7 Best Prototyping Tools for UI/UX Designers in 2021

Stefan Ivanov / Thursday, October 28, 2021

Designers rely on inspiration (and deadlines, but that’s a different story) to start and complete projects. But in the rapidly evolving IT and business world, designers also need modern UI/UX software for prototyping to help them streamline their projects. 

A key reason designers need modern prototyping tools is that prototyping incorporates two distinct processes, UI and UX: 

  • UI design tools simplify wireframing as well as the creation of mockups and prototypes 
  • UX focuses on the broader picture and how the crafted visual content is structured, how it reflects on user expectations, and how it affects their interaction 

A modern prototyping app can handle both UI and UX by integrating many key steps: weaving visuals in the design, putting togetheprototypes, turning static designs into interactive artboards, managing the designer-developer handoff from end to end, and communicating ideas and results to stakeholders or decision-makers. 

So, let us break down the top 7 prototyping tools and look at the following topics: 

What Are Prototyping Tools? 

Prototyping tools play key part in the UI and UX design process. They let you upgrade workflows, enable easier and quicker creation of design prototypes or wireframes, allow designers to test features, support early user testing, demonstrate basic user flows, and give users a representation of the look, feel, and behavior of the product. Most of these software solutions also: 

  • Validate both functionality and appearance, and become part of a software walkthrough (or software peer review) 
  • Deliver realistic interactions with usable components and details like momentum scrolling 
  • Pull together better blueprints for development and translate designs into functional code 
  • Serve as an all-in-one platform, thus nurturing team trust and fostering open communication 
  • Let you select pre-built design patterns or customize your own to give your prototype an edge 
  • Provide you with an extra confidence boost when walking into a stakeholder meeting to present your concept 

 As you can see, prototyping and prototyping tools give you enough flexibility to experiment with ideas before their initial and full development. This way you are empowered to fine-tune designs in advance, evaluate your own work, spot inconsistencies in branding and styling, consolidate valuable feedback, and avoid costly iterations with your development teammates in a later stage. 

How Do We Use Prototyping Tools? 

Design thinking and development is a complicated and non-linear process that is further complicated by strict time frames, budget, stakeholders’ requirements, ever-growing expectations of users, and innovative devices that are the final destination for a product and design. Summed up in 5 stages by Teo Yu Siang and Interaction Design Foundation, design thinking involves empathizing, defining, ideating, prototyping, testing. But these phases may not always follow this precise order and quite often testing could occur before the empathize stage; prototyping may generate new ideas; testing could lead to a faster definition of a problem and so on. The combinations of the sequential steps are many. 

Design thinking process

Because of this complexity multiplied by the constant battle to drive customer engagement and unbeatable user experience, we believe that these rapid tools and software for prototyping hold huge potential for contemporary designs. At Infragistics, we use apps for prototyping for their capability to act as a modern, unified, and centralized way for tackling UI and UX. 

From having the ability to eliminate small repetitive design tasks, through the creation of custom components and then reusing them, to taking advantage of the opportunity to save time when creating new screens – the reasons are countless.  

"I use prototyping tools to create high-fidelity design mockups, rather than "prototypes" (when I say prototypes, I think of wireframes). Although sometimes I add interactions, so it looks more like a high-fidelity interactive prototype. I design screens in my projects and create my custom components, and then reuse them in various parts of my projects. These components tend to become more powerful and versatile as I take advantage of newly added functionalities, and I make them as flexible as possible. And by using them, it saves me lots of time when creating new screens." - Andrea Silvera, Director, User Experience in Product Development, at Infragistics 

“When I need to explain a complicated idea or just the user journey the best way of doing is by creating a prototype. By using a prototype, the client can get a better feel of the design solution that I'm offering and later on can make better decisions based on it.” - Dayana Naydenova, Graphic Designer in Marketing at Infragistics 

“When it comes to UI, I use prototyping tools to show simple interactions, animations, user stories, user flows and for research presentations. Usually, there are plugins that help me show videos and gifs inside my designs. I have also coded some elements in the past using HTML and CSS just to see how a layout will look like or to test performance. In terms of UX, such graphic software solutions step in to let me create user journeys and information architecture. For wireframes I usually use pen and paper or Sketch.” – Florencia Buenahora, UX Designer in Product Development, at Infragistics 

Аs a UX Manager in the product development of Infragistics, my team and I prototype often and we prototype a lot. When facing a design challenge or problem, I first sketch my initial ideas on paper, then choose 1 or 2 that would work best and elaborate them visually and interactively. This is the moment I start creating prototypes that over time mature and serve as the specification and hand-off to developers who will build the functionality under my guidance.

How To Choose the Right Prototyping Tool for Your UI/UX Designs? 

Surely, these types of digital automation platforms are easy to find on the market now, but the question is whether they have the functional capacity to help you get the job done and are you paying for the right one?  

Here are key factors and questions to consider when choosing the right software for prototyping to create wireframes, mockups, collect feedback from clients and coworkers, and anything else design-related:  

Learning Curve 

Before clicking on the subscription plan button or deciding to try out a free prototyping tool, make sure to analyze how your current skills and know-how will let you adapt to the software and vice versa – how easy the software itself will fit your level as a designer. True, it is important to be able to transfer knowledge and have a chance to upgrade your capabilities while learning how to use a new system. But sometimes it is more important to weigh out how much time you can afford to spend in learning, how simple or difficult it is to get a hand of it, and how often do you really plan to use the tool. 

Usage 

My advice is to look for a prototyping tool that comes the closest to your workflow, it is easy to integrate with it, does not add extra steps which additionally may urge you to look for workarounds and slows your progress down. You probably won’t be able to find that easy one-fit-them-all automation design platform that miraculously does everything because every project is different, requirements change, trends evolve, clients are diverse, and the purpose and features of prototyping tools often focus on particular needs and challenges that the design teams experience. Therefore, take your time to research how you can use a particular tool, what it is most suitable for, and what problems it can solve. 

Low-FI, Medium-FI, High-FI Prototyping 

There are three broad categories that prototyping falls into: 

  • Low-fidelity – where you test an idea, try temporary views and outlines, and draw conceptual work digitally. 
  • Medium-fidelity – it usually refers to wireframes that convey layout and focus on delivering information and interaction design. 
  • High-fidelity – it’s when you have clarified the entire concept and aim to craft a design that is as close and viable as a completed product.  

In this regard then, ask yourself what exactly do you need to create and is that tool suitable for the purpose? Are you going for just a sample of the app layout? Do you need to test and present a basic idea? Or maybe the project requires more complex visual designs with interactions, animations, and sample user-flows and you need an app for prototyping that gives you full control and plenty of features to experiment with? 

Teamwork and Collaboration Capabilities 

Getting feedback from teammates, stakeholders, and end-users is crucial when it comes to constructing a design version that best matches any requirement. That’s why it is useful to look for a UI/UX prototyping tool that facilitates collaboration and supports communication. It is imperative for everyone to remain updated and know where and how the project is going. 

Cost 

Ka-Ching! Be careful when choosing a tool and keep in mind the initial budget you have, the cost of the software you are about to purchase, and the functionalities it delivers for the price. Do not go for something for free or below your budget just to save money as this may result in an incomplete set of capabilities and components that the software has. Similarly, avoid exceeding your budget for something that is pre-packed and offers modules and elements that you will never really use.  

The 7 Best Prototyping Tools 

Indigo.Design 

If you want to speed up app creation from design to code, Indigo.Design is the ideal solution. As a full-featured software, it integrates prototyping, design systems, and production-ready code generation. It also lets you engage in real-time visual collaboration, user-testing, and communication across teams. 

What is Indigo.Design best for? 

  • Delivering best-in-class UX and UI designs with customizable components 
  • Usable, production-ready and testable code and simplicity in turning designs into clean code. 
  • Working with designers’ favorite vector design tools like Sketch, Adobe XD, and with full support for Figma coming soon. 
  • Co-editing and collaborating with teams, stakeholders, and customers via secure workspaces 
  • Performing remote and unmoderated user testing with real-time analytics. 
  • Providing inspect tool (just like Zeplin) to get CSS, colors, size / positioning code from your designs. 
  • Data sources options that let you connect to any REST data source or other common data sources. 
  • Theme options including built-in themes and a custom theme builder 
  • WYSIWYG app design and construction, with real-time code preview and code generation for Angular (React, Web Components and Blazor coming soon). 
  • Super easy to learn and integrate 

What are Indigo.Design disadvantages? 

  • Not so many out-of-the-box templates  
  • People may get lost in communication and all the threads as too many can collaborate and share information at the same time 

Indigo.Design Cost Overview 

There are several pricing options to choose from: 

  • Essential plan - $39 per month for a user or $399 per year  
  • Best value plan $99 per month for a user or $1099 per year 
  • On-Prem – which is a license for a single server, secure container for on-premises deployment 
  • Embed - a single license to securely embed the Indigo.Design App Builder into one app 

Sketch 

It is one of the most commonly used digital design platforms that let designers outline their ideas, use plenty of symbols, create prototypes and great mobile design layouts in a fast and easy way. 

What is Sketch best for? 

  • Building and trying out different design versions while still making development time shorter 
  • Feels intuitive and is ideal for basic prototyping or showing user stories 
  • Plenty of libraries, symbols, and components that are constantly being updated 
  • Useful plugins like link Autolayout, Magic mirror and Git sketch 
  • Clean interface that lets you create all sorts of vector graphic representations 
  • Easily integrates with other tools like Invision and Abstract  

What are Sketch disadvantages? 

  • Too little room for collaboration and communication 
  • Cannot compare changes in design that have been made
  • Lacks basic image editing options 
  • No free version 

Sketch Cost Overview 

Sketch pricing begins at just $9 per editor monthly price or $99 per editor for a year. There is free trial available as well. 

Figma  

Figma is a cloud-based and on-premise solution for building personalized web designs, prototypes, and collaboration. 

What is Figma best for? 

  • Delivering plenty of components for designing and simulating design flows 
  • Simple wire-framing and prototyping thanks to the plugins, templates and design formats 
  • Easy to share prototypes inside design portfolios 
  • Helpful overlay and swap interactions 
  • It is browser-based and files can be quickly saved in the cloud 
  • Real-time collaboration capabilities  
  • Variety of plugins 
  • Frequent updates 

What are Figma disadvantages?  

  • Learning curve can be difficult and steep  
  • Monitoring of design systems statistics functionalities are included in the enterprise plan only 
  • Sometimes it loads files too slowly 
  • Difficult to operate in an offline environment 

Figma Pricing Overview 

Its pricing starts at $15.00 per feature, per month. 

Adobe XD 

With Adobe XD you can design wireframes and apps, create hi-fidelity prototypes, collaborate across teams, easily configure animations, collect feedback, implement drag-and-drop functionality, build 3D and reusable designs. 

What is Adobe XD best for? 

  • Quickly and easily create interactive prototypes, wireframes, add animation 
  • Perform testing across devices 
  • Visualize your work in 3D in one click 
  • With reusable design elements across design systems 
  • With swapping, spacing, resizing, and aligning functionalities for your layouts 
  • It is a free software 
  • Easy to use and learn 
  • Sharing handoff designs and collecting feedback 

What are Adobe XD disadvantages? 

  • Cannot transfer your prototype or wireframe into an official design  
  • It is not for coding and cannot test your mobile prototypes  
  • Not so many plugins 
  • A lot of restrictions and limitations in the free version 

Adobe XD Pricing Overview 

Adobe XD pricing starts at $9.99 per feature for a month.  

Zeplin 

This one works as a platform for design delivery and collaboration.  Using it, you can make your artwork visible to others and publish finalized projects from other vector graphic editors and tools like Figma, Sketch, Adobe XD, and Photoshop. 

What is Zeplin best for? 

  • The source of truth for completed designs  
  • Brings together multidisciplinary teams and facilitates collaboration 
  • Generates tailored specs, assets, and code snippets  
  • Saves time by eliminating manual actions like sizing, exporting icons, writing out margins 
  • Enables connected components to help you move from design to code 
  • Easily organizes and puts together components, text styles, colors, style guides, and more 

What are Zeplin disadvantages?  

  • Too many software updates 
  • Cannot navigate within the screen 
  • Slow desktop version 
  • Cannot see how the design flow works 

Zaplin Pricing Overview 

The starting price is that of $6 per user for a month and it is suitable for small teams. The plan that works for medium or large teams costs $12 per user for a month. 

InVision 

InVision is a digital product design platform that lets designers craft modern, interactive, and rich prototypes. It also makes it super easy to import/export Sketch files, provides room for collaboration and allows for feedback exchange among teammates. Used as a centralized platform by different teams involved in the creation of a new app, InVision simplifies the design-developer handoff process as well. 

What is InVision best for?  

  • The intuitive interface makes it easy to use for prototype creation and idea management 
  • Ability to easily collaborate and gather feedback as it works as a single source of truth 
  • Allows you to make changes in real-time 
  • Developers can be involved at early stages to avoid silos, miscommunication or additional design/code changes 
  • Provides detailed specs 
  • Works with existing tools to boost the entire product design process and workflows  

What are InVision disadvantages?  

  • Consumes a lot of resources in the browser 
  • The element inspector is not always accurate 
  • More difficult UI compared to others 
  • Occasional syncing issues 
  • 3rd party plugins aren’t updated that often 
  • Doesn’t support building an entire library of reusable components  

InVision Pricing Overview 

InVision App pricing starts at $15 per feature/month and allows for 3 prototypes. 

Framer 

It is a mobile-based prototyping tool that lets you build interactive design projects with your team, create modern-looking layouts, produce mockups, wireframes and more. It is packed with smart components, plenty of features, and delivers hands-on tutorials to help you get started. 

What is Framer best for? 

  • You can produce elements and products the way you design them 
  • Super handy when you want to create custom animations or customize your prototype 
  • It gets all visual features of modern CSS  
  • It is available on any device which runs a web browser 
  • Provides an easy way to move elements in the design  
  • Has a built-in support for importing files from Sketch and Photoshop 
  • Easy to copy and use code by developers  
  • Quick reproduction of hi-fidelity interactivity patterns 
  • Works well with WebKit  

What are Framer disadvantages? 

  • Framer handoff isn’t that comprehensive and a big portion of the information that devs need has to be written manually 
  • Limited options for sharing with different apps 
  • Steep learning curve 

Framer Pricing Overview 

It costs €19 per user for a month but there is a free version too. 

With an abundance of software solutions that streamline your UX/UI design process, the tool you select solely depends on the goal of your project, how fast you want to push it forward to user testing, the flexibility of the tool itself, its data analytics features, integration with your workflow, collaboration capabilities, and ability to give your prototype an edge.

So, which one do you think best clicks for you?

Indigo.Design