13 UX Tools All Designers and Researchers Should Know

May 21, 2019

Sometimes it feels like apps, tools, and services we use are an extension of the work that we do. That’s especially true if you work in UX, product management, or any sort of design. UX tools do a lot of heavy lifting when it comes to user research and design.

The tools that you rely on can help you visualize, organize, and communicate your points, as well as save you time and money. Which ones you choose will depend on your place in the creation process, the size of your organization, and of course the type of digital product you’re designing or managing. We’ve pared down the mountain of tools available to bring you this list of the 13 UX tools we like best.

InVision

What you can do with it: A collection of three tools, InVision provides users a single platform where they can collaborate and rapidly prototype screen designs. InVision Cloud makes all prototypes, sketches, and designs accessible in one location. Their Studio platform offers the ability to rapidly prototype a user experience, with vector-based drawing capabilities, an elegant solution for easily creating responsive designs for any screen and a way to animate screen transitions that mimic user navigations. Studio also has multiple API integrations that allow you to connect to many of the tools and media libraries you’re already using. Finally, the InVision Design System Manager (DSM) acts as a content management library, providing a single source of truth for a company’s most up-to-date brand assets.

Recommended for: UX designers at all levels and their partners across the product marketing organization for rapid prototyping and approval. The solution is also helpful for organizing approved assets for the content marketing team. In the DesignBetter.Co portal, InVision provides valuable books, podcasts and workshops for designers to level up.

UXPin

What you can do with it: What sets UXPin apart is that you can build elements that actually interact with each other. Their homepage states, “Other design tools only allow you to fake interactions by linking whatever you draw. What they lack are our interactive states, logic and code components.” UXPin provides a number of features designers can use to create mockups, including element libraries (iOS, Material and Bootstrap), interactive form elements and vector drawing tools. To push for mobile first designs, UXPin has introduced a feature called UXPin Mirror, which stakeholders can use to preview mockups on an iPhone or Android device by simply scanning a QR code.

Recommended for: While UXPin could benefit any UX designer, those who focus on accessibility should strongly consider this tool. UXPin recently developed a feature that gives designers the ability to easily test their designs for compliance with Web Content Accessibility Guidelines (WCAG) contrast standards. With this innovative solution, a designer can view how their work will be seen by a person with any of the eight kinds of color blindness.

Adobe XD

What you can do with it: From a company that is arguably the leader in tools for creatives, Adobe XD promises to help you design, prototype, share and collaborate within their enterprise-grade app. With its slick asset management library, you can design a master element with customized properties to be used across your site or app. Need to change something in that element? Modify the master component and push it out across the organization. Adobe XD also features optimized vector tools, responsive resizing of assets across platforms and layout grids for precise design.

Recommended for: Integrations with Photoshop and Illustrator make Adobe XD best suited for those UX designers already using the Adobe Creative Cloud suite of tools. But where Adobe XD really shines is for designers at large organizations and enterprises with the need for consistency among assets. As previously mentioned, the asset library allows for rapid modifications to graphics and styles, not to mention the Repeat Grid feature that enables designers to set a style for, say, a contact list or photo gallery and have it replicated as many times as needed.

UsabilityHub

What you can do with it: Create tests to learn what users would first click to complete a given action, their visual preferences and first impressions of an image. You can then invite customers to interact with the tests and gain valuable insights. Need a specific group of people to run tests on your site or application? With their UsabilityHub Panel feature, researchers can rapidly build a focus group based on attributes such as age, gender, household income, education and more to provide immediate, relevant feedback.

Recommended for: UX researchers who are looking to better understand the first impressions that their website or app gives to their consumers. Those who have a limited test pool can still get rapid results by having UsabilityHub submit tests to their online audience for a small fee.

Balsamiq

What you can do with it: A wireframing tool beloved by designers, product managers and innovators, Balsamiq is one of the easiest ways to take an idea from concept to paper. Just as designers create graphics in black and white so stakeholders don’t get hung up on the color palette, Balsamiq was purposefully designed to produce low-fidelity wireframes so that users and testers can focus on the usability and flow of the interface.

Recommended for: Even though this tool is simplistic, it’s recommended for UX designers at all levels to quickly show the usability of a proposed site or application. Balsamiq is also handy for any product manager or entrepreneur looking to get an idea out of their head and onto paper in short order.

Lookback

What you can do with it: You shouldn’t design in a vacuum—getting real-world customer feedback is key to making sure that your application will be a success. And what better way to do that than to interview someone while they are actually using your software? Lookback is a video-based user feedback tool that lets researchers interact with a customer one-on-one and in real time. You can also directly test users with predefined tasks so that you can see new features in the wild.

Recommended for: Lookback is great for any UX researcher looking to connect personally with their customers and augment raw data with individual experiences. Not only can you perform true user research, but doing so via video means you’ll gain insight into their emotional state through nonverbal cues and voice inflection. Lookback’s screen capture capability lets UX researchers easily share key moments with product managers, designers and stakeholders.

Figma

What you can do with it: A leading drag-and-drop user interface editor that allows collaboration across your organization, Figma is one of few UX tools that bridge the gap between designers, developers and project managers. Some of its most powerful features for designers include constraining graphical elements to an on-screen position, Boolean operations that let you combine multiple shapes with precision and 60fps interactive editing so you can see your design in crisp previews. Figma prides itself on being a single source of truth for an organization—you can upload approved reusable elements/icons, fonts and styles. Its developer workflow allows team members to inspect code and export visual assets and CSS from the design file.

Recommended for: UX designers at larger organizations who need to rapidly scale the design process with developers and project managers and have a defined library of approved assets. CTOs will appreciate their different security options, including the access to activity logs and the ability to integrate with the company’s identity provider with SAML-based SSO integrations. Figma features strong case studies with tech darlings such as GitHub, Square and Uber.

Crazy Egg

What you can do with it: User feedback doesn’t always have to be explicitly submitted by the user. A powerful form of information is implicit user feedback gathered from on-site behaviors. Crazy Egg has mastered gathering this kind of customer data through their reports on heatmaps of user activity. Dive in further on where users are getting stuck by viewing recorded user sessions. Found a particularly tricky task on your site? Crazy Egg also has an easy-to-use editor that enables designers to make changes to the site without code along with an A/B testing tool to help validate assumptions.

Recommended for: Crazy Egg is primarily a UX researcher tool to provide detailed analytics about customer behavior on your website. However, the tool would also be relevant to UX designers who are either at an organization without a specific researcher role or who are trying to crack the problem of why their page isn’t converting.

Axure

What you can do with it: With the Axure RP design tool, you can rapidly make prototypes that perform like the real thing thanks to their dynamic content, conditional logic and adaptive views features. Plus, you can connect Axure to popular design tools such as Sketch to share designs with stakeholders. With the included Axure Cloud feature, you can quickly share prototypes across the organization for immediate feedback and redlines—Axure Cloud also integrates with Slack and Microsoft Teams so that your organization stays up to date with the latest changes. The tool smooths the designer-to-developer handoff by including documentation and prototypes when you publish the Axure RP files to Axure Cloud. An upgrade gives you co-authoring capabilities, revision history and team hosting on Axure Share.

Recommended for: For UX designers who don’t typically like to mess with code, the ability to hand off a project to the developer team with complete documentation is a major plus. Project managers who neither design nor code can also easily document issues within the platform to get everyone marching toward the same goal.

Sketch

What you can do with it: With this design and prototyping tool, users can create mockups and share them with a team for feedback. Add images and customize the text to get a true picture of what the finished product will look like. Sketch asset libraries mean your design stays brand and you save time with efficient collaboration.

Recommended for: UX designers at all levels, especially those who need to get input from multiple team members. Sketch has a large user community and tons of integrations, so it’s pretty easy to get up and running!

Optimizely

What you can do with it: The “world’s leading experimentation platform,” Optimizely Web Experimentation empowers designers to rapidly A/B test front-end changes to their website and apps. UX researchers can use Optimizely’s exclusion feature to test only certain segments of the product while keeping the rest status quo for the bulk of the user population. And Optimizely Full Stack lets product managers and engineers test new software features with a select cohort before rolling out to the broader audience.

Recommended for: UX designers can use Optimizely to rapidly implement design changes, while the Stats Engine provides valuable data to UX researchers. Optimizely also has an eye toward the future and may be particularly helpful to those UX professionals at companies focusing on IoT devices and voice-driven experiences. As it’s suitable for everyone from product managers to engineers, Optimizely is a cost-effective solution.

UzerZoom

What you can do with it: The UserZoom platform offers UX researchers the ability to conduct remote unmoderated, remote moderated or lab testing. Video and screen capture show what the user experiences on your site, while audio recording gives you unfiltered feedback as a person walks through your digital experience. Additionally, UserZoom boasts a pool of over 120 million participants ready to interact with your test, along with competitive research to help benchmark your performance against competitors in your industry.

Recommended for: UX researchers who need not only to create tests and have a pool of talent to take them but also the ability to compare results to competitors’. For those organizations without a UX researcher on staff, UserZoom also provides UX strategy services to help deliver better customer outcomes.

Clicktale

What you can do with it: In addition to heatmaps generated from mouse movement and clicks, Clicktale provides an “attention heatmap.” Using a combination of data analysis and algorithms, the tool is able to identify parts of pages that are most engaging to visitors and the parts they gloss over. Clicktale also provides session replays and conversion analytics. But where this tool shines is its advanced analytic capabilities: data exports of “millisecond-level hovers, scrolls, clicks/taps, pace, acceleration, and more” can be correlated with other datasets for a better understanding of customer intent. Their Field Analytics feature helps you analyze a person’s “digital body language” based on their willingness to fill in form fields—incredibly useful for learning about user hang-ups.

Recommended for: Senior UX researchers with a data science background seem to benefit the most from Clicktale. While junior researchers would most definitely derive value from Clicktale, those with more experience would be able to realize the full potential of this tool.

The Qualaroo team has years of collective experience in user feedback and can help you capture insights that matter – at scale.

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