By Jon, Director of User Experience
Like any skilled profession, being equipped with the right tools really makes a tremendous difference when doing UX work.
I’d go so far as to say more so than many professions; efficiently solving and communicating complex design challenges necessitates the right tools, more specifically, purpose built tools.
When UX consulting as a single UX practitioner or as a team, the tools are the vehicles to support your research, design and validation efforts, which shouldn’t be taken lightly.
Assembling the toolkit
There’s somewhat of a recent trend to prove that UX can be done lean and with very little, which has truth to it. So much can be done with some Post-its, paper, a white board and writing materials. But when it comes to putting ideas into digital artefacts that will serve short and long term needs, your tools need a supportive feature set. Many UX artefacts go on to being “living documents”, meaning they’ll continue to evolve as the product does, tools play a big role in this.
Trying to piece together free or unintended software that's ‘good enough’ for UX may get you part of the way, there are many simple ways to get a close enough outcome. But when you look at the loss in efficiency this creates in both creation and ongoing maintenance of artefacts and documents, the savings are not worth the productivity and professionalism impacts.
You may save hundreds here or there by learning and using less than optimal tools, but these savings should not be driving your decision-making. Especially when you consider the well paying nature of UX consulting, these small initial savings are insignificant in the scheme of things and ultimately work against you. Buying tools should be looked at as wise cost of business investments that will most certainly pay for themselves many times over.
When faced with producing incredibly polished and detailed results under crunched project timelines, you’ll be thankful you have tools that allow rapid composition of artefacts, support reuse of materials, and behave in a way that is perfectly aligned for the task.
When working in a team or consultancy, standardising and having everyone on the same set of tools is highly beneficial in many respects:
So you may ask what’s Bourne using as it’s standard toolkit? Well, we’ve taken the approach of using tried and true tools that are largely acknowledged as industry standard in their relevant category, reliable, well supported and highly robust and scalable in what they’re built to do. They need to create efficiencies in our workflow, keep pace with latest methods and approaches to UX and generally be tools we feel comfortable with and enjoy using. We’re all equipped with Apple MacBooks, and our tools include:
Omnigraffle Pro - Diagramming: At those critical early stages of a UX project, you need to be able to clearly show journeys, how data flows, architectures of systems, site maps and other diagrams that allow everyone to gather around a document and clearly understand how a system works. Having a purpose built tool like Omnigraffle allows you to do this with as much simplicity or complexity as is needed for the particulars of the task without limiting or getting in the way of producing the document.
Axure RP Pro - Interactive prototyping: There’s a plethora of wireframe and prototyping tools on the market these days. They all have their pros and cons, limitations and richness in differing areas of their feature set, much of it can come down to personal preference, but it also comes down to what types of prototypes you’ll be building. For Bourne, we often build high-fidelity prototypes with a rather high level of interactivity to emulate the end product during usability testing. Axure is particularly apt at the interactive element, allowing very rapid building of prototypes that are highly engaging with relatively minimal effort. It also sports a very rich feature set that supports building prototypes for enterprise class projects, which comprises a bulk of the engagements we’re involved in.
Sketch - Illustrating: A tool that anyone on the team can easily pickup and contribute into interface design without steep learning curves, costly software licensing, burdensome hardware requirements or heavy user interface was the basis for making Sketch a clear choice for doing the vast majority of interface design work. It’s lightweight rapid approach means efficiencies yet allows the level of creative expression needed to produce the high precision designs we come up with. It’s airy and light, but the output is very satisfying. For more sophisticated work we use Adobe Cloud applications where needed.
Silverback - Desktop usability testing: To conduct moderated usability testing on the desktop, you can’t get past the ease and simplicity of Silverback 2. It’s straightforward approach, no nonsense way of capturing and logging testing sessions makes for a very suitable tool.
Lookback - Mobile usability testing: When doing usability testing on mobile devices, having a very lightweight, non-intrusive, reliable and convenient test capturing tool makes all the difference. Lookback has this beautiful way of being in the foreground and background all at the right times with the right amount of functionality. Its cloud-based approach to storing the test sessions very much complements the mobile environment.
Snagit - Screen capturing: It’s incredible how often screen captures are taken throughout a UX project. In the initial phases you’re capturing images for inspiration, competitive analysis, ideas and so forth. Later on you may take screen captures for use in presenting to stakeholders. Later in the project you may be auditing the developed version of what’s been prescribed by UX and highlighting various elements or gaps. Having a purpose built tool that is solely focused on making screen capturing in a feature rich manner, totally changes the experience. Improving how to screen capture, the accuracy, and ability to immediately add markers, call outs and other elements within the tool means we get better results, faster and of more professional quality. It goes way beyond the underwhelming capturing built into the standard operating system for a task we all commonly do so often.
Keeping on top of trends
Importantly, Bourne doesn’t merely set and forget its toolkit strategy. We’re constantly evaluating new tools as they become available, or changes in existing tools. UX is constantly evolving, I’d say every year we as an industry have changed quite a bit, forever tweaking and refining our ways of doing things. So too should the tools we depend on, keep in step with those changes.
The other day in our Bourne Slack chat room, it erupted with great interest when Via David, one of our UX Consultants, pointed out a Kickstarter for a tool called “Subform” which proposed to revolutionise how responsive design would be handled in an illustration tool. We were all literally salivating at the prospect of a tool that better aligned with our multi-device targeted world and the realities that brings for our design process. So many of the tools we depend on daily are really variations of tools that were originally designed for a much more static world of the past.
If there’s a tool that better speaks to the ever increasing complexities of our digital world and ways to simplify design for it, we’re all for it. Now that we’ve supported the Kickstarter and got our hands on the Subform tool as it winds it’s way through initial alpha and beta phases we’re abreast of the potential direction of future UX tools. By actively seeking and embracing new tools, but also being methodical about their adoption into our primary toolkit we’ll be well equipped to meeting the challenges we face in practicing UX.
If you have any questions about any of our tools or any of your own, then don’t hesitate to reach out to the team. We loving sharing and as you can see are incredibly passionate about it.