Human imagination is a powerful force able to fancy whole imaginary worlds or design spacecraft. However, just like reasoning is impossible without language, the art needs special means of expression. As new means and tools appeared and evolved, people learned how to make the best use of them. So was with mobile app design tools.
During lots of intense work in UI/UX field, our team tried a plenitude of different tools for making the best design, experimenting and searching for innovations. Our current choice usually represents a bunch of specific tools creating the best match with the aims and needs of a particular project and is based on a durable hit-and-miss period. As most of them are partially interchangeable, in this review we tried to collect different functionality tools grouped by the activities they match the best.
The Best Tools for Designing a Mobile App
1. Pencil and Paper
If you felt tricked on seeing our No. 1 tool for designers, well… do not be so quick with judgments. The only tool available in every house, for every person, and at any age is a pencil. Only this instrument can be applied at every stage of design, starting from initial scope formulating and finishing with all-purpose sketches creating. It requires no learning stage before one starts drawing sketches, and also has few limitations. The key here is that people seek for simplicity, and this is where drawing in pencil can be considered as one of useful mobile app interface design tools. Moreover, researchers claim that such a kind of manual work stimulates creativity. Isn’t it a good reason to give it a try?
Now, let us turn to more serious one. OmniGraffle is a professional application developed by The Omni Group for creating diagrams and digital images that work with Mac, iPhone, iPad and iPod touch. The program can be used both independently and as a web application. It includes several tools for developers. OmniGraffle allows dragging objects with the mouse and also has the function of inserting notes and creating specifications for prototypes and models. This application is an ideal tool for working on iPhone and iPad.
This is an effective tool for creating screen layouts that allows you to instantly merge the skeletons of websites, process graphics, diagrams or page outlines. Select the project type, and OmniGraffle will build connections between the various elements automatically, connecting the lines in the form of graphs and aligns the shapes and elements in the layouts or pages. OmniGraffle allows creating the main frame of your site in various ways, including using the iPad and Apple Pencil. It has a form recognition function for those who prefer to draw their design, rather than using a drag-and-drop tool.
A flexible and functional tool with a convenient and intuitive interface that will make you create fabulous things because creating a design should be fun, and not a routine. This product is easy to use, many designers use it to solve two problems at once – as a tool for low-level prototyping, creating wireframes, and for the final visual design of the interface. As you can see, it embraces many functions necessary for every designer, and also sometimes is called one of the user interface designer instruments that most probably will replace Photoshop with its complexness and inadaptability to UI/UX. There are some of the features originated in Sketch:
• Sketch is ideal for designing interfaces and websites. This tool creates vector objects, not raster ones. Thus, if you change the size of the canvas, the design will not lose quality.
• Functions such as “built-in grid” will help you better organize the placement of an object or web layout.
• Sketch displays fonts similar to what Webkit shows (probably Chrome, Opera, and Safari). Thus, you will get rid of the worry about not sharp and not exact displaying of the text in the browser in comparison with the original.
• Sketch can export CSS for each element in the layer.
InVision is one of the most popular tools for designing a mobile app and developing app prototypes. It is used by such brands as Twitter, Nike, and Sony. The software consists of simple drag-and-drop tools that greatly simplify the planning of UX design. You can test your prototype in a browser, smartphone and even in real time. InVision is also designed to interact with and support such cloud storage as Dropbox, Google Drive, and Slack.
The InVision application is ideally suited for working together to develop a preliminary project and obtain information from colleagues and customers. With InVision, we quickly convert static mobile and web projects into interactive prototypes. The program allows real-time modeling.
In fact, micro-animation is one separate case of user interaction with a product to perform a specific task. For example, when you press the like button and see that your like was reflected in the counter. A powerful foundation of thoroughly conceived micro-interactions and micro-animation can give the design such key characteristics of a successful product as usability, attractiveness, and functionality. This is where Principle is one of best app design tools.
Principle is a tool for prototyping interfaces with an emphasis on animation. It is a smart mix between Sketch, Keynote, Flash, and After Effects. The application is so similar to Sketch that you constantly have to check in the menu bar, in which application you are now. Some designers even use it in tow with Sketch. Unlike Flinto for Mac, Principle does not have a plug-in for Sketch, which means it is necessary to redesign source data manually in Principle. Principle has tremendous potential, and fortunately for us, its documentation base and the support of the design community are constantly growing.
Among the advantages of the app:
• The app is easy to learn
• An intuitive interface thanks to the native elements of the Mac OSX interface
• Extremely visualized way of prototyping
• There is a time scale for transformations
• There are previews in the desktop application
Read also: 5 Fundamental UX Design Principles
6. Flinto for Mac
Flinto is ideal for creating prototypes of animation or combining interaction between mobile and web applications. Usually, we choose it to work out a fully-featured prototype with animations quickly. Prototypes can be built from built-in presets, which are imported into the program to get started. If you use Sketch, a plug-in is available in the program that allows you to import working files with a single mouse click.
With Flinto, the developer can quickly create interactive prototypes and layouts for mobile, standalone and web applications. The program is equipped with all the necessary tools for creating transition animations, as well as a screen management system for working with a large number of application screens. If you need a prototype for an application running iOS, Flinto is your choice.
Zeplin.io is a desktop application that helps interface designers and front-end developers work effectively in a team, saving the time of both. The program takes a file with the design and then generates a style guide, source code and specifications that developers need. Thanks to its source export option and integration with abovementioned Sketch (using plug-in), you do not need to prepare the source code manually, and you do not even need to think about the specific dimensions you need to export. Developers get access to all the necessary sources directly online in just one click.
Zeplin supports both web and mobile projects, so it matches most of the projects. In conjunction with Sketch, you can conveniently maintain layouts in a live state. Even in a project with a huge number of layers, and groups of layers the designer can easily and on the fly make small edits and other project participants will see them immediately.
Another great thing in Zeplin is that it allows you to click on any simple vector object on the canvas and see all the available information about it: the exact size of the canvas, the exact size of each element, the exact indentation, shadow, line thickness, transparency or CSS effect codes. Together with that, thanks to its preview feature, Zeplin has drastically cut our speccing time and improved our overall app speccing process.
Summary: What Mobile App Design Tools to Use
No matter what tools you choose for your project, remember to be fascinating in everything you do. Feel free to experiment because there are too many clones and copies today to ignore creativeness. These 7 top tools will not assure your design to be unique, although they will help you lay the groundwork for really fresh ideas in UI/UX design.