Best Mobile App Design Tools for Developers

Petar Šimić
Co-founder
News

Design is a critical element of mobile app development. Without a user-friendly and intuitive mobile design, it’s nearly impossible for an app to enjoy any market success. 

Therefore, it is no wonder that more companies are investing heavily in a design-centric approach to mobile development — and the results speak for themselves.

For a developer, the increasing demand for industry-leading app design may present quite a challenge. To build an app worth its salt today, you would need great skill and a lot of creativity. 

However, beyond these, having the right design tools also goes a long way in improving your workflow.

Among the numerous kinds of app design software out there, finding the right match for your project can be quite a task. 

This is why we’ve compiled a comprehensive list of the best design tools for mobile app development today

Let’s take a look at them!

Sketch

It’s virtually impossible to talk about mobile app design tools without starting the list with Sketch

Since its launch in 2010, Sketch has become arguably the most popular software tool in the mobile design community. 

When it comes to app wireframing, prototyping, and User Interface (UI) design, you can hardly ever go wrong with Sketch.

Put simply, Sketch is a simple yet powerful UI/UX design software based on macOS. 

Though not limited to it, it’s easily the ultimate UI design software for iOS

The tool packs a lot of UI-centric features that both professionals and newbies find useful. 

Some of these features include:

  • vector editing 
  • layout setting
  • variable fonts
  • time-saving math operators

The vector editing feature is highly useful and easy to use. 

You can draw a new shape, edit existing ones, open and join paths, bend an entire segment, or even convert a border into outlines. 

Sketch allows you to execute all these changes to pixel-level precision.

Beyond these powerful features, Sketch is a designers’ favorite if because of how lightweight it is — at about 20 megabytes, it uses up very limited hardware resources. 

It also allows developers to easily design for multiple devices.

On the downside, if you’re looking to create animations, you may have to look elsewhere. 

Similarly, Sketch isn’t ideal for real-time preview on Android devices. 

However, you can fix these shortcomings by pairing the tool up with the likes of Skala Preview, Adobe Photoshop, and Illustrator.

Zeplin

The next entry on our list is not entirely design-focused but remains the tool of choice for many mobile developers. 

Zeplin is a powerful collaboration tool that designers and developers employ to deliver masterpieces.

One major bottleneck developers and designers often face is the communication strain throughout the development process. 

Zeplin helps to eliminate a significant portion of this. Developers can easily access and implement the latest design resources, while getting notified each time any change occurs.

Members of your design team can also create a style guide that highlights a unified system of design components, color schemes, and text styles. 

You can then group related artboards and interlink different style guides with several projects. 

This makes it easy for developers or any other collaborator to offer their input cohesively and effectively. 

Without this up-to-date type of repository, it’s almost impossible to produce pixel-perfect UI resources.

By allowing you to simply upload designs from Sketch, Adobe XD, Photoshop, and the likes, Zeplin transforms your entire design process radically. 

Unfortunately, it’s quite common to experience bugs with these imported designs. 

Zeplin also integrates seamlessly with other project management tools such as Slack and Trello.

Figma

Figma is another design tool built with an emphasis on collaboration. 

However, unlike Zeplin, Figma packs a lot of powerful prototyping and design features that make it a major contender for the best design tool, second only to Sketch. 

If you’re keen on executing your entire design process in one workspace, this tool may be your best bet.

In the design department, you can transform your static prototype elements into an interactive experience without even involving any code. 

Figma sports a very modern, easy-to-use interface

With interesting features like Smart Animate, bringing advanced transitions to life is mostly effortless. Likewise, the tool lets you create several layers of dynamic content overlays.

Simultaneously, there’s room to build a central design system where all project contributors can access design assets. 

Be it images, avatars, fonts, or icons, anyone on your team can easily search for reusable components in your published libraries. 

Everyone can discover new work by the creator and also gain immediate access to the latest updates.

Unlike Sketch, Figma supports all major operating systems — Windows, Linux, Mac, etc. 

This means all the PC and Mac lovers on your team can work together without any hassle. 

However, Figma doesn’t have as many resources and is backed by a considerably small community at the moment.

InVision

Quite popular among designers, InVision is another feature-rich design tool worthy of mention. 

If you’re considering using this tool, bear in mind that it better suits the later stages of your design workflow. 

In essence, InVision lets you take your static prototype designs and transform them into interactive clickable screens.

With InVision, you get to use flexible vector-based drawings and layers to create animations, transitions, and gestures. 

All you need is to import your ready designs from other tools such as Adobe Photoshop or Sketch and effortlessly turn them into working prototypes. 

The focus here is fast, intuitive prototyping.

One feature that makes InVision popular is its vast library of high-quality design resources. 

These resources include icon packs, UI kits, mockups, open-source fonts, and photos. 

To top it all off, they are completely free to use. 

By eliminating the need to create custom design elements, these reusable components speed up your design process drastically.

When it comes to collaboration, InVision doesn’t lag behind either. 

The products lets team members communicate seamlessly and share contextual feedback. You also get interesting features such as live share, instant updates, and version history. 

On the flip side, the performance of both the web and mobile app is often lacking, and navigation can be rather laggy.

Adobe XD

Talking about design tools from design software giants, Adobe Experience Design (XD) may be the first name that comes to mind. 

Just like other Adobe’s products, Experience Design is a major software that lacks virtually no features you’ll need for your mobile app design. 

In terms of layout, prototyping, animation, and even collaboration, XD packs enough utility to power all your mobile projects. 

The tool offers about the fastest way to go from Design to Prototype mode

The 3D Transforms feature is a great means of bringing a sense of reality to your designs with the ability to drag and rotate objects in 3D space and add some perspective to your work.

Similarly, you can create reusable components such as buttons and resizable cards. 

You can easily make quick edits and sync across your designs as well. 

One feature that comes in handy is voice prototyping. In other words, you can build speech playback into your app and add voice-enabled features.

Additionally, you’re not locked to macOS here. One other thing that makes working with XD a delight is how fast it renders changes directly on your phone. 

However, at times, we have to admit that compared to Sketch, XD still falls short.

Some features like Repeating Objects still don’t work as well, and CSS code export is impossible without additional plugins.

UXPin

For designers and developers looking to drive their projects with Agile UX without dabbling into a lot of code, there’s hardly any better option to consider than UXPin

With an emphasis on the elimination of code, the tool presents a drag-and-drop UI/UX design interface that produces hi-fidelity mockups, prototypes, and wireframes.

 Instead of faking interactions between your design elements by simply linking them, UXPin uses interactive states and logic and code components. 

These elements and code components help you eliminate the need to duplicate artboards and your interactions are generated directly from production code.

The extensive built-in libraries available also ensure that you only spend the barest minimum time on your projects. 

If you’re looking for resources for iOS, Bootstrap, Material Design, or even multiple hundred icons, the libraries have you covered. 

With intuitive comment and project tracking, hassle-free handoffs and collaboration are also fully supported here. 

UXpin stands out with the wide range of lo-fi and hi-fi prototyping capabilities it packs. 

Among other software, it integrates well with Sketch, Google Fonts, and Slack. 

The major trade-offs here may be the significant learning curve and lack of Illustrator integration.

Marvel

If you’re still looking for more design tools that emphasize collaboration, Marvel is another interesting option to include on your list. 

This focus on collaboration reflects the fact that the app has more than mobile app designers in mind

As a result, Marvel App is really easy to set up and task execution is fast as well.

In the design department, Marvel packs all the basic prototyping, wireframing, and design features your project needs. 

They promise you can turn your static mockups into interactive prototypes in under five minutes, all online. 

To achieve this, you can simply pull in ready-made screens from Sketch — an approach Marvel heavily recommends.

If, however, you have images of your own, you can upload them and add hotspots and layers per your project needs. 

One area where the app begins to catch special attention is user testing

Marvel gives you arguably the best in class real-time insights into how your users will interact with your design. This way, you get to eliminate guesswork and issues that may prop up.

As a plus, beyond integrating with other design tools like Sketch or Illustrator, Marvel also lets you synchronize your designs on cloud storage (the likes of Google Drive or Dropbox).

However, the app could attract more users if it included an offline version. 

The free version is also lacking many features, while the paid version is somewhat costly.

Proto.io

At times, as a beginner developer or designer, all you need is a simple tool that lets you build your prototypes with ease. In such cases, Proto.io may be the ideal choice for your project. 

As perfect building blocks, the tool’s drag-and-drop interface ensures that your learning curve is minimal even without prior design skills.

With libraries of over 250 UI components, 1000 templates, and 6000 digital assets, Proto is a one-stop-shop for almost any type of app you look to build. 

These UI components mimic the behavior of native UI elements very closely, be it on iOS or Android apps.

Adding multiple levels of interactivity to your designs is also effortless. 

You can add all the screen and timeline transitions, advanced animations, and even sound effects that your prototypes need to look and feel real.

In terms of security, Proto offers quite a significant edge over the competition. 

Whether you choose to work alone or in a team, there’s room to control who views your design by password-protecting them. 

However, the major bottleneck you may face periodically is slow performance.

Origami Studio

If you’ve ever admired Facebook’s recent design concepts on their apps, then you should know those designs are powered by Origami Studios

Since 2013, Facebook has been executing everyday designs with Origami, which was originally based on Apple’s Quartz Composer

However, when Quartz Composer couldn’t keep up with the design and performance demands, Facebook went on to develop Origami Studio.

As expected, the resulting design tool is a platform that allows designers to create rich mobile prototypes flexibly

Origami is essentially a unique product that relies on a library of multiple patches

These patches help you quickly deliver components such as switches, animations, boolean operators, and other interactions.

With Origami Studio 3, the tool has added support for several integrations – Figma, Sketch, Photo Library, and Audio Metering. 

These additions can significantly reduce your development time. 

Photo Library lets you quickly retrieve multimedia from your iOS or macOS device, while Audio Metering analyzes data from audio sources such as a microphone.

Origami Studio promises to make mobile development fasts and delivers on this to a large extent. 

Unfortunately, the tool struggles with navigating through networks of screens while designing. If you consistently work with large groups of layers, you can expect the performance to take a hit. 

It’s also still tied to macOS.

Axure

Preferred by more than 25,000 organizations (over 87 Fortune 100 companies), Axure is a force to reckon with in the mobile design space. 

The tool poses as the only resource you require to design your mobile app from start to finish. 

While it’s not perfect, Axure hits the mark pretty closely. The product is a major delight for experienced designers.

It offers virtually all the design functionalities you’ll need in your mobile design journey, such as:

  • wireframes
  • mockups
  • prototypes
  • idea boards
  • user journeys
  • graphical documentation

Beyond these, you can customize controls such as widgets and assign specific responses to events or touch gestures. 

With the multiple handoff features available, you get to control your design processes how you like. A new feature also lets you share your design with Axure Cloud.

No thanks to the steep learning curve, new designers may not be in for a great first ride. 

Even experienced hands may have a difficult time with the lack of templates. This often makes designing for different screens significantly harder.

Justinmind

Justinmind is another prototyping tool that focuses on ease of use: designing with no code involved. 

Having been around for quite a while now (since 2007), Justinmind is also a credible design tool option for all mobile app developers. 

The product packs free UI kits that you can utilize not only across iOS and Android apps but on the web as well.

These ready-made UI kits come in handy by saving your app design time.

They also get updated rather frequently to fit the latest design trends. If you want more, you can also have your kits containing custom components.

Prototyping with Justinmind delivers a very responsive experience with liquid layouts that adapt fluidly on different screen sizes. 

The tool sports all the necessary collaboration features as well and facilitates user testing in real-time.

To enjoy the benefits of using Justinmind, you’ll need to purchase a monthly subscription.

Though it’s not a rare practice in the mobile design world, many small companies may find the price rather on the high side.

Fluid UI

Using Fluid UI, all you need to create stunning prototypes is a simple linking system. 

In other words, creating a stunning mobile design featuring swipes, clicks, taps, and your other favorite gestures will only take minutes. 

Just like UXPin, Fluid UI also offers over 2000 ready-made resources for executing your mobile app design.

The Windows, iOS, Material Design, and Wireframe libraries provide enough power to not only create but also integrate prototypes speedily. 

The integrated collaboration system also ensures you gather feedback and implement the best design in an organized manner, all within Fluid UI.

Fluid UI has a Live Preview feature that makes working in a team effortless. 

At any stage of the design cycle, you can easily deliver a live presentation showcasing your progress to your colleagues, stakeholders, or even future users.

Apart from complaints about the rather limited features of the free version, it’s quite hard to go wrong with Fluid UI. 

It’s also not the most beginner-friendly design tool out there, but the sheer abundance of library resources seems to make up for that.

OmniGraffle

At the initial stage of your mobile app design cycle, the ideal wireframing tool may be your biggest immediate need. OmniGraffle is one powerful diagramming app that we highly recommend for creating mobile wireframes fast and easily

Among other feature offerings, it packs various templates, stencils, canvases, and grid guides that make this possible.

The drag and drop interface makes vector drawing intuitive, even for newbies who are not tech-savvy. However, OmniGraffle is not limited to wireframing and vector drawing only. 

It’s also a great platform for prototyping your app’s screen flows. 

By letting you visualize your app’s workflow, you can plan out your development process with a high level of precision.

However, its prototyping and design features aren’t as extensive as bigger names such as Sketch or Adobe XD. 

It lags significantly in reproducing screen interactions, and developer handoff is highly limited as well.

Balsamiq

Finally, we have Balsamiq, a design tool created for one purpose alone – wireframing. And it excels well at this one task. 

The tool is arguably the fastest way to generate low-fi wireframes in the entire mobile design industry. 

No wonder “Balsamiq wireframes” are fast becoming a thing among business owners, developers, and product managers alike.

The idea behind Balsamiq is pretty simple — design wireframes fast! 

Whether you choose to make a simple wireframe sketch or a more rounded design, the tool lets you communicate your ideas in record time. 

This near-zero learning curve is mostly thanks to the numerous UI components and icons.

These components are not limited to built-in resources. There are also constantly updated icons and controls generated by the community

The simple interface sports great drag-and-drop functionalities and reusable elements that make assembling your wireframes hassle-free.

For teams looking to collaborate and share ideas across departments, Balsamiq doesn’t disappoint. 

To top it all off, Balsamiq Cloud lets you take all your work progress anywhere — for a subscription fee

Hopefully, Balsamiq can offer more UI elements and other features outside wireframing in the future.

Conclusion

In a nutshell, the right design tool may turn out to be the Swiss Army knife of your mobile development process. 

Due to how important design is to your app’s final user experience and customer satisfaction, finding the ideal digital companion is a no-brainer.

Thanks to its numerous design and prototyping features, Sketch is one tool we readily recommend for designing your app from start to finish.

However, non-macOS users may want to consider equally great alternatives such as Figma and Adobe XD.

Depending on the stage and nature of your project, several other tools may prove to be an ideal fit. 

Whichever way to choose to go, it’s pretty hard to go wrong with any of the tools we’ve listed above.

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