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Prototyping is vital to software development, and UX prototyping tools can make the process a lot easier. It’s the means by which designers, developers, and project managers are able to communicate with one another and bring their ideas to life. Prototypes can assist with ideation, map out user flows, and communicate progress to stakeholders or clients, all without having to write a single line of code. It’s an ideal way to test out ideas and see how your users respond to them. As part of the UX design process, at Tivix we often develop multiple prototypes of a product before deciding on a winner.
Prototyping software tools make it simple to rapidly bring ideas to life, and go back to the drawing board just as quickly until we find our winning concept. If you’re designing a digital product of your own—or simply curious about what tools most software development teams are using in the process—here are some of the best prototyping tools to consider in 2021.
The 12 prototyping tools we’re going to explore are:
- Adobe XD
- Origami Studio
- Axure RP
InVision is one of the leading design presentation apps in the market. Not only does it let you create high fidelity interactive prototypes, it also lets you present them as they’d look in the final product to clients and team members on their preferred viewing device of choice. Real-time comments and to-do lists in InVision’s Live Share mode make collaboration seamless. Built by designers, InVision is the prototyping tool you want to use when you’re presenting your work to stakeholders or clients.
One caveat to note is that to work with InVision, you have to import images (jpeg, png, pdf or gif) or extract prototypes from Sketch or Photoshop. This means it’s not a standalone tool, but it integrates well with the industry-standard vector graphics editors.
With the release of InVision Studio and Design System Manager, they’ve created an even more comprehensive suite of UI/UX design tools. InVision Studio is an ambitious product, while not our tool of choice, it could be a very promising tool for advanced animation, based on early user feedback, time will tell. Design System Manager is proving itself as a valuable tool for creating cohesive design systems at scale, and integrating these design systems directly with your codebase.
Free trial (1 project)
Starter (3 projects) - $15/mo
Professional (unlimited projects) - $25/mo
Sketch is a vector-based design tool — which means you won’t have to worry about resolution or screen densities when creating logos, layouts and other visual mockups. While Sketch does support interactions and user flows to a certain extent (with plugins), where it really shines is in how it fills the void left by powerful image editing suites like Photoshop which are less optimized for web and mobile app design.
With Sketch, you get basic image editing functionality (without all the photography-focused Photoshop features you don’t need) with the pixel precision and non-destructive editing perks of a vector-based design tool. This powerful feature-set bundled in an interface that supports intuitive and speedy workflows makes it an essential tool of the trade.
Note: Sketch is only available for Mac users.
Full version - $99 one time payment
For teams - $9/month per contributor seat
Marvel is a fully-featured web and mobile solution for prototyping and user testing. It’s reasonably priced to get started and comes up with a whole host of cool features. One of the areas where the app really shines is in user testing. Features include targeted recruitment of testing participants segmented by profession and age, along with voice transcription and session replay.
Another nifty feature is Marvel’s use of triggers and actions - these can be used for communicating UX and product flow to stakeholders. What’s really great about Marvel is that it’s so easy to use. The learning curve is minimal, so even non-designers can ramp up their proficiency pretty quickly.
It also comes with a bunch of handy integrations and plays nicely with Zapier so you can extend its functionality beyond the core feature-set. Launched in 2013, it’s since grown to over 2 million users and is the prototyping tool of choice for many high-profile firms like Stripe, Buzzfeed and Typeform.
Free trial (1 project)
Pro - $8/mo
Team - $24/mo
Similar to Marvel, Figma is a browser-based design and prototyping tool. It’s a bit more advanced than Marvel in that it’s a fully-fledged product design tool, and can even be used to replace vector graphics tools like Sketch or Illustrator.
It’s a one-stop solution for product design, and we’re loving it at Tivix. It feels a lot like Sketch but since it’s web-based, there’s no need to fret over updates, compatibility issues, or version control.
For those looking to add animated transitions to their products, Figma offers ‘smart animate’. Released in late 2019 this feature lets you add more advanced transitions and animations between screens, so users can create prototypes and map interactive effects all with one tool.
There are few better tools out there for collaborative, real-time design work. As designers move away from desktop tools towards seamless collaboration in the cloud, Figma and Marvel are leading the way as the best choices for the modern design process.
Figma also comes with a suite of useful integrations, from collaboration and project management to developer tools to facilitate better handoffs.
Free (3 projects)
Professional - $12/mo
Organization - $45/mo
6. Adobe XD
For a long time, Adobe Creative Cloud (CC) lacked an equivalent lightweight vector graphics editor like Sketch for UI/UX designers who don’t own a Mac. Fans of Adobe CC had to settle for using a combination of Photoshop, Illustrator, and Fireworks (Adobe’s old vector graphics editor which was deprecated in 2013). Adobe XD (Experience Design) is the vector-based design tool PC users were waiting for. All the perks of Sketch, plus native support for interaction design and prototyping, and seamless integration with other Adobe products.
Proto.io is a browser-based prototyping tool that specializes in animations and interactions. The platform supports a lot of design features you would expect to see in a desktop application, including gestures and mouse/touch events.
An intuitive drag-and-drop UI lets you prototype complex interactions with no coding knowledge required. If you need an interactive, high-fidelity prototype that can run as intended on Apple and Android mobile devices, this is the tool for you.
Freelancer - $24/mo
Startup - $40/mo
Agency - $80/mo
Corporate - $160/mo
7. Origami Studio
For designers who want to go above and beyond, Origami Studio is a slightly more complex prototyping tool. Originally created for the teams at Facebook, Origami is a steep learning curve, but the payoffs include a handy patch editor which enables you to build behaviors, logic, animations and interactions. Origami comes with pre-built patches and integrates with Photoshop and Sketch, meaning that designers can easily import their projects. Origami’s only drawback is its lack of collaboration features, such as the ability to comment or view version histories. Nevertheless, this powerful tool enables designs to create high-fidelity prototypes with sophisticated interactions.
Balsamiq is great for beginners thanks to its easy to use interface and simple keyboard shortcuts. It’s more of a wire-framing tool than a high-fidelity prototyping tool. This is because its low-fidelity features produce good rough sketches which are perfect for ideation and brain-storming. Balsamiq users get access to over 500 pre-loaded icons and components to help them sketch up detailed wireframes. It also makes transitioning from one element to another super easy thanks to the fact that it’s embedded links still work after you download your wireframe as a PDF.
Free trial (30 days)
Web app - $12/mo
1 user - $89
Volume license - varies by no. of users
Principle is great for designing interactive user interfaces or multi-screen apps thanks to its high-fidelity features. It also comes with an iOS app which mirrors live prototypes. It’s a fantastic tool for designers on the move as Principle continues working offline. This program has a UI similar to Sketch, including real-time previews and board creation. It’s collaboration capabilities aren’t the best, but this is made up for by it’s timeline-based animation builder and the ability to import Figma frames.
Full version - $129
10. Just in mind
Justinmind comes highly praised by the design community, but it isn’t cheap. Just like Principle, it allows users to work offline which adds flexibility and speed to your prototyping process. Justinmind is perfect for beginners thanks to its comprehensive tutorials, drag and drop functionality and simple user interface. For the price, you’ll get access to hundreds of add-ons from UI libraries and seamless integrations with Adobe Suite, Jira and Sketch.
11. Axure RP
Axure RP is a popular all-in-one UX platform. It is suitable for beginners due as it requires no coding knowledge and offers simple drag and drop UX. However the program has enough high-level functionality, such as animations, adaptive views and dynamic content to keep more advanced users happy. Axure RP offers a seamless handoff to developers thanks to its ability to share designs on the cloud. Simply publish your designs to Axure Share and a link and password will enable others to view your project. Axure RP is great for collaboration as it keeps track of version history, notes, tasks and fully integrates with Slack.
Free trial (30 days)
Pro - $29/mo
Team - $49/mo
Enterprise - $99/mo
Free (2 unhosted projects)
Personal - $16/mo
Pro - $35/mo
Which of the best UX prototyping tools is for you?
From simple wire-framing tools to comprehensive prototyping suites, we hope this roundup provided you with a nice sampling of the most popular UX/UI prototyping tools on the market in 2021. The best tool depends on your project requirements: do you require a fully interactive, high fidelity mockup to present to the board at the end of your next sprint? Or are you looking to fuel the ideation process with some white-board style wireframes? The best prototyping tool is the one that serves the specific needs for your project.