16 Best Product Design Tools on the Market in 2021
Starting the product design process but not sure which tools to use? This list can help!
Below, we’ve listed our favorite 16 product design tools on the market right now. These will help you with every aspect of your product design process, including ideation, the design phase itself and user testing – as well as general collaboration across your team.
The software product design process is full of risk which can be mitigated with the right tools at your disposal. Invest time in exploring each of the options below (and some alternatives), so that you create the best possible product design toolkit for your needs.
What are product design tools and how are they used in product development?
A product design tool is any tool that facilitates the design phase of the product development process. These include:
- Ideation tools to map out your user journey
- Prototyping and wireframing tools that build prototypes (both high and low fidelity)
- Visual design tools to build logos, icons and other visual elements of your design
- Collaboration tools for a smoother design process
- User testing tools for feedback and evaluation of your prototypes
These product design apps help you build your final, high-fidelity prototype that you can then pass to your software developers, who build a real-life, working version of that prototype.
There are so many tools on the market that it’s sometimes difficult for product designers to know where to start. Below, we’ve provided a few
Top product design tools for research and ideation
1. For inspiration: Page Flows
Are you stuck for inspiration on a particular aspect of your user journey? Perhaps you’ve reached a major impasse that you’re not sure how to solve, or just want to look at how others approach the problem
Page Flows is a growing library of real-world user flow videos and screenshots from top global brands including Amazon, Netflix, Spotify, Revolut and Dropbox. You’ll find inspiration for user journeys covering onboarding, purchasing, upgrading, creating things, inviting and cancelling, amongst others.
Currently, there are over 2,000 videos, 20,000 screenshots and 11,000 email journeys – and this is only going to get bigger.
2. For ideation and journey mapping: FlowMapp
FlowMapp is a great UX mapping tool for those early phases of your project where you’re planning how your user journey will work.
Its intuitive UI makes creating site maps and user flows a dream – you can pick it up more or less instantly without any sort of learning curve whatsoever. You can also use FlowMapp to create user personas and to contextualize your prototype via wider customer journey mapping.
The price point is accessible for teams of all sizes, and those with relatively lightweight requirements can use it completely free of charge.
3. For collation and collaboration: UserBit
Understanding the needs of your users is essential for good product design. UserBit’s suite of business, design and collaboration tools help you create a truly user-centered product whilst keeping founders,designers and developers on the same page.
Create user personas, type up interview notes and create basic sitemaps all in one place to facilitate collaboration, ideation and problem solving during the research phase of your project. UserBit syncs in real time to ensure that everyone is up-to-date on your project’s latest developments automatically.
Top tools for prototyping
4. For high fidelity prototypes: Sketch
Sketch is a widely-used, all-in-one product design toolkit for creating and managing high-fidelity interface designs.
You’ll find everything you need here to make the design process as smooth as possible, including real-time collaboration, pixel-precise visual design tools, time-saving features like reusable components.
One of the best things about Sketch is how easy it is to extend its functionality. Plugins range from useful but functional .svg compressors and integrations with Unsplash to more advanced tools like Stark (for accessible design) and Dark Side (for dark/light themes).
5. For medium to high fidelity prototypes: Figma
It seems that every design team in the world is using Figma at the moment. It’s easy to see why.
This digital interface design tool, with its device presets, easy-to-use prototyping tools and host of handy features make Figma the undisputed king of mid to heavyweight prototyping tools in 2021. You’ll only need to use external apps to handle the most complex interactions, and you can open and edit Sketch files in Figma without an issue.
Figma makes collaboration a breeze. The subscription allows for real-time collaborative working, and non-collaborators can easily view your designs via browser link without a subscription.
6. For low fidelity prototypes: Balsamiq
Sometimes, you just need to get your ideas down in the most basic form possible, as a starting point for further work.
Balsamiq is a rapid, low-fidelity wireframing and prototyping tool that’s perfect for creating early-stage prototypes for reference within your design team. It’s designed to recreate the experience of sketching with pen and paper with no need for upfront setup.
You can work from scratch, or make use of Balsamiq’s comprehensive asset library for a great range of prebuilt components. You can also add your own components to the library for regular use across your early designs.
Best product design tools for visual design elements
7. For creating vector art: Adobe Illustrator
Adobe Illustrator has been the industry’s go-to tool for creating vector graphics from scratch for years now. In 2021, it still leads the pack in terms of functionality and the results it offers.
As with any Adobe software package, you’ll need to invest time in learning how to use it. It’s not a tool that is particularly intuitive for non-designers. Equally, you get out what you put in. And, in Illustrator’s case, that’s beautifully designed vector art that’s unique to your brand and your organization.
You can use Illustrator for traditional logo and icon design, as well as hand lettering, typography design and creating infographics. Illustrator now has a fully-featured iPad app – handy for working on the go.
8. For saving time on vector art: Noun Project
Want to spend less time editing vector logos? Noun Project’s searchable library of icons is a complete game changer, time-wise.
For a regular subscription payment, you get access to the library and can download as many icons as you want in .png, .pdf or .svg formats. Downloading as an .svg allows your design team to edit the icons if they need to fit into a particular theme or style.
The result is a happy compromise. Designers are notoriously precise when it comes to icon requirements – Noun Project saves time on designing vectors from scratch whilst still offering the opportunity to edit and customize your icons.
9. For intuitive animation: Flow
If you’re looking for a mid-weight animation tool that works well with Sketch, Flow should be your go-to option.
Flow is an intuitive animation tool that developers and designers can use with very little learning curve. You can import Sketch, Figma and .svg files in seconds, and get started on adding animations straight away – no coding knowledge required.
You can experiment with layers, work in a timeline view and export as either a movie or production-ready code.
10. For top-of-the-range animation and effects: Adobe After Effects
Let’s be honest. After Effects isn’t particularly easy to use. You will not be able to upload a file and just get started, like Flow allows you to. Equally, Adobe’s After Effects animation tools are the most comprehensive, powerful and advanced on the market right now. If you need Hollywood-level animation capability, After Effects is the place to get it.
After Effects offers a comprehensive feature set for text animation, visual effects, motion graphics and rotoscoping. Backed by AirBnB’s Lottie library, built specifically for use with After Effects, animations can now render natively on web, iOS, Android and React Native.
Best tools for productivity and collaboration
11. For Agile collaboration: Mural
A suite of collaboration tools based on Agile and design thinking principles? Count us in.
Mural’s emphasis is on visual collaboration, so you’ll find an impressive set of collaborative brainstorming, project management and virtual whiteboard tools. These allow designers to share lists, drawings or wireframe ideas with the group whilst making notes.
If you miss the organic creativity that evolves from sitting in a meeting room and pinging ideas off each other using a whiteboard, Mural is the productivity tool for you.
12. For virtual whiteboard functionality: Miro
Miro provides a suite of video conferencing and team collaboration tools. It’s easy to use and as comprehensive as similar platform, but there’s one useful feature in particular that marks Miro out as particularly useful for designers:
You can digitize handwritten notes.
Some designers still swear by pen and paper, especially during earlier ideation phases. Using Miro, designers can turn these initial sketches into a digital whiteboard simply by taking a photo and uploading it.
The best product design tools for user testing
13. For remote user testing sessions: Lookback
Lookback makes running user testing, interviews and focus groups easy, and maximizes the insight you get from running remote sessions.
Communicate in real time with participants with live testing features, observing their reactions and asking questions as they explore your prototype in real time. You see the path they take through your product and their reactions on parallel screens, gaining so much more insight than you would using standard video calling software.
With options for moderated and unmoderated testing, Lookback is flexible, easy to use and makes gathering feedback from a wide range of participants easier than ever before.
14. For interview transcription: Otter.ai
Otter.ai is more than just a transcription tool. Instead, think of it as an AI-powered note-taking assistant that sits in meetings, interviews and focus groups and creates rich, in-depth notes complete with text, audio, speaker ID, images and key phrases.
Otter is at the top of the pack when it comes to transcription capabilities. What makes it really stand out from other methods, however, is its ability to organize your conversations into an easily-searchable database. If you’re looking for exactly what your users thought of a particular feature, the search returns instant results and saves you trawling through transcript after transcript.
You can search, play and share conversations from any device, and offers 600 minutes of free transcription per month
15. For surveys: Typeform
Sure, it’s not the flashiest product design app on this list, but a reliable survey tool is essential in every user testing arsenal.
There are a myriad of options you can choose here. We’ve picked Typeform for its intuitive interface and because of how easily customizable its interfaces are. You can create in-depth, branded user testing questionnaires in just a couple of minutes using their extensive library of prebuilt templates, or build your own from scratch.
16. For stakeholder buy-in: UserTesting
UserTesting connects you with relevant audiences for user testing, and allows you to run both moderated and unmoderated remote testing whilst recording live conversations.
There are a range of remote user testing tools on the market. What makes UserTesting stand out from others is its ‘highlights’ feature that pinpoints and records the exact moment your testing subjects start to struggle with your design.
This visual evidence of customer pain points removes the guesswork from processing results, and helps your team stay on the same page when it comes to implementing improvements. Highlights are also incredibly useful for persuading stakeholders elsewhere that a change in design is needed – no mean feat, particularly in larger companies with multiple competing priorities.
The right tools are only half the picture…
To build an absolutely world-beating digital product, you need the right product people on your side.
Designers, developers, project managers…whoever you need to bring your app to life, Tivix can lend a hand. Whether you’re short on product design talent, have no in-house development function or simply need a little advice about the journey to fully-developed app, our global network of talent would love to help.
We have over a decade of experience as an international product design and development agency, working with clients as diverse as TESLA, the United Nations and Zoetis. Why not check out some of our success stories for yourself?
If you think we could bring something to your project, we’d love to hear from you. Drop us a message here to start the conversation.