10 essential tools for freelance UX designers in 2017

Try out these 10 essential UX tools and make the most of your time as a freelancer in 2017.

So 2017 is the year you’re going to leave your 9-5 and go freelance? As many freelance UXers will testify, going it alone can be an exciting ride, but it can also be a little overwhelming at first. Not only will you have to manage all those clients you’ve been quietly nurturing over the years; you’ll also have to manage your accounts while working from home, your projects and stay up to date with UX trends and methodologies. All on your own!

Luckily, technology comes to the rescue in the form of these 10 essential tools for freelance UX designers, which will cut down time wasted and let you focus on what you do best – user experience design.

01. Harvest

Keep track of your hours with this reporting tool

Time management is one of the biggest challenges facing new freelancers, who can get bogged down in too many projects (or too few!). Using Harvest you can track your hours, plus the hours of any fellow freelancers you might work with.

The reporting tool lets you track both time and budget for projects and, most importantly, the future project estimation tool works beautifully. The interface is intuitive, and you can integrate Harvest with more complex tools like Asana or Quickbooks.

02. Zipbooks

Quickbooks is crucial for keeping your accounts in check

Speaking of QuickBooks, you’ll have to keep right on top of your accounts as a freelancer. Quickbooks is a classic accounting tool for freelancers, but it might be too powerful for new freelancers. Newcomer Zipbooks is a free alternative that will enable you to track your time (and put a price on the time you spend on a project), make invoices, monitor payments and track your expenses over time. 

What’s more, you can set up late payment reminders and send them out to clients – an effective stress reducer. Zipbooks is also incredibly easy on the eye, with the central dashboard collating all essential information into one user-friendly screen.

03. Proposify

Want to win over clients? Proposify will help you land work

Proposify is a whistles and bells proposal building tool that will impress the heck out of potential clients. Based on design-leaning templates, you can create customised proposals that streamline the sign-up process with features like online signatures. You can save all your previous proposals as templates too, which will save time in the long run. While the Sales Team features (which track sales metrics) will probably be way too in-depth for the average UX freelancer, it never hurts to be able to track proposal success rates. Packs start at $25 per month.

04. Typeform

Run surveys easily with Typeform

With your time and your accounts organised, you can get on to your actual job. Typeform is a neat little tool for running user surveys that will cut down on the time spent perfecting survey questions and answer choices. Use Typeform's interactive templates to create branded, engaging surveys for any device, even with custom logic and and notifications. 

The analytics have a reputation for being useful and actionable, and there’s a free version of the tool which allows you to send as many surveys as you like. If you need more powerful features, prices start from $30 a month.

05. P.O.P. app

Sketch the old fashioned way but on your screen with P.O.P. app

No matter how hi-tech our workflows become, some people still think better with a pen and paper in their hands. If you’re one of those people, then P.O.P. app is a simple tool that allows you to sketch ideas the old fashioned way then convert them to linked prototypes. Just draw up the wireframes on paper, snap photos on your mobile and then link them together with the basic transitions and gestures offered by P.O.P. you can then share them mockups with clients or colleagues securely, and even carry out early user testing.

While it’s not equipped to create high fidelity prototypes and lacks conditional logic, P.O.P. is nevertheless simple and fun, and definitely a cool app for group brainstorms.

06. User Testing

Record how visitors interact with your site by using User Testing

UX freelancers looking for a testing tool that covers more than surveys can do little better than User Testing. The established tool makes it easy to video record users interacting with a website or app, so you can analyse results at your leisure. The tool has a database of over one million users - all you do is select the demographic you’re targeting and then either write the tasks or have User Testing handle task definition for you. 

This is a sound option for UX freelancers who don’t have time or resources needed to do large-scale user testing solo, but still need to get up close to real users. Feedback can be in in one hour as well, if projects are running short on time. Prices start at around $99 per video.

07. Lookback

Lookback gives you an insight into your visitor's emotions

With the rise of chatbots and virtual assistants, the way we interact with devices is becoming increasingly “human”. So it makes sense that user testers make the most of tools that tap into our everything from how we talk when using an app to our facial expressions. Lookback aims to do just that: built by the UX guys from Spotify, the tool allows you to understand not just behaviour, but emotions and experiences as well. 

You can either record the full screen of a device, and the reverse camera record the user’s facial expressions at the same time. The recordings appear on Lookbacks dashboard, where a team of people can analyse the results. At $29 per person per month it’s not cheap in freelance terms, but if you plan to do lots of mobile app testing it could be what you need.

08. Mixpanel

Figure out your funnel pathways with Mixpanel

Mixpanel has UX analytics covered. The comprehensive tool enables tracking of each individual user’s journey through a product, from engagement through retention to funnel pathways. And the best part is that you only pay for the metrics you use: Mixpanel automatically collects everything (making life a lot easier), but you’ll only be charged for those metrics when you start analyzing them. 

Start out with the Free plan, on which you get 20M data points per month; if you’re only freelancing on the side you this may prove enough for your needs; otherwise, you’ll have to step up to $99 per month, a hefty price tag for a freelancer.

09. Balsamiq

Balsamiq lets you whip up wireframes in an instant

Balsamiq is a great little tool for putting together quick wireframes and mockups. It’s a good choice for all the traditional UXers out there, as the tool aims to reproduce the feeling of wireframing on a whiteboard, but digitally. Its cute, sketch-style interface and drag and drop UI elements make for super-fast UI building; the resultant mockups can then be used for basic user testing. From $12 a month for the paid version, it’s not a bad option for freelancers.

10. Justinmind

Justinmind is tailored towards more basic wireframes

For freelancers who need more than basic wireframing abilities, Justinmind is designed to cover both wireframing and interactive prototyping in one tool. The tool can create lo-fi mockups as easily as high fidelity prototypes with requirements tracking and multi-device simulation.

Prototypes can be created from zero - just select the device you want to prototype for (say, iPhone 7) then drag the pre-baked UI elements to the canvas and add interactions. The tool gives you loads of flexibility in terms of interface design, and Sketch and Photoshop integrations make it possible to import already-started projects and add conditional logic and interactions to them.

Justinmind is also a good option for freelancers working with big clients thanks to its teamwork features: clients can add their own comments and requirements to individual features and then track changes in the version history. The price point of $19 per user/month isn’t a bad deal either.

And finally...

We couldn’t resist including these (probably) non-essential tools that will nevertheless improve your UX workflow, and your day.

Coggle

Share your thoughts with Coggle's mind map tools

Coggle is pretty use-specific, but it really does add something new to the usual arsenal of design and UX tools. The free tool lets you map out brainstorming sessions into beautiful mind-maps that can then be shared with friends and colleagues. Their examples will win over any design savvy UXer.

Figma

Figma makes it easier to share and collaborate on projects

Figma is an awesome new tool that brings the handiness of Cloud-based collaboration to interface design. Kind of like Google docs, you can work on projects at the same time as multiple colleagues and the design updates in real-time. Work is saved in a version history automatically, and changes sent along to your mobile device as they happen.

Prospero

Prospero is a purpose built tool for polishing proposals

Although it’s designed for designers, Prospero proposal writer is a good option for UXers as well. The neat tool (still in beta mode) lets you create gorgeous proposals based on those of design agencies; the Prospero team also takes care of the copywriting, which is a big boost for time-poor freelancers.

Related articles: