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Jul 9, 2021

What is the best UX tool?

For a long time, Sketch has been the dominant option among the tools available to UX and UI designers. But competitors like Figma and Adobe XD are catching up. In the last few months, Figma and Adobe XD have been challenging the market leader with their unique functionality. This is reason enough to scrutinize the most important tools for UX and UI designers and to have them compete against each other in six categories: Which tool scores when it comes to prototyping? Which tool is easiest to use? Which software offers the best collaboration functionality for teams? Read here which tool took home the award.

A short overview of the contestants

Sketch

Having been launched in 2010, Sketch is one of the veterans in UI design and has earned worldwide renown. This is due to its numerous plug-ins and tutorials and, above all, its compatibility with many other design programs. Its greatest weakness: It only runs on Macs. Moreover, Sketch’s collaboration tool is still in its infancy.

Figma

Figma takes advantage of this weakness of Sketch: The web-based app allows designers to cooperate in real-time. This makes Figma especially well-suited for large projects involving several stakeholders. Its greatest weakness: In order to use Figma to its best, an internet connection is required. Even though there is an offline desktop version, it doesn’t offer the full range of functions, e. g. when it comes to offline access to Figma files.

Adobe XD

Adobe XD focuses on UI design, closing a gap in Adobe Suite. If your project involves other Adobe programs, it makes sense to stick to the product family. Its greatest weakness: Adobe XD has a similar scope of functions as Figma but lacks some features or doesn’t provide equally sophisticated solutions. This applies, amongst others, to styles, reading CSS data or auto layout (automatically adapting elements to the size of its content). It is therefore not surprising that Figma is currently gaining popularity.

Axure

Renowned for fast and complex HTML prototypes, this design tool stands out due to its extremely comprehensive and realistic prototypes. Its greatest weakness: Axure is only partially suitable for visual design.

Detailed comparison

The hard factor: money

Even though Figma offers a free option, companies are charged at least 12 $ per user and month. At 9 $, Sketch is the winner in this category. The other tools are more expensive but also offer cheaper solutions depending on the requirements. Adobe XD, for example, doesn’t charge extra if you have an existing Adobe Cloud subscription. It is also worth checking the scope of functions. Hidden costs may occur if you need an additional tool to complement certain features. With Sketch – at first glance the cheapest tool – programs like Abstract or ProtoPie are required for certain functions.

So there is no easy answer to the question as to the cheapest tool. We can only say with certainty that, at a price of at least 25 $ per month, it’s probably not Axure.

Loser: Axure

Familiarization with the tool

If you are familiar with the interfaces of Adobe XD, Figma and Sketch you may have noticed that these programs are very similar. This makes it easier for users to change between tools. Getting started with Axure, however, is a lot harder. It offers more prototyping features and takes a different approach to frames and artboards so that the recognition factor is considerably lower. However, the latest version – Axure 10 – has an increased usability and the interface looks more like that of the other tools.

Should you be unfamiliar with all of the tools, Sketch will be the easiest option for you to make the first steps in the world of UX tools.

Winner: Sketch

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Getting started with projects

Axure offers an implemented wireframe and flow chart library with various elements for initial digital sketches and the structure of the architecture.

However, the obvious champion in this category is Figma. This tool offers the best collaboration functionality, which can be decisive in early design phases. Moreover, it scores with a new tool: FigJam is, similarly to Miro, a kind of digital whiteboard and contains various templates for popular design methods such as user journeys or flow charts.

Winner: Figma

Visual design

As already mentioned above as its greatest weakness, Axure will not take home the award for visual design. In general, Axure’s features are very similar to those of the other three programs but some of them are hidden or harder to use.

In order to make orientation easier, users of Sketch, Figma and Adobe XD can use existing Material Design UI kits.

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In order to guarantee a consistent visual design, users have to be able to create libraries with elements such as buttons as well as styles such as font styles or colors. These two issues are best resolved by Figma and Sketch. Elements that are saved as symbols (components) in Sketch can be found on an overview page. Figma, however, impresses with its flexibility. It is the only tool that allows to generate several characteristics. This enables users to not only save statuses but also different sizes and variants in a component.

Winner: Figma

Responsive design

All four programs now offer responsive frame design with constraints (also called resizing). Users can easily change the behavior of screen elements so that the screens can be made bigger without messing with the layout. In this category, Adobe XD particularly stands out from the others with its flexible settings: Thanks to the Auto Layout setting, all elements used automatically adapt to changes in the screen size. And even though the feature is not perfect yet and the users have to manually adjust individual elements, we consider this functionality a major plus.

Winner: Adobe XD

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Prototyping

Prototyping features have become indispensable for UX design. Without plug-ins, Sketch only allows for the creation of click dummies. Figma and Adobe XD, however, give users far more powerful options than that. The implemented interactions and transitions enable users to quickly create great prototypes. Both tools offer a similar scope of functions. Just like Sketch, they are based on the principle “interface changes require new frames”. If, for example, a dialog box has to be displayed dynamically, a new frame has to be created. This principle results in a linear prototype. If a realistic and flexible prototype is needed, Axure is the tool of choice. Because Axure gives users the possibility to implement real data and define conditions for interactions. Moreover, Axure makes it possible to enter data into the prototype. However, fine tuning transitions is quite cumbersome.

Loser: Sketch

Conclusion

The perfect tool for UX and UI design does not exist yet. But will there ever be one? Currently, we consider Figma to be in the lead in many respects. However, the answer to the question which project is suited best for a certain project or person depends on personal preferences and requirements. If clients don’t want to save their projects in a cloud, for example, Figma will not be the tool of choice for you. The current experience with programs, too, plays a role. If you have been working with Sketch for years, you will be faster using Sketch for a new project instead of Adobe XD. Changing tools bears risks and opportunities alike: You may be rewarded with new functions that make your life easier. On the other hand, you might bitterly miss features that you have come to appreciate.

Even though we currently consider Figma to have an edge over its competitors: In the long run, the race has not been won yet. All four tools have launched new features in the last few months, and they will continue to improve and to follow in their competitors’ footsteps. The fact that the tools’ range of functions is nearly identical is no coincidence. Sketch, for example, added real-time collaboration in spring 2021 – although this feature still has room for improvement. And this is not surprising, since Figma’s collaboration functionality has been a clear advantage of the tool in times of COVID 19. Figma, on the other hand, will make components interactive – inspired by Adobe XD and Axure. Even Axure is tackling its greatest weakness and is investing in improving its usability, so that it can be as easy to use as the other tools.

All things considered, it is worth to keep up to date with the latest developments and updates, and to be open for new features. Because just like design, design tools will keep evolving.

What tool is suited best for you and your project? Our download offers an overview of the differences between the individual tools.