Streamline Your Design Workflow: 10 of the Best Web Design Tools for 2017

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With so many new web design tools emerging, it’s difficult to evaluate all of the available options. We’re helping you to find the best tools to meet your needs and budget with our list of the 10 best web design tools for improving your workflow in 2017. Jobs in the web and mobile design industry are at the top of the list for high-demand positions this year. As e-commerce takes over, more people recognize the value of effective website design. Instead of pouring money into store-front displays and a better brick-and-mortar experience, businesses are allocating a greater chunk of change to their marketing plan in order to establish an online presence.  More demand means more business opportunities for your design agency. However, the expanding industry also means there’s more competition. The standards for web design have also shot up as businesses try to differentiate themselves with more sophisticated website design. Luckily, a number of design tools have emerged to make the design workflow more efficient. The time you’d normally spend perfecting one wireframe can be spent exploring options with five or six iterations, expanding the value that you’re delivering without increasing your workload. Here are 10 tools that will streamline your design process and lead to higher quality work for your clients. 

Moodboard Tools

Some clients will share all their brand assets and provide a 30-page brand guide, while others will give you a vague idea of what they “think” they want. A moodboard is a great way to gauge your client’s aesthetic before putting in a ton of work into any kind of preliminary design. It’s a simple collection of images, typography, and branding that you and your clients can discuss to give your team inspiration and an agreed-upon direction. With these tools, you can create 1, 3, 5, or 30 proofs in a matter of minutes to present your clients with several options. 

1. Canva

Price: Free tier and a business tier for $12.95/user/mo. Free trial: Yes, you can try the business tier free for 30 days. Canva is a simple drag-and-drop tool that lets you put as little or as much into your moodboards as you like. You can completely customize them or use one of their pre-designed layouts. It’s intuitive to use for non-designers, so it’s easy to teach clients to make quick edits themselves using millions of images, photo filters, icons, and hundreds of fonts.

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2. Niice

Price: Free tier, a pro tier at $9/mo and a studio tier, coming soon, at $19/mo. Free trial: No. Niice is a product that was created specifically for moodboards. Its interface is simple drag-and-drop, just like Canva’s, but there’s also a collaborative aspect to it. Designers and clients can comment on designs and collaborate in real time from any kind of device. Each mood board gets a private URL, so you can share with your team without posting it publicly.

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Niice has also been lauded as a “search engine for designers,” because it pipes in only the highest quality images from sources like BehanceDribbble, and Designspiration.

Wireframe Tools

Some designers consider skipping the wireframe stage to jump right into the prototype. In an effort to cut down on hours spent before launch, teams end up eliminating the very foundation around which a website is built. This is an unfortunate choice because bypassing the wireframe has the potential to waste time and money instead of saving it. A wireframe lets you focus purely on the function of the webpage without getting distracted by nuances of design. Before deciding on design elements, color or fonts, you want to you know which features are the most important on the website and how a user will be able to navigate to the information that’s most pertinent. Wireframes provide an opportunity to focus on usability with your client before moving on to aesthetics. Here are some tools that will help you cut down the time it takes to create and share a wireframe. 

3. Balsamiq 

Price: Starts at $89 for a single user, but they have a tailored price list for teams. Free trial: Yes, available for 30 days. Balsamiq is the most straightforward wireframing mockup tool, keeping the UI of their software intentionally simple. They consider themselves to be the virtual version of sketching on a whiteboard, calling their no-frills product zen software that has minimum features and helps you achieve the ultra-productive cognitive state known as flow, and stay there.  You can create sketch-like wireframes, drag and drop images, and leave notes alongside your design. This tool doesn’t offer real-time collaboration, but attaches an email list to a project that serves as a “discussion group.” They also allow for a project to have multiple editors. 

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Wireframing software often comes with a slew of unnecessary features and options that divert your attention from the simple, focused purpose of blueprinting your website. Companies like Apple, Skype, Zappos, and Tesla opt for this simple software over more built-out, robust ones. 

4. Lucidchart

Price: $4.95/mo/user for the basic account, $8.95/mo/user for pro, $20/mo for teams of five or less.  Free trial: Yes, with an unlimited duration. LucidChart is a flowchart software used by many designers to put together a basic wireframe. It has significantly more features than Balsamiq, most notably allowing for more collaboration. LucidChart allows for real-time collaboration and multi-device support.  You can pick from various widgets and pre-made project management templates, or you can import your own UI elements. It’s user-friendly so anyone on your team or your client’s team can throw together a wireframe in a matter of minutes. LucidChart also allows you to share a “live” URL so that clients can keep track of any changes and collaborate as needed. 

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5. Moqups

Price: Basic at $13/mo, Pro at $19/mo, and an Ultimate at $29/mo. Free trial: Yes, for one project, 300 stencils and 5 MB of storage. Moqups is a web app that has tools for designing, planning, and prototyping a website. Once you create your wireframe, you can create your prototype and jump back and forth between the two. You can also hook up your Dropbox and Google Drive accounts for easy file importing and sharing. 

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Graphic Design Tools

There used to be only one company that built products for graphic design: Adobe. Whether you’re using Illustrator or one of its 29 desktop apps, it’s become the industry standard for design over the past decade. But Adobe has its pitfalls, not the least of which is a high yearly cost of almost $600. Many designers also complain about Adobe Illustrator 2017’s bugs and its slow performance, opting to stick to the older versions. But there are new and less expensive tools that have been built from the ground up for professional web designers that can do the trick. Check out these tools as alternatives to Adobe products. 

6. Affinity

Price: One-time payment of $49.99. Free trial: Yes, available for 10 days. Affinity Design is a tool built for web designers who work in the Mac environment. The interface looks a lot like something you’d find in Illustrator or Photoshop, and it’s equipped with all the vector tools, pixel editors, and typography you’d expect. It lacks some of the less frequently used tools, such as the Pucker Tool, and the Bloat Tool, but makes up for it by giving you lots of precision for drawing vectors. 

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Affinity’s big advantage over Adobe products is its performance. It’s reliable,  works fast and rarely crashes, earning itself some faithful followers, a five-star rating from Techradar, and Apple’s “App of the Year” award.

7. Inkscape

Price: Free As an open-source software, Inkscape has become one of the most popular alternatives to Adobe Illustrator in the past few years–mainly because of its price tag (or lack thereof). It has all the same basic features as Illustrator that are necessary for web design work, and some of its own signature features, such as their cloning and tiling feature. Unlike Affinity, they’re available on Windows and Linux operating systems in addition to Mac.

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Since Inkscape has been around for a while, there’s a huge community of designers working on the product and sharing tidbits on how to best use the software. While it doesn’t have all the features of Illustrator, it gets most of the job done without costing your team an arm and a leg.

Prototype Tools

While some designers to cut straight to HTML prototyping, certain software can add collaboration to the prototyping process that isn’t possible otherwise. Instead of hearing crickets between the wireframe and the finished website, let your clients see early design prototypes of the website so you can give them what they want, sooner. These tools can bring a client into the actual design process so that they can add their suggestions as you’re working on the actual design of the site–saving you time and your clients money later down the line. 

8. Justinmind

Price: A free tier and a pro tier at $19. Free trial: No. Justinmind appeared on the design scene just two years ago, but it’s already gaining popularity through some of its well-known clients, such as IBM and Adobe.  Justinmind gives you access to UI libraries filled with over 1,000 UI elements and then offers a testing feature that makes sure that the design works before you start coding. You can export and share the design–and save a custom UI library–so you don’t have to start from scratch for every new client. 

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IBM’s Doug Powell says that prototyping is built into every stage of their Design Thinking approach to development. Their developers turn to Justinmind every time they have new suggestions for the design or usability of an app.

9. Axure RP

Price: Pro for $29/user/mo, team for $49/user/mo, and enterprise for $99/user/mo. They also offer single purchase options. Free trial: Yes, for 30 days Axure offers diagramming for your wireframes, and then lets you take your prototypes to the next level by giving you the capability of creating interactive design without code. You can create adaptive views, include dynamic content, and add animations to your prototypes. Collaborators can leave comments in a “check-in” table, but can’t discuss visuals in context. 

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10. InVision

Price: Free tier, a starter tier at $15, a professional tier at $25, a team tier at $99, and an enterprise tier. Free trial: Yes, available for 7 days.  InVision doesn’t allow you to create UI elements in the software the way Axure does–you have to import them from a graphic design software. But you can add animations and dynamic content to bring life to your static designs. It also has an impressive amount of collaboration features, letting clients create channels around projects and leave comments on specific elements of the page.

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A More Efficient Workflow for Fast, Iterative Design Projects

Web design tools make each step in the design process significantly more efficient, allowing for faster iterations and better communication with clients. They equip both designers and clients at every stage of a project so that both parties’ expertise is leveraged for the best possible outcome.  Did we miss one of your favorite design tools? Let us know in the comments below!

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