “own” that copy of the software at your firm.

Learn about Sketch here https://www.sketch.com/

Task Tracking Applications

Projects, designs, and tasks can get hectic, as a designer knows you may be swamped with numerous demands, projects, or designs at any one moment. Using a work or task tracking style program to keep yourself (or your team) organized is one of the most beneficial and useful techniques.

TRELLO

Trello is a versatile work plan tool that allows teams to create ideas, collaborate on projects, structure workflows, and keep track of progress in a visual, productive, and enjoyable way. Trello manages the major milestones as well as day-to-day operations when people collaborate and get things done together. Trello uses a process called Kanban to keep track of its actions. For example, having columns for “backlog,” “in progress,” and “done” work are just some of the basic examples of how Trello utilizes it. This may appear obvious or even simple, but the ability to see at a high level all elements of work that need to be completed, done, and in progress is incredible for a group of busy professionals.

source: Trello

Learn more about Trello at https://trello.com/en

ASANA

“Asana’s objective is to assist humanity flourish by allowing global teams to collaborate effortlessly.” That may come across as preachy or out-there, but you have to give them credit; and Asana, in fact, is a fantastic task and product management tool and platform that allows users to keep track of their work.

source: Asana

You might be wondering what the distinction is, like with the other tools mentioned so far, in terms of Asana’s capabilities. For example, you can see every individual’s status on a task, give dates and attachments, and more in little ways.

Closing Thoughts

While I didn’t go over the third alternative (Adobe XD) in this first piece, the distinctions between tools like Miro and Mural are comparable to those between Sketch and Figma, and likewise as for Adobe XD. This is to highlight that there is a lot of various software utilized in the industry, and while no one expects everyone to understand them all, you’ll undoubtedly come across organizations or teams using different tools. Designers also have a lot of freedom when it comes to choosing their own instruments, as you’ve seen throughout this blog.

One of the advantages I can provide is that, with enough experience working in different organizations, you will be exposed to a variety of situations and learn at your own pace, so even if much of this appears frightening or overwhelming, I assure you it will get easier.

Written by Daniel Szilagyi

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