For some, failure isn’t an option. But for designers, it’s just part of the process.
That’s because the journey to building a product that fits your target market establishes customer-centricity, and fills a specific user need can be long, complex, and iterative. Building a working model—a prototype—can help. With it, you can more quickly and easily confirm that a product or concept is viable, and that it does indeed solve a real-world problem.
Let’s unpack what a prototype really is and explain the benefits of prototyping, then we’ll give you our take on the best prototyping tools for you and your business.
What is a prototype?
By definition, a prototype is an early sample, model, or release of a product built for the purpose of testing a concept or process. Generally, the prototype is used to evaluate a new product or concept design for its usefulness in the real world.
Additionally, the main motive behind a prototype is to validate the design early by collecting feedback from your target market that will guide your product development efforts.
Why is prototyping important?
Would you ever walk into a stakeholder meeting to present your concept without first getting customer feedback? Hopefully not. Doing so could undermine your credibility and your capacity to defend your design.
But communicating and justifying the value, look, and feel of your product to stakeholders before it’s been built can be a challenge. Prototyping makes it easier.
Prototyping can help you:
- Better depict the intent of your final design
- Defend your design decisions with customer feedback
- Save you time and money by making needed changes early, rather than in final development
- Feel confident that what you present has a strong product-market fit
How to choose the right prototyping tool
With hundreds of different user testing tools out there today, it’s important to make sure the prototyping tools you choose will do what you need them to do. Here are four key things to consider.
- Purpose: What exactly does the tool do? Do the capabilities it offers match your specific testing needs? For examples, do you need a tool for building wireframes or something more general?
- User adoption: How easy will it be for your designers to adopt the tool? In other words, how easy will it be for them to go live on it and learn how to use it? How does the tool foster collaboration with other users, both inside and outside your company?
- Usage: How many people can use it at the same time? How will it help optimize your UX workflow?
- Price: What’s the pricing structure? What’s included at no additional cost with the tool, and what will cost extra? What are the thresholds at which the initial cost will increase?
Best prototyping tools for UI/UX designers
To help you select the best prototyping tool for you and your business, here’s a list of five of the most popular, affordable, and accessible solutions you can use today. By no means is this list comprehensive, but we’ve compiled some of our favorites for your consideration.
1. InVision: best prototyping tool for building exceptional products in one, connected workflow
InVision makes it easy to create interactive prototypes. Simply upload static screenshots and create clickable prototypes your users can interact with and understand. The web-based app simplifies the workflow between designers and other stakeholding teams.
- Create rich, interactive prototypes that allow for rapid iteration
- Seamlessly communicate, gather feedback, and advance projects
- Compatible with popular graphics file formats like PNG, GIF, PSD, and JPG
- Pricing: Free to $100/month
2. Balsamiq: best prototyping tool for building wireframes
Balsamiq helps you quickly design mockups that are great for sketching and wireframing. With superior ease of use and a great widget library, this cloud-based software makes team collaboration easy.
- Create quick wireframes
- Features drag-and-drop simplicity
- Requires a minimal learning curve
- Pricing: $9-$199/month, with discounts available for annual subscriptions
3. Justinmind: best all-in-one prototyping tool for web and mobile apps
Justinmind is an all-in-one prototyping tool for web and mobile apps that helps you build from wireframes to highly interactive prototypes without any coding. By letting you design from scratch while leveraging a full range of web interactions and mobile gestures, you can focus on building exceptional user experiences.
- Use responsive prototyping to ensure designs can adapt to fit multiple screen resolutions
- Enjoy no-code-required smart forms and data lists
- Offers free, ready-made, regularly updated UI kits for web and mobile
- Pricing: $19-$49/month, with discounts for annual subscriptions
4. Figma: best prototyping tool for designing collaboratively
Figma is a one-tool solution for all your design needs. Thanks to real-time collaboration, web-based functionality, and exceptional price-to-value, Figma is rising through the ranks and gaining traction with design teams.
- Easily switch between design and prototype modes
- Enjoy quick sharing, real-time feedback, and powerful editing features
- Pricing: Free to $45/month; some plans only offer annual pricing
5. Marvel: best cloud-based prototyping tool
The Marvel design platform lets you access all the core functionality you need to build digital products—wireframes, prototypes, and design specs—in one place. With Marvel’s pre-built templates, you can build interactive mockups in only minutes.
- Create wireframes, mockups, website, or app prototypes for any device right from a browser
- Sync designs from Sketch, upload images, or build mockups directly within a design tool featuring millions of assets, stock photos, and icons
- Compatible with desktop, Android, and iOS
- Pricing: Free to $42/month; enterprise pricing also available
6. Framer: best tool for rapid prototyping
Framer is a fully integrated design, prototyping, and developer handoff tool that makes it easy to create app designs and prototypes that are as visually polished as a production app. The platform enables a ton of off-the-shelf interactivity, rather than just static wireframes or designs with limited transitions or hotspots.
- Enjoy flexibility, interactive designs, realistic prototypes, and responsive layouts
- Import production components and assets and/or export front-end code for use in production apps
- Compatible with desktop, Android, and iOS
- Pricing: $16-$33/month
7. Adobe XD: best prototyping tool for enterprise business
If you need wireframing, designing, prototyping, presenting, and sharing amazing experiences for web, mobile, voice, and more—Adobe XD is your all-in-one app. Adobe XD lets you access all your assets in one place, eliminates tedious manual tasks, creates experiences that are adaptable to any size screen, and integrates seamlessly with the UserTesting platform.
- Enjoy high-fidelity interactions
- Integrate Adobe XD with the other Adobe products you already use
- Offers real-time viewing, commenting, and sharing capabilities
- Pricing: free to $23/month
8. Origami: best free prototyping tool
Origami lets you create prototypes featuring intricate interactions for watches, mobile devices, desktops, or tablets.
- Easily edit dynamic layouts, create quick interactions, and build interactive components
- Layout prototypes using freeform drawing tools, text editing, and visual components
- Compatible with Apple/Mac with a previewing app available for both iOS and Android
- Pricing: free
9. Sketch: best desktop-based prototyping tool
Sketch is a fully-featured design platform that combines an award-winning app with powerful, browser-based collaboration tools, so you have everything you need for a truly collaborative design process—from early ideas to pixel-perfect artwork, playable prototypes, and developer handoff.
- Test prototypes on devices
- Share prototype links with others
- Work together in the same document, at the same time—right inside the app (Mac)
- Pricing: Starts at $9/month
10. Flinto: best prototyping tool for Mac/iOS apps
Flinto is a Mac app used by top designers around the world to create interactive, animated prototypes of their app designs.
- Design easy, animated transitions
- Create micro-interactions within screens
- Add scrollable areas with a single click
- Create impressive, scroll-based animations
- Pricing: Starts at $99/year
11. UXPin: best high-fidelity prototyping tool
UXPin lets you build prototypes that feel like the end product by eliminating the translation drift that can occur between the time a design is created and when it actually becomes the product.
- Quickly design at scale using a design tool, hundreds of built-in UI elements, pre-built integrations, and reusable components
- Communicate seamlessly with developers
- Easily gather feedback from others
- Pricing: Free to enterprise-level pricing
Learn more about prototyping
If you want to learn more about how to use prototypes to get fast feedback and build better products, check out these resources we recommend:
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