An Overview of Design Tools for Developers
Why Use Design Tools as a Developer?
As web developers, we should understand the importance of creating visually appealing and user-friendly interfaces to some extent. However, we can find even more value in utilizing design tools to supplement our existing workflow.
With design tools, we can quickly bring our ideas to life and effectively communicate with designers and stakeholders through powerful collaboration features. They can also augment the tooling we use for personal projects and even entrepreneurial endeavors.
Essentially, our guide will serve as a starting point as we'll briefly explore several industry-standard tools, including their key features and use cases.
Adobe Creative Cloud
You might already be familiar with Adobe's Creative suite with numerous apps for creating vibrant graphics, presentations, and videos. Naturally, we'll focus on the software that we can potentially leverage.
Even with the proliferation of new-age design tooling, Photoshop is still the staple editing software for modifying and enhancing images. But as front-end developers, we can extend its usage to rapidly design layouts, create mockups, and produce various UI elements. Granted, we can do all of this directly with HTML and CSS, but familiarity with Photoshop could also help us better understand the workflow of our fellow designers, and serve as a prerequisite for learning similar, or slightly different tools.
As the web progressed, both designers and developers turned to Illustrator. The switch was mostly due to trends like "mobile-first" design, responsiveness, and the need for elaborate vector graphics with "pixel-perfect" precision. With Illustrator, we can create scalable graphics without sacrificing quality and export them as SVG files.
Historically speaking, Adobe outdid itself with Adobe XD. As a user experience design tool for web and mobile apps, it's available on both Windows and macOS. Interestingly enough, there are even versions for iOS and Android meaning we can preview our work directly on mobile devices.
With it, we can create wireframes, interactive prototypes, and most importantly high-fidelity mockups from which we can isolate and export specific components. As a newer addition to the suite, it has a somewhat more intuitive interface than its predecessors and a relatively easier learning curve.
Figma has been making waves for a while now, and it's probably the number one culprit for the disruption of the design tool market. It's no wonder that Adobe is in the process of acquiring it.
One of the most prominent aspects is that the web app can deliver performance that rivals the desktop version, thanks to its use of WebAssembly. With this implementation, we can access our projects from any machine with ease. But, let's not get sidetracked and focus on the design aspects instead.
App developers will find Figma particularly useful, with features like locking different events on elements and exporting styles as CSS, Android, or iOS code. Crucially, Figma is known for its user-friendly interface and essential design features, without any unnecessary clutter. We can utilize its features to create graphics, mock-ups, wireframes, and prototypes, as well as the ability to construct, add, and share design systems.
In addition to its built-in collaboration, Figma also offers Fig Jam, where we as developers can participate in real-time collaboration with other team members and tackle issues simultaneously.
Sketch officially labels itself "the original design alternative", as an answer to Figma's disruption. The essential tooling options are almost alike, but if we're already using Mac for development, the native Mac app will come in quite handy.
Additionally, we can get a lot of mileage from the developer handoff feature. With it, we can inspect elements more precisely, have control over who can observe our changes, and have some advanced color features such as color tokens that we can export in both JSON and CSS format. Much like Figma, Sketch has a large user community and numerous third-party plugins, that we can include in our workflow.
Previously, we mentioned Fig Jam as a collaborative platform. When we honestly compare it to InVision it's highly less versatile and elaborate.
With InVision, we can integrate tools, such as Sketch and Adobe Creative Cloud, and import a variety of design assets into the platform. One specific use we can leverage as developers is the task management feature within Freehand. It enables us to visually assign tasks, track progress, and even integrate with existing task management tools like Jira, making it a great choice for large development teams using agile methodology.
Balsamiq is a simple and easy-to-use wireframing tool dedicated to making user interface design accessible to multiple roles within a team, including developers.
We can mostly use it for creating low-fidelity wireframes and find use in its rapid prototyping capabilities. Moreover, it natively includes a library of pre-designed UI elements, and the ability to create custom elements and annotations. For designers, it's a great choice for early user testing of screens, but we can use it to quickly sketch some design ideas to clients, especially if we've decided to take the freelance developer route.
If you're focused on becoming an excellent front-end developer, incorporating design tools into your workflow can be a game-changer. From improved collaboration with designers and stakeholders to a more rapid and streamlined approach, these tools can supplement and improve your craft.
However, remember that at the end of the day, these tools are just that – tools. We shouldn't get stuck in choices and instead of solely relying on their features, we should learn to trust our developer instincts. After all, the most successful designs come from a harmonious blend of technical expertise and creative vision.