12 UX Designer Tools You Should Be Using (From Beginner to Pro)

UX designers strive to create beautiful user experiences, and are thus responsible for defining the path a user takes when using a product or service. UX designers frequently utilize a variety of design tools, including those pertaining to wireframing and prototyping. Typically, the most commonly used tools include some kind of collaborative functionality — since many UX designers work within a wider UX/UI or product design team.

Many UX design tools focus on the user: What will a user see when interacting with an application or service? How will a user flow through a service? UX design tools keep these considerations in mind. These tools can help designers create layouts and prototypes, structure information, and determine how a user will flow through the product.

There are many tools available in the UX/UI designer space, catering to a wide range of users from beginners to experts. Some tools can handle the entirety of the UX design process, from wireframing to polished interactive prototypes. Others are more focused, allowing designers to hone in on wireframes, prototypes, or icon designs. Having the right tools for your role can make a significant difference.

If you’re interested in UX design but don’t know where to start, consider our guide on how to become a UX/UI designer for more information. In the meantime, read on for an overview of several effective UX design tools.

Best Designing Tools

Designing tools are general-purpose programs that allow UX designers to create and edit assets for use in designs. Many of these tools are used both in UX design and web design as a whole.

Sketch

Sketch is a design tool that’s exclusively offered on macOS. It’s a vector-based design app that’s primarily used for UI and UX design for websites and mobile applications. This collaborative tool makes it easy for designers to hand off designs between team members and developers alike and is used widely across web design, marketing, and development.

Sketch is also quite powerful; users have access to a wide variety of plugins and assets to change the app’s functionality. What’s more, Sketch is user-friendly and easy to pick up, making it an excellent option for early-stage UX/UI designers.

Sketch costs $99/year, or $9/month. This price is lower than comparable options from Adobe, making it easy for an individual to access the service.

$9 per editor (monthly) or $99 per editor (yearly); a 30-Day free trial is also available

Beginner-friendly

Real-time collaboration tools and browsable version history are available

Adobe Photoshop

Adobe Photoshop is one of the most-used tools across many graphic design-focused disciplines and is available on Mac, Windows, and iPad. It’s one of the best image manipulation tools on the market due to its status within the graphic design and photography industry.

Photoshop is a potent image editing tool with a lot of depth. You can accomplish a lot with it, but the trade-off is a steeper learning curve. Thankfully, there are plenty of resources available for anyone wanting to learn how to use Photoshop. Tutorials are available through Adobe’s website and in the application itself, however, it’s not the most beginner-friendly tool on the market. That said, putting in the time and effort can be worthwhile for anyone wanting to enter a design-focused discipline.

Adobe offers Photoshop as part of its Creative Cloud software subscription package, and there are a few subscription options available on Adobe’s website. Adobe provides the complete Creative Cloud software package that includes all of its applications for $52.99/month, access to Photoshop by itself for $20.99/month, or a photography package that includes Photoshop and Lightroom for $9.99/month. Discounts are available for learners and teachers.

$9.99 per month as part of the Photography plan; all Creative Cloud applications are available as a bundle for $52.99 per month (learners and teacher discounts are available)

Advanced

Windows, macOS, iPad

Basic file sharing, asset sharing, and commenting features are available.

Adobe Illustrator

Adobe Illustrator is a vector graphics and design program that’s a part of the Adobe Creative Suite available for macOS and Windows.

Illustrator is a powerful tool for creating web graphics, icons, and UI elements, and is a broadly used design tool across the design industry. You can use it to create vector graphics that can be resized with no loss of quality, making it an excellent tool for creating logos for use across websites, applications, and print pieces. While you can accomplish a lot using Illustrator, it can be more challenging to pick up and might not be the best choice for absolute beginners. However, mastering the application can be a major step in a designer’s skill set.

Adobe Illustrator is part of the broader Creative Cloud software suite. Individuals can purchase a subscription for $52.99/month for all Adobe products, and discounts are available for learners and teachers.

$20.99 per month for Illustrator alone, or $52.99 per month for all Creative Cloud applications (learner and teacher discounts are available)

Advanced

Windows, macOS, iPad

Basic file sharing, asset sharing, and commenting features are available.

One of the best ways to learn how to use design tools is through hands-on experience. Columbia Engineering UX/UI Boot Camp provides hands-on instruction in UX design tools, techniques, and best practices.

Best Prototyping Tools

A critical part of the UX/UI process, prototyping tools involve interactivity, allowing designers to showcase a design’s look and feel.

InVision

InVision is a prototyping tool that allows UX/UI designers to design mockups and create interactive prototypes. Many Fortune 100 companies use the program, including Spotify, Amazon, HBO, and Netflix — making it a great option for design professionals or those who want to work at a large company. It’s a cloud-based tool, meaning it will work across operating systems and devices.

InVision imports pre-existing designs and transforms them into interactive prototypes. It can help designers produce low- or medium-fidelity prototypes with basic animations at an early stage.

InVision has a free tier with somewhat limited functionality, allowing designers to get their feet wet and learn how to use the application for free. The Pro plan costs $9.95/month and allows for collaboration and unlimited document creation.

Free for up to 10 users and up to 3 documents; Pro plan allows unlimited documents and up to 15 users for $9.95 per month, per user; or $7.95 per month, per user, when billed annually

Beginner-friendly

Cloud-based application accessible by any computer with a web browser

Commenting, sharing links, and guest permission features are available

Proto.io

Proto.io is a drag-and-drop web app that can run on any device with a web browser and is used to create application prototypes. The application makes it easy for designers to create an interactive mockup with various standard UI elements and transitions, and saves designs in the cloud for easy access, updates, and collaboration.

Proto.io is a full-featured application that can create high-fidelity prototypes and designs. This means that the application can be a bit difficult to get used to, but breaking through and learning the program means you’ll be able to create incredible website and application prototypes.

The application costs $24/month (paid annually) for the Freelancer tier — this gives one user access to five active projects. Proto.io’s pricing details are listed here for more information. Education discounts are available for learners and teachers.

$24 per month (annual) or $29 per month (monthly), for 1 user; $40 per month (annual) or $49 per month (monthly), for 2 users

Advanced

Cloud-based application accessible by any computer with a web browser

Project sharing and commenting features are available

Adobe XD

Adobe XD is a vector-based design tool used to create wireframes, prototypes, mockups, and full designs. It’s available on both Mac and Windows, and iOS and Android versions are available to help you preview or showcase mobile designs.

Adobe XD is a powerful tool that allows UI and UX designers to create a wide range of interfaces and prototypes, from websites to smartphone and tablet applications, and everything in between. These designs can include animation and interaction, allowing you to iterate on designs and collaborate with others quickly.

7-day free trial, followed by $9.99/month; the full Adobe Creative Suite is available for $52.99/month

Beginner-friendly

macOS, Windows, Android, iOS

Real-time editing and shareable links are available

Prototyping tools are an essential part of the toolkit for any UX/UI designer. If you want to learn more about using prototyping tools, check out Columbia Engineering UX/UI Boot Camp today.

Best Wireframing Tools

Wireframing is part of the early stages of any UX design process. Wireframes are quick, basic, and low-fidelity designs that cover the overall structure and design of a website, product, or service. Designers can create and iterate on wireframes quickly, allowing them to make changes before devoting significant time and effort to polished designs.

Here are a few wireframing tools to consider for beginner and advanced UX designers:

UXPin

UXPin is a web-based wireframing, design, and prototyping tool used to create applications, web interfaces, and more. Prices start at $19 per month for each editor, though learners can use the service for free by submitting their learner IDs.

UXPin works across devices, and can take designs from wireframes to prototypes and into the final development stages. Collaboration tools let UXPin users share designs and prototypes quickly. Major brands like HBO, PayPal, Microsoft, and Netflix use UXPin, so learning how to operate the application can help you land a job later on down the line.

The tool is easy to learn, and is full-featured with a lot of depth, making it a great option for beginners and freelancers who want to learn more about the entire UX design process.

Plans start at $24 per editor, per month; or $19 per editor, per month, when billed annually

Beginner-friendly

Cloud-based application accessible by any computer with a web browser

Real-time collaboration, project sharing, and commenting features are available

Balsamiq

Balsamiq focuses on quick, iterative, low-fidelity designs — designs that are more concerned with the overall structure and content of a design without getting bogged down with the small details. Wireframing should be a fast process, allowing you to generate ideas quickly and find the best solutions. Balsamiq doesn’t have the same number of features as some other tools on this list, but that can be considered a benefit. The application’s pared-down feature set makes it incredibly easy to learn by focusing on creating wireframes quickly and efficiently.

Balsamiq Cloud, the company’s web application, starts at $9/month or $90/year if paid annually. The cloud service includes collaborative tools, including a real-time collaborative view and the ability to chat with other editors when working on the same project.

Plans start at $9 per month for a 2-project space, with a free trial available

Very beginner-friendly

Cloud and desktop-based versions are available for macOS and Windows

Real-time collaboration, project sharing, and commenting features are available

Understanding how to create wireframes is an essential skill for any UX designer. If you want to learn how to use wireframing tools, consider signing up for Columbia Engineering UX/UI Boot Camp.

Best Free UX Designer Tools

Many of the tools we’ve discussed require a financial commitment through a monthly or yearly subscription, but what if you’re just getting started and don’t want to spend money? Here are some of the best free tools for UX designers.

Figma

Figma is a free, online tool that’s used for UI design, UX design, graphic design, and wireframing. It’s a web-based application, so it can work on any computer that has access to a web browser.

Figma is free for individuals and small teams, even offering some limited collaboration tools in their free tier — meaning multiple designers can work on a project in real-time, similar to Google Docs. It is quite easy to use and offers a range of tutorials for design basics that help beginners start using the software.

While Figma offers a free tier, the paid versions are widely used by designers in a variety of industries. This makes it a great option for beginning designers, as learning how to use Figma can help you land a job in the future.

Free plan available with 3 team files; paid plans start at $12 per editor, per month, paid annually (learner and educator discounts are available)

Beginner-friendly

Cloud-based application accessible by any computer with a web browser

Real-time collaboration, project sharing, and commenting features are available

Justinmind

Justinmind is a prototyping tool with a free tier that helps UX designers create wireframes, low-fidelity prototypes, and high-fidelity prototypes with ease. It’s available for both macOS and Windows, making it a great choice for beginner and professional UX designers.

Justinmind lets designers create applications and view them as they’d look on a desktop system, tablet, or smartphone, making it a great option for designers deploying their designs across a range of platforms. It also offers collaboration tools and easy sharing with clients, supervisors, or other stakeholders.

Free accounts are available with collaboration and cloud storage, and the service starts at $9/user per month for upgraded web interactions, advanced gestures, and mobile device simulations. Justinmind’s free tier makes it a great choice for beginners who want to get their feet wet in the world of UX design.

Free plan available; paid plans start at $9 per user, per month, when billed annually

Beginner-friendly

macOS, Windows

Commenting and project sharing features are available

GIMP (GNU Image Manipulation Program)

GIMP is a free and open-source graphic design program used for image manipulation,editing, drawing, and illustration. It’s available for macOS, Windows, and Linux.

GIMP is an open-source project, meaning that it’s developed by a group of volunteers who work on the project in their spare time. It’s completely free to use for life, so it’s an excellent option for anyone looking for a free alternative to Photoshop. While GIMP doesn’t have the same feature set as Photoshop, it can provide a way for you to get started as a UX designer without a significant investment.

An efficient and cost-effective option for beginners, learning how to use GIMP can help you master the basics of design and apply this knowledge to a career in UX design later on down the line.

Free and open-source for full access

Beginner-friendly

macOS, Windows, Linux

Origami Studio

Origami Studio is a free prototyping tool built for internal use on Facebook. This makes it a great option for someone who wants to learn more about UX/UI design without investing too much capital.

Origami Studio excels at building deep interactions within a small subset of pages. It’s a great tool for showing a prototype of a complex page in a web application or mobile app, but it can be difficult to prototype an entire application using Origami Studio. It’s a very capable piece of software, but it can be a bit difficult for a beginner to wrap their head around. This makes Origami Studio a good option for experienced designers who want to dive deep into a specific page, a small set of pages, or micro-interaction.

Free

Very advanced

Basic project-sharing features are available

Free tools can help you start learning UX/UI basics and build valuable skills for the future. Consider attending Columbia Engineering UX/UI Boot Camp to learn more about UX/UI design.

Where can I Learn UX/UI design tools?

One great option for learning UX/UI design is through Columbia Engineering UX/UI Boot Camp, where you’ll learn how to use a variety of UX design tools like Adobe XD, Figma, and InVision. Attending a bootcamp also gives you hands-on experience and training from experienced professionals in a short time frame — just 24 weeks.

Another option is a traditional advanced degree. Many colleges and universities offer bachelor’s and Master’s degree programs focused on UX/UI design. These programs typically require around two to four years of full-time study.

Independent learning is another option, and there are also many online resources available to assist you. Many UX design tools have support documentation and how-to guides that can teach the basics of using each application. After learning the basics, actually using the applications to create mockups or full UX designs can help you get started.

An image that highlights the 3 different options of where to learn UX/UI design tools.

FAQs

Tools from Adobe’s Creative Cloud are typically considered industry standards, including Photoshop, Illustrator, and Adobe XD. Other platforms, like Figma and InVision, are also popular UX design tools used across many companies and industries.

UX designers have a wide range of job responsibilities. Design skills and the basics of visual communication are invaluable for any designer. What’s more, understanding the basics of information architecture, wireframing, and prototyping can help UX designers build and test designs effectively.

While this question is usually based on designer preference, Figma tends to stand out as a leading UX/UI design tool. In addition to being free and comparatively simple to use, the tool is able to be run on nearly any computer with access to a web browser, and it allows both individual users and teams to access a variety of collaboration tools. These characteristics make Figma a potential asset to new designers searching for a career.

The most basic definition of a prototype is a simulation or sample of a final product that’s used to test the product before it launches. In UX, the goal of a prototype is to test the user flow of a design and gather feedback before the design is finalized. This feedback could come from internal designers, external testers, or a combination of both.

Many UX designers create prototypes at different levels of fidelity, depending on the stage in the design process. Prototyping tools help UX designers create functional prototypes that showcase how a design looks and feels. They can develop designs with buttons, clickable elements, and animations, representing the final look and feel of an application, website, or service.

UI and UX are closely related and, as a result, they are often confused. UI stands for user interface and represents the design of the interactive elements of a website or app, including buttons, sliders, and other design elements. UX, on the other hand, refers to the overall design and “feel” that a user experiences when interacting with a product or service.

While this question is also typically based on developer preference, Adobe XD is one of the best prototyping tools due to its set of features, ease of use, and support from Adobe — one of the biggest companies in the design software space. Figma, on the other hand, is a strong option for beginners, as its free tier allows you to get started without investing money — and it’s browser-based, meaning you can run it on any computer with access to the internet.

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