A UX designer sitting at a desk, working on a laptop

Essential Tools for UX Designers: A Beginner’s Guide

Emily Stevens

No craftsperson is complete without their tools, and UX designers are no exception.

In order to bring your ideas to life, you need a well-stocked arsenal of programs, apps and materialsbut with so many to choose from, where do you start?

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.

To make this guide a bit more user-friendly, we’ve broken it down according to each stage of the design workflow. This is by no means an exhaustive list, but it will give you the introduction you need to some of the most important UX design tools around.

UX Tools for: Research & Inspiration

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!

There are plenty of tools to help you ask the right questions and gather user insights. The key here is to make it easy for the user to participate, so web-based tools are best.

Survey & Polling Tools

Surveys and polls are a good place to start, and will enable you to reach a wide audience quickly. One popular tool for creating forms, surveys and quizzes is Typeform; a free account will give you access to 100 responses per month, and you can include up to 10 fields per typeform.

SurveyMonkey is another really handy tool for UXers. As well as online surveys, you can use the Audience feature to carry out global market research for large-scale projects.

Video Interviews

To really understand the user and where they’re coming from, it’s a good idea to follow up with a face-to-face chat. You don’t necessarily need any special tools for this; it can be as simple as arranging a Skype call or chatting via Facetime. Just make sure you’re ready to take notes as you chat, so you can refer back to your findings later.

UX Tools for: Sketching

You’ve identified the problem: now it’s time to solve it. 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.

As for tools, we’re going back to basics. All you really need here is pen and paper, a whiteboard or even a chalkboardanywhere you can draw freely and spontaneously.

You were probably already hatching ideas during the research phase, so it’s a good idea to have your sketchbook handy at all times.

Once you’ve come up with a few sketches, you can run some initial user tests. Usability Hub is extremely popular with UXers: simply upload your sketches and conduct a preference test. Although your designs are still very much in their infancy, this will give you an idea of which approaches to take forward.

UX Tools for: 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 wireframes, and there are plenty of awesome tools for the job. In fact, with so much choice on the market, it can be a bit of a minefield.

When choosing a wireframing tool, it’s important to stay focused. You do want to add more detail to your sketches, but you don’t want to get into high-fidelity designs. Sketch is an extremely useful UX tool, but if you’re easily distracted, you may be better off with a wireframing-only option like Balsamiq.

Other popular tools include Adobe Illustrator, which you’ll need to download, or Wireframe.cc which can be used in-browser.

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.

New to UX? Learn how to create your very first wireframe here.

UX Tools for: Prototyping

You’re getting closer to the final product, and you need to see your ideas in action. It’s time to create prototypes!

Essentially, a prototype is an interactive, clickable version of your designjust like the finished product will be. With a little help from the right tools, you can bring your sketches and wireframes to life.

When it comes to prototyping, you’ll hear many UXers talk about InVision. Here, you can upload your wireframes, choose which device you’re designing for, and get to work adding hotspots. Another handy tool is Mockplus, whose simple drag-and-drop functionality can be a real time-saver.

Again, there are plenty of tools to choose from, so take the time to find one you really get on with. Opt for a tool that makes it easy to share your finished prototypes, as this will be crucial for user testing and gathering feedback.

Essential Tools for UX Designers: What Next?

So there you have it: the most essential tools for each stage of the UX design workflow. Of course, this is just the tip of the iceberg. As you move into the user testing and implementation phases, there’s a whole new set of tools to explorenot to mention project management and communication tools for overall efficiency. With this list, however, you should be ready to start designing!

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.

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Emily Stevens

Emily Stevens

Managing Editor at CareerFoundry

Originally from England, Emily moved to Berlin after studying French and German at university. She has spent the last five years working in tech startups, immersed in the world of UX and design thinking. In addition to writing for the CareerFoundry blog, Emily has been a regular contributor to several industry-leading design publications, including the InVision blog, UX Planet, and Adobe XD Ideas.