If I had to pick one topic I hate to discuss with other UXers, I'd have to say it's 'tools.' I also hate to talk about this during interviews and it drives me crazy when I see job ads that require a specific tool or tools. Smart companies, and I've worked for a few, don't care about the tools you use. They care about the quality of your work. Now, I do understand that it's important for teams to be able to work together on projects and share artifacts. But, I don't understand passing on an otherwise qualified candidate because you don't see your tool of choice on their resume. Every UXer I know is capable of learning how to use a new tool in very little time. Now, do they want to learn to use a new tool? That's another story and the answer may be, no. If their answer is no and you just absolutely have to have a designer that is willing to use your tool of choice, then it's probably not a good fit. Move on.
Now that I finished my little rant, I can tell you about the tools I prefer to use and why. And this doesn't mean I'm unwilling to use other tools or that these tools will work for you; these are just the tools I prefer for the majority of projects I've worked on, so far. And yes, I have used many other tools because that is what was required.
My absolute favorite tool of all time is Axure RP. My background is mainly in enterprise software. This is software used by employees in huge corporations to get their jobs done. Anyone that's worked in UX for internal software knows it's quite different than creating consumer-facing products. Companies don't mind spending time and money making things beautiful for their customers. After all, that's where the cash comes from, right? Well, that's partially right, however, employee turnover is very costly. And if your software creates a miserable experience for your employees, that's exactly what you're going to get...turnover.
Axure is a great tool not so much for screen design, but more-so rapid prototyping, documentation and specs, and hand-off. Quick interactons. In most graphic design programs, you have to manually create a separate graphic element to demonstrate states like mouseover, selected, disabled, etc. In Axure, it's easy. Just select the element and set the interaction styles. BOOM! Done!
Dynamic Panels make it a snap to prototype interactions. Let's say you want to create content tabs for the user to interact with. Just use a Dynamic Panel. In other programs, you'd need to create a dozen different images to demonstrate the same thing. No thank you.
Previewing and sharing designs in Axure is easy. Preview is straightforward, just preview the design in the browser. To share, just generate the prototype to HTML and send a link to coworkers or clients to review and even add comments. So much more efficient than going back and forth via email.
Here's the best description of Axure I've heard so far, it's perfect for large teams where UX designers are not tasked with visual design. A 'pure' UX tool if there ever was one.
I love Photoshop. But, once again, since I'm not usually creating beautiful, customer-facing, products, companies tend to grumble when I ask for it. And, I understand because it's expensive. So, what's a girl to do? Use GIMP! GIMP is a free and open source image editor that's been around for 25 years. And yes, it's every bit as good as Photoshop for my needs. I've used it for freelance projects for years. You just can't beat free!
Working in large corporations means sometimes I run into folks that are...how do I say this nicely? Not UX friendly. Let's face it, UX is still pretty new and many people don't understand the benefits of it, particularly for internal software. Let's say you have a department of people that are forced to use software created in 1996. Yes, this is reality for many people working on internal software. These people hate interacting with the software, new employees have a hard time learning it, and almost never is it accessible. How do we convince stakeholders and upper-level management that this old software is a problem? One way is to help build empathy by showing them storyboards. Many UXers actually draw their own characters and storyboards. I'm not that talented, so I use StoryboardThat. This tool has all sorts of characters and scenery you can use. It's a fun way to demonstrate the user's experience. It's not free, but it's relatively inexpensive.
Sometimes I need to create something that's 'pretty.' That's where Canva comes in. This thing has everything but the kitchen sink. Templates for Customer Journey Maps, Affinity Diagrams, Infographics, Presentations, you name it, they've got it. You can upload your own images and/or grab free images from Pixabay, Pexels, and more. Why start with a blank canvas? There is a free version, but I prefer to have all the goodies!
What do I use when I want to play with Bootstrap? I'm using it right now, Visual Studio Code. It's a free, source-code editor for Windows made by Microsoft. So, if you're a UXer that likes to play with code, I highly recommend Visual Studio Code.
So, in a nutshell, here's what's in my toolbox:
- Axure RP - rapid prototyping
- GIMP - visual design
- StoryboardThat - storyboards
- Canva - customer journey maps, infographics, personas, presentations
- Visual Studio Code - HTML, CSS, Bootstrap
Now, as I said at the start of this article, these tools are what work best for me. What's in your toolbox?
Any fool can make something complex; it takes a genius to make something simple.
~ Albert Einstein