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Evolution of UI/UX Designer Tools

Over the last 15 years I have used many different tools to help me create great design experiences. One of the largest changes I have seen is the shift to using one tool that basically does it all. I have sort of come full circle when it comes to software / hardware within my design career.

I first started off in school using a Mac to create digital art using Adobe Photoshop and Freehand from 1998-2001. My first job out of college I was producing illustrations for a publishing company and I used Photoshop, freehand, and illustrator exclusively. Then came 2003 and what I call my era of SharePoint where I ditched the Mac, grabbed a Windows Laptop and started doing all my wireframes in Visio. It was not until 10 years later (2013) that I came back full circle. I jumped back on the Mac Powerbook bandwagon and started using Axure. Axure for me has been amazing but I am starting to see another shift where Sketch has become that next best thing.

Sketch by itself is pretty limiting, however what makes it so powerful is that it has so many extensions and integrations with other tools such as Invision and Zeplin. Invision allows me to organize my Sketch concepts and provide a lightweight prototype to review with clients using hotspots. I don’t think Invision will ever replace the advanced prototyping features that Axure provides however it provides enough to get the point across. I am a bit on the fence since I see a huge value for visual designers to create amazing designs in Sketch and exporting them into Zeplin to create very detailed design specs that are super helpful to the developers who will be implementing the designs. However it is kinda weird to think of a product called "Sketch" and producing really high fidelity designs from it which are on the opposite side of sketches…

One of the biggest things that keeps me from fully converting over to Sketch from Axure is the inability to easy create flow diagrams, sitemaps, connected boxes, tables and lack of built in prototyping directly in Sketch.

My design lifecycle right now looks like this:
1. Sketches (Paper)
2. Conceptual Designs (Axure/Sketch)
3. Wireframes (Axure/Sketch)
4. Interactive Prototypes (Axure/Invision)
5. Functional Annotations (Axure/Sketch)
6. Visual Design Mockups (Sketch)
7. Developer Style Guide (Zeplin)

As you can tell from the above I am using both Sketch and Axure for some of the same tasks. It really depends on the type of project and team on what tool I will use to create my concepts and wireframes. If I know I will need to do heavy prototyping I will go with Axure. Or if I know it will be a large team effort and all of the other designers will be using Sketch I will use that instead.

There are some other players in the game like Invision Studio, Adobe Experience Design, Balsamiq, and JustInMind. It really comes down to a few core factors that makes a tool productive and worth using.
1. The core features on how you will use them
2. How long will it take you to learn and start being productive
3. Collaborative features to share and interact with others
4. Cost of initial use and publishing plans

Things are changing fast and furious and the major players are all working to make their product the best it can be for all user types. I still don’t think there will ever be a single one size fits all tool but if there is I will be happy to jump on that bandwagon.

In the coming months, I hope to post some hands on tutorials for both Axure, Sketch and Invision Studio. Post a comment on what tools work the best for you.

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