I thought we would start off the new year by looking at some new tools you probably have never heard of. After years of Photoshop being the only horse in the design tool race, we saw a host of new apps and Photoshop starting to losing its popularity among designers. Its market share was mainly lost to Bohemian Coding Sketch but also saw the rise of more real-time design and prototyping with tools like InVision. It looks like this is only going to accelerate in 2016 with a whole new crop of contenders trying to grab a place in our application dock and break into the mainstream design workflow consciousness. Here are 9 new or soon to be released tools you should keep an eye on in 2016.
Adobe Project Comet (Now Adobe XD)
Last year at MAX, Adobe announced their newest digital design app which is temporarily called Project Comet that is a digital design tool they are building from scratch. Comet lets you start by designing your app or website using multiple artboards but you can then wire together those designs into a working prototype. It sounds simple but having your design tool and prototyping tool finally exist within the same application is simply fantastic. I think it’s the most promising design tool on the horizon and can say that because I have hands-on experience with the Project Comet as I was lucky enough to be chosen as an alpha tester for the app. The beta will be available in the first part of this year and I will have a lot more on it after it launches.
Price: Included in your Creative Cloud membership when it launches
Explore Project Comet here.
I’ve previously written about Principle and it’s still my favorite digital design prototyping tool. Check out the article for all the details but Principle makes it easy to create richly animated, interactive UI designs with a level of finesse and complexity I have not been able to find in other tools. I also love that the development team is actively working to make enhancements to the app, the team is very willing to listen to users about what they want to see in the app, it has an active community on Facebook and a few sites are springing up with good tutorials and sample code.
Platform: Principle has a 30 day free trial period and is $99 to purchase.
Price: 30 day free trial period and is $99 to purchase.
Explore Principle here.
The other tool that I think is really interesting is called Atomic. Just like Principle, Atomic lets you quickly create prototypes, craft the motion of those prototypes and preview it on a device. But Atomic adds a few interesting features including a version history to let you rewind to a previous version, with collaboratively with other designers and lets you share your prototypes through links. There are two drawbacks to this product though as it is only browser-based which means there is no way to use the tool offline and it only works in Google’s Chrome browser.
Platform: Google Chrome browser
Price: You can start using Atomic for free and then can upgrade functionality for $15, $25 or $35 a month with the best functionality unlocked at $25 a month which is pretty steep compared to other tools in its class.
Explore Atomic here.
ProtoSketch is the first desktop-class graphic design tool I’ve found for the iPad. It’s a vector design tool that lets you create everything from illustrations to digital designs quickly and on the go. I like it because the number of tools, the level of control and built-in libraries make it feel much more like a desktop class app than anything else I’ve used. I also like that when you are done you can export your work as ProtoSketch, SVG, PDF, PNG or JPG files. It also obviously works the best on iPad Pro where you can use the larger screen to design on.
Platform: iOS / iPad
Explore ProtoSketch here.
Fuse is one of the more interesting new tools as it is a UX tool suite that developers and designers use to create native, cross-platform mobile apps for iOS and Android. It will let you do real-time previews simultaneously on multiple devices, it uses hardware acceleration, and has native UI’s for iOS and Android. The two most interesting things are that there is an experimental drag and drop Sketch importing feature and it outputs real native code for iOS and Android (though I haven’t had an engineer I trust test the code quality yet). It is important to understand that even though this tool says it was created for designers and developers it is mainly targeted at developers or designers who know how to code as there is no WYSIWYG interface to create your works – it all has to be done through code.
Platform: OS X and Windows
Explore Fuse here.
Floid is a rapid prototyping tool for any platform and device (Web, iOS, Android). Its feature set isn’t that different from a lot of other apps already in the market where you can import Sketch or Photoshop files, see your prototypes in real-time on a device, use shared animations, create animated GIF’s of your work or export the prototype as HTML. It will be interesting to see if they will be able to develop functionality for the app that will differentiate it from other products which it will need to survive in this ever more competitive market.
Price: Free trial and $69 to purchase which is reasonable given its toolset.
Explore Floid here.
Ceros is content creation software that seems to be more targeted at marketers than designers since you can great things like infographics, ebooks, microsites, magazines, and banners. You can start by bringing your assets into the design part of the app where you can use canned animation and effects to bring them to life. You can them publish your content and get your own URL or can embed it in your existing website. You can finally use their analytics to see how the content performs and make enhancement based on that performance.
Platform: Web browser
Price: Unknown. You have to a live demo to find out more about the app and pricing is not listed.
Explore Ceros here.
Figma is a bit of a mystery as it hasn’t hit its preview release yet but it is a cloud-based software that allows you to collaborate on interface design projects from the idea to the ready-to-ship product. The interesting feature they are working on is that the app will let you collaborate on a design on real-time so multiple people would be able to design at the same time on the same design. This feature seems like it could either be useful for something like a group working session or it could be a complete nightmare if you are working on it with the wrong person. You can go to their site and sign up to reserve your spot for the preview release now.
Platform: Web browser
Price: Free during the preview release with pricing coming later in the year
Explore Figma here.
UXPin is a web-based all in one design tool that lets you wireframe, design, prototype, present, collaborate and manage your design process all from one place. It is clearly the most ambitious of all the apps in this list as it is trying to be a 360-degree solution for the entire design studio workflow. I haven’t been able to play with this tool as much as I would like but it did seem like if you were willing to invest in learning how everything works and would change the process of your studio it could be a viable tool. I want to run a full project through the tool to see if it can stand up the stress of the challenges of a big design project. I would also really like to see if the presentation, testing, and design management tools are robust enough to be used by a serious design studio. I will find the time soon to work through it and will do the follow-up as a standalone article.
Platform: Web browser
Price: You can start using UXPin free for 7 days and then it’s $17, $26 or $44 a month with the best functionality unlocked at $26 a month which makes this the most expensive tool o.n a yearly basis that I’ve looked at.
Explore UXPin here.