Essential Tools for UX Designers

Emily Stevens

So you want to be a UX designer. No craftsperson is complete without their tools, and UX designers are no exception. It’s time to get that toolkit ready to go!

If you’re new to UX, this can be one of the hardest things to get your head around. Even for experienced UXers, the ever-growing list of must-have tools can be daunting. Where do you start? 

In this guide, we’ll first cover the five essentials (the five bare minimum tools you need), then we’ll talk about each aspect of the design process and our top tools for each. Here’s the plan:

  1. UX design tools: Just the essentials
  2. Tools for UX research
  3. UX tools for ideation 
  4. Tools for prototyping and wireframing
  5. User testing tools
  6. Tools for project management
  7. What next?

Two UX designers ideating at a whiteboard that's covered in sticky notes,

1. UX design tools: Just the essentials

What are the essential UX design tools you need to get started? Here’s our list of essentials. A starter kit, if you will:

  • A tool for project management and communication. Our pick: Asana
  • A tool for creating surveys. Our pick: SurveyMonkey
  • One for conducting user interviews. Our pick: Your favorite video chat software + recording capability (or awesome note-taking skills).
  • Another for ideation and collaboration. Our pick: Miro.
  • A tool for prototyping and wireframing: Our pick: Figma.

Eventually, you’ll also need a tool to test your designs. This often depends on what tools your company is already using, but if you get to choose your own, we like to use UsabilityHub and Optimizely

2. Tools for UX research 

Before you start designing anything, you need to know exactly what you’re designing for. As Jeff Humble, our Head of Design here at CareerFoundry, puts it: you want to fall in love with the problem, not the solution. 

You need to identify the who, what and why of your projectwhich means research! Surveys and polls are a good place to start, and will enable you to reach a wide audience quickly.

Here are three survey/polling tools you can start with:

  • Typeform. A free account will give you access to 100 responses per month, and you can include up to 10 fields per typeform.
  • SurveyMonkey. Conduct online surveys and use the Audience feature to carry out global market research for large-scale projects. 
  • Google Forms. It might not come with bells and whistles, but you can easily craft your survey, track responses and visualize the results. 

If you want to dig a little deeper into the needs and goals of your users, you’ll want to conduct some user interviews. And our favorite way to do that? A good, “old-fashioned” video chat. Users can stay in the comfort of their own homes as share their experiences and insights. Just schedule the call on your favorite video chatting app (i.e. Skype, Facetime, Google Meet, Zoom) and there you go. 

Most video calling software includes (usually in a paid version) recording capability. We recommend taking advantage of this feature or downloading a tool like Callnote. And why? Because you’re likely going to want to return to those interviews to capture quotes, observe users’ behavior and more. 

A team of five UX designers gathered around a table, looking over a paper prototype

3. UX tools for ideation

After you’ve done the research and you understand the problems your users actually want you to solve, it’s time to solve those problems!

This is where the experimentation really begins. At this stage, you’re considering different angles from which to approach the problem, so you can be skimpy on the details.

If you’re looking for a digital venue for your ideation (on your own or with a team), check out Miro, Mural, or Lucidspark

If you want to go analog, just head back to the basics. All you really need here is pen and paper, a whiteboard or even a chalkboardanywhere you can draw freely and spontaneously. If you want to do some more active ideation, there are a lot of design thinking exercises that can guide your efforts.

Once you’ve come up with a few ideas and sketches, you can start prototyping, testing, and building those final wireframes. 

4. Tools for prototyping and wireframing

By now, you’ve narrowed it down to one or two approaches. Your next challenge is to take these sketches and turn them into working prototypes and, eventually, detailed wireframes for handoff to your developer(s). 

Even though there are significant differences between prototypes and wireframes, tools for prototyping and tools for wireframing make for a Venn diagram with a lot of crossover. Here are our favorite tools that you can use to accomplish both tasks:

If you want to keep your prototyping and wireframing in separate tools for any reason, Mockplus and InVision are great for the former and you should definitely check out Wireframe.cc and Whimsical for the latter.

Play around with a few different programs until you find what works for you. Just remember: fancy functions and features are great, but don’t fall down that UI rabbit hole! Functionality is the goal here.

Close up of two UX designers' hands. They are working at laptops with notes and pens nearby

5. User testing tools

Once you have a detailed wireframe that solves your users’ problem(s), you can send it off to your developers. 

But that’s not the end of the design process! After your product is alive in the world, there will always be ways you can improve and iterate on the user experience. Thankfully, there are loads of tools out there to help you do this. Here are our favorites:

As with any of the tools we’ve suggested so far, you’ll want to explore each tool to see if it’s suited to the way you work and your company’s goals.

6. Tools for project management

In an exploration of the best tools for UX designers, it’s easy to overlook the tools that keep the UX ball rolling. All that project management and communication and collaboration that keeps you in touch with stakeholders and stakeholder aware of what’s going on, you in touch with others on your team, and the list goes on.

Beyond communication tools like Slack and Zoom (and all the others that are such a part of work life these days), let’s look at some amazing tools that we recommend exploring for project management

  • Asana. Fantastic for project management, knowing what needs to be done and who’s working on what. It’s also got commenting features and ways to attach files and link out to other files. 
  • Airtable. Another high-power collaboration tool that can be used for everything from project management to organizing and storing content, linking out to visual examples, attaching files, and more. 
  • Alternative (and also fantastic) tools: Trello, Monday.

Again, the tool(s) you adopt will depend on what kinds of projects you undertake, who’s collaborating, and how they need to collaborate. 

7. What next?

So there you have it: the most essential tools to see you through the entire design process. The next step is to hop onto some free versions and free trials to see what works best for you! 

Further reading

What You Should Do Now

  1. Get a hands-on introduction to UX with a free, 6-day short course.
  2. Become a qualified UX designer in 5-10 months—complete with a job guarantee.
  3. Talk to a program advisor to discuss career change and find out if UX is right for you.
  4. Learn about our graduates, see their portfolio projects, and find out where they’re at now.