As Leonardo Da Vinci once said, “Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication”, and this is certainly true of web design. The best websites out there these days are uncluttered, easy to use and intuitive. The process of designing them, however, is often not so simple.
Web designers draw on a broad range of skills and disciplines in the production and maintenance of websites. They can be responsible for web graphic design, interface design, authoring standardized code and proprietary software, and the all-important task of user experience design. In some cases even the content of a website is developed by a web designer, and this draws SEO into the equation. When you consider too that all websites are now expected to be designed responsively, so they can be viewed on tablets and smartphones—you can see that designing a website is no simple task.
Fortunately, there are a broad range of tools available to web designers that make all of the above a little more achievable. Back in the early days, web designers struggled with writing long lines of code to design even the most basic of websites. But the development of specialized software and tools has made the process of designing a website much easier.
This article provides an overview of the most popular tools currently used by web designers, including augmented reality and virtual reality programs. We’ll round out the discussion with a quick look at the key expertise areas that you’ll also need to learn if you’re interested in a career in web design.
Must-Have Web Designer Tools
Among the variety of web design tools currently available, the following are some of the most popular:
- InVision Studio – This is hailed as one of the best designing tools by web designers across the globe. This is because it offers a complete package for designing a responsive and collaborative website, in addition to being user-friendly and beautiful. Its rapid prototyping feature allows you to create complex and creative web transitions. You can also include customizable animations in your design. The best part is that it’s a free tool, available for both Mac and Windows.
- Sketch – Sketch is one of the widely used vector-based web design tools for collaboratively building interfaces and prototypes. Being vector-based, the file sizes in Sketch are smaller in comparison to PhotoShop files. The built-in grid system in Sketch also helps design a neat user interface quickly. The downside of Sketch is that it is available only on Mac, which makes it difficult to share Sketch files with others using Windows. There are workarounds though, like the “Lunacy” app, which allows you to open and edit Sketch files on Windows platforms.
- Marvel – It’s another web design tool that’s great for producing quick ideas, building prototypes, and refining an interface as per user and client preferences, for free. With Marvel, a web designer can develop neat web pages, and simulate their designs through a prototype. Marvel designs can be added to project workflows as well. Another unusual feature offered by Marvel is its integrated user-testing feature that allows web designers to see their designs from a user’s viewpoint. It’s completely online, so there’s no need to download anything.
- Figma – Figma is an interface design and prototyping tool that enables designers to collaborate in real time. This is extremely helpful when multiple designers are involved in a single web design project, across different locations and platforms. It inherently promotes teamwork. Figma is available in both free and paid versions, depending on the type of use. It’s available on many platforms such as Mac, Windows, Linux, and even Chromebooks. It even has offline features enabled by desktop applications for macOS and Windows.
Slack is used as the communication channel by Figma. Hence, when a Figma channel is created in Slack, any comments or design edits made in Figma are “slacked” to the entire team. This functionality is crucial while designing live because changes to a Figma file will update every other instance where the file is embedded.
- PhotoShop – Adobe PhotoShop is a famous commercial graphics editor commonly available for Mac and Windows operating systems. It’s really helpful when it comes to editing pictures and creating web graphics. If you master Photoshop, you can easily create authentic and impressive designs, fast.
- Adobe Experience Design (XD) – Another popular vector design and wireframing tool, Adobe XD has additional features like Voice Prototyping. It includes drawing tools, tools to define non-static interactions, desktop, and mobile previews, and sharing tools for giving feedback on designs. It’s integrated with Adobe’s Creative Cloud, allowing a user to access files from Photoshop or Illustrator easily.
- AdobeComp – This has proved to be an ideal web design tool for iPad users. It helps prepare wireframes, prototypes, and layout concepts for web pages along with mobile and web applications. It has options to recognize intuitive shapes and smooth out rough lines in a draft sketch. Files can be exported to Photoshop, Illustrator, and InDesign. It’s also powered by Adobe’s Creative Cloud.
- ProtoPie – ProtoPie is the ideal web tool if you want to create complex interactions and get close to your design’s ideal end function. It can control the sensors of smart devices in a prototype—like tilt, sound, compass, and 3D Touch sensors—without any need to learn to code.
- Proto.io – Already in use by many trusted brands, Proto.io helps transform rough sketches (even hand-drawn) into wireframe models, which can be developed into fully-fledged, lifelike prototypes. A user can also add detailed customer vector animations. The Sketch and PhotoShop plugins are an added advantage.
- MockFlow – Mockflow is an ensemble of applications that help in wireframing, as well as planning and designing websites. Its Wireframe Pro feature helps a user describe an initial idea and then iterate until the desired outcome is reached. There are several other pre-built components and layouts that can be adjusted as per user requirements.
- Affinity Designer – Serif’s Affinity Designer is touted to be as good as Adobe Photoshop, if not better. It provides adjustable, non-destructive layers that allow a user to edit images and vectors without damaging them. It has options to zoom up to a million times. It also allows a user to undo almost 8000 steps. Affinity Designer is also available for iPad users.
- Balsamiq – If you’re looking for something with rapid and efficient wireframing, then this tool will be great for you. It helps you prepare quick layouts for your projects. Drag and drop elements make this much easier and you can also link buttons to other pages. With wireframing, you can quickly prepare interfaces and share your ideas with your team and clients.
- Fireworks – Adobe Fireworks is a vector graphics editor available for Windows and Mac. This one was specially designed for web designers, offering plenty of tools to create a full web layout along with quick and easy prototyping. Don’t get too attached to it though—Adobe has moved toward phasing out the Fireworks software in favor of its newer tools like Adobe PhotoShop, Adobe Illustrator, and Adobe Edge.
- WordPress – WordPress is the most recognized web design tool out there, with a wealth of in-built themes and plugins that give the user options to choose from and edit, install, and optimize websites in ways that suit their needs and preferences.
Augmented Reality (AR) and Virtual Reality (VR) Tools
In addition to the above tools, there are a few AR and VR tools that are changing the face of web design:
- ARKit – Apple’s ARKit is a web and mobile design framework that allows iPhone and iPad users to have Augmented Reality experiences. It enables a blending of real-world and digital world objects, offers user immersive features, and allows multiple users to interact in real time.
- Firefox Reality – Developed by Mozilla, Firefox Reality is a specialized browser for VR apps like Viveport, Oculus, and Google Daydream. It can move seamlessly between the 2D web and the immersive web, and includes features like voice recognition and voice search, enabled through your device headset.
- Hologram – Hologram is an all-in-one tool for WebVR creation. It’s a free desktop app that requires no previous coding knowledge, and integration with Google Blocks allows a user to play with several 3D objects.
This is just a small selection of some of the common tools used in a variety of web design applications. There are many more software and add-on apps available in the market, many of which are free or offer free trials.
What Else Should a Web Designer Know?
Apart from the tools of the trade, there are certain key skills and knowledge areas that will provide an added advantage for web designers looking to excel in the job market. These are also increasingly being expected by prospective employers. Here’s a roundup of the key areas you’ll be working on as you build up your expertise in web design:
Knowledge of the popular programming tools will serve as an advantage for web designers, who often need to collaborate in multidisciplinary teams. The top programming languages to be aware of include:
- Objective C
To excel in any field, there are both hard and soft skills required of every practitioner. In the case of web design, the following hard skills will be important to becoming an expert:
- Principles of design
- Color theory
- Search Engine Optimization (SEO)
- UX/UI design
- Business strategy
Start Your Career in Web Design
If you’re interested in pursuing a career in web design, you can pick up more inspiration on our UX design blog. We’ve got tons of tips, career advice and first-hand stories from web designers.
If you’re ready to take the plunge and start your new career today, enroll in our Web Design Bootcamp. This online program has been put together by experts and will teach you how to create amazing websites from scratch. There’s mentoring and support for every step of the way, and our career-focused curriculum aims to get you earning a great salary as soon as possible.