The Best UX Tools for Effective Remote Design Collaboration
While remote work certainly comes with its challenges, the reduction in costs, the eradication of the morning commute, and the flexibility of being able to work from anywhere, is very often worth it. In a recent study, the majority of respondents confirmed that a remote/hybrid work model is the most important requirement for a new job. It’s safe to say that a significant portion of the talent pool plans to work remotely. When it comes to UX design, the ability to collaborate is critical. UX designers typically collaborate with developers, product managers, and even other UX designers, but how do we facilitate this when it comes to remote work? Answer: product teams need the right designOp setups and UX tools. In this article we’ll outline the best UX design tools available today for various aspects of the UX design workflow, and we’ll also recommend some cost effective setups to ensure that running costs stay low.
UI design tools for remote collaboration
Most design work happens in a user interface (‘UI’) tool. Primarily, these tools are for designing mockups. However, modern UI design tools are fairly versatile and are often part of a much larger suite of design collaboration tools that allow designers to collaborate with developers and other stakeholders. Figma not only covers the majority of the UX design workflow, but it’s one of the few tools (alongside Adobe XD and Sketch) with coediting (this allows multiple UX designers to work on the same design file at the same time). Also, its whiteboarding features allows entire teams to openly collaborate on ideas and make democratic decisions. Figma is also the most used UI design tool today according to the 2021 Design Tools Survey, so you can bet that a hired UX designer knows how to use it and enjoys doing so. Framer is a fantastic alternative to Figma despite fewer designers using it, and there’s also Sketch and Adobe XD if you’re willing to outsource certain features to other design tools.
Prototyping tools for remote collaboration
Productivity is often hindered by the addition of more tools, but sometimes it’s necessary. Prototyping (i.e. making mockups interactive and ‘like the real thing’) is one of those times. Although UI design tools double-up as prototyping tools, tools that are dedicated to it (such as ProtoPie or Framer) offer ways to make prototypes more dynamic and interactive. It likely won’t be worth having ProtoPie or Framer in the team’s toolbox, but just know that those tools exist.
Design versioning tools for remote collaboration
Versioning involves ‘saving’ certain versions of designs. Originally, design versioning features were built to help multiple UX designers work on the same design, but modern coediting features have rendered this disastrous approach obsolete. Naturally, collaborating in realtime beats having to merge two versions of a design being worked on independently. However, that’s not the only use-case for design versioning. Within enterprise organisations where a research study or handoff can be quickly derailed by an ever-changing prototype, the ability to safely isolate/branch off a specific version can be useful. Sketch, Figma, Adobe XD, and most other UI design tools include version control right out of the box.
Design system management tools for remote collaboration
A design system is a reference created by UX designers to document the use-cases of a design’s elements (e.g. layouts, components, or even specific styles). UX designers refer to design systems to help themselves find and reuse design elements quickly and correctly — this helps to reduce redundancy/increase consistency in the design (and in turn, the code). A design system also serves as a reference for developers, where they to can contribute by adding reusable code snippets for those design elements. Figma is the only UI design tool that ships with legitimate design system management features. It’s the decisive feature making it a true end-to-end UI design tool (research aside, of course). If using something other than Figma, look into Zeroheight.
Design handoff tools for remote collaboration
Another scenario where UX designers and developers must collaborate is when handing off designs. Design handoff tools are equipped to translate design styles to code and export design assets such as images and fonts, speeding up the development workflow. Design handoff tools also facilitate in-context communication between UX designers and developers to ensure that designs have the best user experience and are implemented according to design specifications. Product teams often consider Zeplin to be the best handoff tool, but stick with Sketch, Adobe XD, Figma, or whatever UI design tool (with design handoff features) is already in your toolbox whenever you can. Design handoff tools typically translate designs to CSS, XML, and Swift code, whereas Zeplin also covers React Native, SASS, LESS, and Stylus code, so it depends on your needs.
Digital whiteboarding tools for remote collaboration
Product teams need a safe space to ideate, discuss, strategize, and make decisions in real time, and this is easier to do using a digital whiteboarding tool as opposed to a UI design tool where the creation tools are, by design, a little more delicate to handle. Regardless of what you’re collaborating on, the simplicity of digital whiteboarding tools should be comparable to that of hand sketching and face-to-face communication. Figma’s FigJam tool (segregated but still included in their subscription) is ideal for this, however, non-Figma teams won’t be let down by Miro.
UX research tools for remote collaboration
UX research tools are a whole other category of tools; you won’t find that you’ll be able to do UX research from within a UI design tool such as Figma, Adobe XD, or Sketch, although the prototypes created with them can be imported into UX research tools for testing. Useberry and Maze are two highly rated UX research tools that can be used to facilitate UX testing. Both tools record qualitative and quantitative data in the form of A/B tests, heatmaps, session recordings, and other types of analytics. Both tools can also be used to carry out other types of UX tests and studies, for example, first-click tests and card sorting studies. However, UXtweak is the better option for teams that need a little help with recruiting participants, as Useberry and Maze don’t offer this.
UX research repository tools for remote collaboration
All of those research findings have to be stored somewhere that UX designers can analyze, synthesize, and build upon them. Dovetail is an excellent tool for this, although Notion (an all-round documentation tool) would also suffice, especially if your organization already happens to subscribe to it. Dovetail and Notion can also be used to create a directory of research participants and document any UX research processes, helping UX designers that are new to UX research join the frontline in making sure that product decisions are driven by user feedback.
All-in-all, that’s a lot of UX design tools. More tools means more drops in productivity as we attempt to shift work progress from one tool to another tool, which is rarely a seamless experience. In addition, subscriptions can eat away at organizational budgets that might be better spent on UX hires and resources. In an ideal world, all (or most) of our work would happen in a single well-designed tool. Luckily, when it comes to UX design, this reality is within reach. With modern UI design tools typically covering the majority of the UX design workflow, having 5+ tools in the toolbox is a remnant of another era. Today’s UX design workflow can be composed of as little as two tools (Figma + any UX research tool), since Figma is incredibly multi-functional and other UI design tools aren’t that far behind. These modern UX tools make remote design collaboration more productive than ever before without hindering communication or delivery times. UX teams can finally achieve great results no matter where everyone is located.