7 UX tools to try in 2016

We explore seven amazing apps every UX designer should have in their toolkit for 2016.

A craftsman is only as good as their tools, and whether you're woodworking or web designing, the tools you choose shape the final product.

Here are seven incredibly useful tools for UX design from 2015 that should remain in your workflow into 2016 and beyond.

01. Sketch


Image editor Sketch is aimed squarely at digital designers

Founder Pieter Omvlee intended for Sketch to be an image editor for digital design, and that's exactly how it feels. While only available on Mac, Sketch works largely like Photoshop, but with more affordances for digital designers.

Sketch integrates CSS logic right at the beginning, a helpful feature when it's time to transition into development. It also allows users to create assets in different formats with an Automatic Slicing feature and one-click exports.

Even the layout is web design-friendly, it creates different layers for every new object added, which allow creative combinations and easier navigation, not to mention the convenience for developers.

02. UserTesting

UserTesting makes it easy to recruit users to test your designs

User research and usability testing are essential to the UX design process, but it doesn't have to affect your deadline or gut your budget.

UserTesting brings convenience by recruiting users, administering the test remotely, and presenting you the results in an hour. They even record users during the test, so you can monitor their reactions and see their screens. UserTesting works with fully functioning sites and apps, and can also accept prototypes.

Another great part of UserTesting is that the level of service is scalable. You can opt to have your test designed by an experienced in-house research team, or have a project manager come on to oversee that you accomplish your goals.

03. UXPin

UXPin takes you through the UX process from start to finish

For an app that takes you from start to finish, from lo-fi wireframe to hi-fi prototype, UXPin is an increasingly popular choice, especially for those focused on UX. The collaborative design platform handles each stage of design with special attention, and streamlines the entire process by keeping it in one place for feedback from stakeholders. This isn't the first time UXPin landed on a top list for design tools.

What continues to set UXPin apart is its robust solutions.

First, designers can import both Photoshop and Sketch files for prototyping without losing their layers. Moreover, the app offers interactivity into the wireframing process for early testing, as well as a no-code animations editor for more realistic prototypes.

04. PhotoLine

PhotoLine offers efficiency and extra features its bigger rivals lack

Called "one of the web's best kept secrets", PhotoLine may not be as well known as the other products on this list. It is, however, praised for its efficiency and extra features its bigger rivals lack. It's relative anonymity also helps its price (€59), making it a more economical option for graphic design software.

PhotoLine is the product of German designers with code efficiency as the goal. It offers common features like nondestructive layers, photo manipulation, vector editing and desktop publishing, but goes a step further with multi-layered EXR importing and exporting.

05. XMind

XMind is part brainstorming aid and part task manager

A free-to-use, open-source project (with a paid Pro plan), XMind is part brainstorming aid and part task manager. This “mind mapping” software lets users list out with at-a-glance comprehension a project's goals, threats, schedule, progress, requirements — anything, really, that free up your headspace just by getting it down somewhere.

XMind's easy usability and variety of graphics helps organize a project, or even just your thoughts. With automatic cloud-storage, you can even share projects with team-members anywhere.

06. Optimizely

Optimizely focuses on A/B testing

Like UserTesting above, Optimizely is service for testing your designs. However, Optimizely focuses on one specific type of test, A/B testing, so that designers can see how tweaking an interface will affect conversions.

A/B tests can effectively determine the statistics of user preferences between any two options by testing a pool of users and recording which they prefer. Designers can test anything from the place of a call-to-action to the color of a button. However, a lot of tiny factors can corrupt the data, such as the type of user or the time of day, to name the big ones.

Optimizely handles the fine details so you only have to deal with the results. The interface is incredibly easy to use, so you don't need any technical background to understand the insights. It allows UX designers more freedom to experiment, and hard evidence when defending a decision to stakeholders.

07. Slack

Slack acts as a one-stop medium for keeping your team up-to-date

Last, we'll discuss a collaborative tool for keeping it all together.

Slack touts itself as "team communication for the 21st century", and supports the claim well. Slack incorporates the most common outside tools — Google Drive, Twitter, Dropbox, etc. — and acts as a one-stop medium for keeping the entire team up-to-date.

A favorite feature is the ability to organize team conversations into specific channels including private conversations. Users can also upload files directly to the site.

Since UX is a collaborative exercise, Slack encourages everyone to share their ideas and resources. You can also get clever with the channels. For instance, you could set up a channel called “Beta Testing” where you gather feedback directly from testers (instead of asking them to email you).

Feel free to try out these tools and let us know what you think. What other tools are you using for UX design in 2016?

Words: Matt Ellis

Matt Ellis is a design writer.

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