The 6 best new UX tools of 2016

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Have you been using the same tools for years? Is there a chance a new tool might make your life easier, help you get your work done quicker?

New UX tools are coming thick and fast, all the time, and it’s always worth checking them out. All the apps on this list are either free, or at least offer a free trial, so read on to find out what you might be missing out on.

Meanwhile, if there’s a new tool for 2016 that you feel should be on this list, please let us know about it in the comments below.

01. Adobe Experience Design

Adobe’s answer to Sketch, XD, has impressed designers with its speed and ease of use

Price: Free in beta

Adobe's answer to Sketch was released in March, and the design community (including the writer of our own Adobe XD review) was broadly impressed, particularly with the speed of the app and the lack of learning curve. 

Currently available for Mac (with a Windows 10 version ‘coming soon’), Adobe XD is all-in-one tool for designing and prototyping websites and mobile apps, and provides wireframing, drawing, interactive prototypes, animations and sharing features.

At November’s Adobe Max event, the company announced that the app would also gain the kind of layer tools that Photoshop users are used to, as well as new symbol support, and commenting and collaboration tools.

02. Affinity Designer 1.5

With version 1.5, Affinity Designer is aiming to appeal to UX designers as well as illustrators

Price: £29.99

While Adobe XD and Sketch battled it out for designers’ attention, another young upstart also threw its hat into the ring during 2016. While Mac tool Affinity Designer originally launched in 2014, it was broadly positioned as a low-cost, subscription-free rival to Adobe Illustrator. But this year, a new version aimed to attract UI, UX and web designers too.

Makers Serif sweetened the deal in version 1.5 with a new Symbols feature, which allows you to edit multiple instances of the same object, and the Constraints feature, which makes it possible to create reusable elements that perform in a pseudo-responsive fashion.

Perhaps more significantly, this autumn Affinity Designer launched on Windows, providing an alternative to both Adobe XD and Sketch for non-Mac users.

03. Pattern Lab 2

Pattern Lab 2 provides a modular system that enables you to build pattern-driven user interfaces

Price: Free

Pattern Lab is a suite of tools that help you build sites using the principles of Brad Frost’s atomic design. In July its makers gave it a total overhaul from the ground up. 

As explained in this post, “Pattern Lab 2 has been designed and built so your team can effectively use it during every phase of your design system process, from the very beginning all the way through to its long-term maintenance.” Specific new features were also added, including support for Markdown for pattern documentation, and new plugins to extend and enhance Pattern Lab’s functionality.

04. Fractal

Fractal is a tool for assembling web component libraries from UX consultancy Clearleft

Price: Free

This July leading UX and design consultancy Clearleft launched a tool that’s similar to Pattern Lab, in that it helps you assemble, preview and document website component libraries, and then integrate them into your websites, apps and build processes to create joined up, ‘living’ projects. It can be run from the command line or integrated into your project via its API.

The open-source tool was originally created to build and document component libraries at Clearleft, which creates award-winning work for huge clients like the BBC, Penguin and Mozilla. So if it’s good enough for them, it’s something the rest of us are very likely to find handy too.

05. Fuse

Fuse is a cross-platform suite for rapidly creating user interfaces for mobile apps

Price: Free

After year in closed beta, October saw the full launch of Fuse, a cross-platform suite for developers and designers to rapidly create and update user interfaces for iOS and Android apps, in real-time, on multiple devices simultaneously. 

Not to be confused with Adobe Fuse, which is a 3D modelling app, its makers say that Fuse has been built from the ground up for designer-developer collaboration. 

06. CanvasFlip

Test your user assumptions with CanvasFlip

Price: From $15/month

Launched in May, CanvasFlip is a UX testing and analytics tool to help you improve user experience on your mobile and web prototypes. 

As well as generating raw data about user interactions, you can remotely record videos on user interactions, use the conversion funnel tool to visualize where most of your users are dropping off, and generate a heatmap to show where most interactions are taking place. There’s a free trial version so you can try the app out before you commit to a monthly subscription.