With so many options available, choosing a UX prototyping tool can be overwhelming and confusing – they all seem to do the same thing, right? For the most part, yes.
But when you start comparing code-based design tools with their image-based counterparts, there are noticeable differences – primarily with prototyping, functionality, and fidelity.
We’re going to explore some of the best prototyping tools and demonstrate why designers should consider code-based alternatives for higher fidelity and better usability testing.
UXPin is one of the companies leading the code-based design revolution. Sign up for a 14-day free trial to explore UXPin’s advanced prototyping features for your next digital product or web design project.
What is a Prototyping Tool, and Why is Prototyping Necessary?
Prototyping tools allow you to create a replica of the final product, which design teams use for testing and presenting to stakeholders. Most design tools offer a prototyping feature, but you also get dedicated prototyping software which typically provides better fidelity and functionality than an image-based tool.
Prototyping is a crucial part of the design process because it allows UX and product designers to validate ideas and fix usability issues before the product enters the engineering stage. Development is costly, and correcting errors can take time and potentially damage the brand through poor user experience.
Designers use prototypes to test the product comprehensively before handing it off to the developers. So, you need a prototyping tool that can offer as close to the same fidelity and functionality as the final product to perform tests that deliver accurate results.
Code-Based vs. Image-Based Design Tools
Before we get started, it’s important to define and differentiate between image-based (vector-based) and code-based design tools.
The tools look and work identical on the surface, but you get improved fidelity and functionality with code-based prototypes. For example, an input field that can capture data or you can update a shopping cart, and it’ll accurately calculate the new total. Essentially, code-based prototypes look and perform identically to the final product.
Top 5 Prototyping Tools for 2022
UXPin is a code-based tool providing designers with an end-to-end design and prototyping solution. Unlike many leading design tools, UXPin doesn’t need plugins – everything you need for prototyping and testing is built-in!
UXPin gives you the option to download the software on your desktop (Mac & Windows) or use it in the browser. The benefit of downloading UXPin is that you can continue working even when you’re offline.
You can test prototypes in the browser or use UXPin’s Mirror app to run prototypes on mobile devices (including iOS and Android). UXPin’s documentation is excellent, covering every aspect of the tool with step-by-step instructions and video tutorials.
We’re going to quickly dive into four features that make UXPin’s code-based prototypes far superior to other leading vector-based design tools.
States allow you to different properties for a single element or component based on user and system triggers. A good example is how a button might have four states – default, hover, active, and disabled. Each of these will have separate properties and interactions. States also allow you to create complex components like drop-down menus, accordions, and carousels that function like they would in the final product.
Most image-based prototyping tools feature interactions, but UXPin allows you to take interactivity to the level with a multitude of triggers and immersive transitions and animations. You can even go one step further with Conditional Interactions, which lets you create a dynamic user experience with “if-then” or “if-else” conditions–like validating an email address or password!
With Variables, you can capture information from user inputs and take actions based on that data–like capturing personal information during sign-up and displaying them on their profile page.
UXPin also offers an add-on called Merge. Merge lets you sync fully coded design system components from a repository to UXPin’s editor.
Designers can build fully-functioning interactive prototypes using the same components used in the final product.
With Merge, you have the option to sync React components via Git or use the Storybook integration for other technologies, including Vue, Angular, Web Components, Ember, and more. It’s a truly revolutionary design technology that’s changing how organizations design user experiences for their customers.
Figma is one of the most widely used design tools. They have a big, engaged community with lots of YouTube content and detailed documentation.
Figma has built-in prototyping functionality with a mobile app to test prototypes on multiple devices. You can work in the browser or download Figma to work offline on your desktop.
While Figma is excellent for creating wireframes and mockups, this tool, like the rest image-based prototyping apps, lacks functionality and fidelity for prototyping. Interactions are limited, and you often have to design several artboards of the same screen to perform functions that UXPin does in a few clicks – like creating a drop-down menu.
Figma’s inputs aren’t functional, so UX researchers can’t test any actions that require users to enter information. You also can’t create dynamic user flows that adapt to user interaction.
3) Adobe XD
Adobe XD is another popular user experience design tool. Unlike Figma and UXPin, Adobe XD doesn’t offer a browser version; you have to download the software to your desktop.
One of the major bonuses of working with Adobe UX is that on the full plan, you get access to 20+ Creative Cloud products, including Photoshop, Illustrator, After Effects, and more. You can also upload projects directly to Behance to showcase your work.
Adobe XD offers built-in prototyping, which runs in the browser, and an app for mobile devices. Unfortunately, XD lacks prototyping functionality and fidelity.
One interesting Adobe UX prototyping feature is Auto-Animate which can help save time for specific interactions. With Auto-Animate, you create the first and last frame of an animation sequence and Adobe XD fills in the rest. The feature doesn’t work for all animations, but it saves a significant amount of time when creating something like a parallax effect.
Invision offers a suite of UX tools from conceptualization to design and prototyping. Invision’s UI and functionality are very similar to Figma or Adobe XD. Like Adobe XD, Invision only works as a desktop application.
Invision’s prototypes are similar to Figma in that they look great but don’t offer functionality that mirrors the final product.
Invision has a similar feature to Adobe’s Auto-Animate called Motion. Motion is an impressive feature that automates some work but doesn’t offer your prototypes real value or fidelity.
Invision’s DSM (Design System Management) is handy for managing your design system and providing developers with CSS and starter code at handoffs. DSM integrates with Storybook so that designers and developers can sync their design systems. Unfortunately, designers can’t use the code components to build prototypes like you can with UXPin Merge.
Framer’s biggest selling point is the speed at which designers can build user interfaces and reduce repetitive tasks. Essentially a rapid prototyping tool.
Notable features include Layout and Insert Menu, which allow you to design and iterate concepts fast. Although impressive, UXPin offers similar features with Auto-Layout and built-in design libraries.
Framer’s Smart Components feature offers similar functionality to UXPin’s States, but not as comprehensive. Using Variants and Variables, you can give elements a hover or pressed state, like toggling a switch or activating a checkbox.
While Smart Components is a step up from other vector-based design tools, it still doesn’t give you as much fidelity as you get from UXPin’s States, Interactions, Expressions, and Variables features.
More Design Tool Comparisons
Check out more popular prototyping tools and how they stack up against UXPin:
If you’re looking for a design tool, there are plenty (including the five listed above) that designers can use to create beautiful low-fidelity wireframes and mockups.
But designing a user experience requires testing, which means you need high-fidelity prototypes, not mockups! UX designers design products for coded products but conduct user testing on image-based prototypes. It’s impossible to get accurate and meaningful results. Invariably there will be usability issues that make their way into the final product.
With code-based tools like UXPin, designers can build functioning high-fidelity prototypes. Usability participants don’t have to “imagine” that a button or input works; they can use it as they would with a final coded product.
With UXPin Merge, you can take prototyping to the next level by building user interfaces with code components. With UXPin synced to a repo hosting your design system, every team member uses the same elements and components, thus solving the single source of truth dilemma that many companies struggle with.
Join the code-based user experience design revolution. Sign up for a 14-day free trial and discover better prototyping and testing with UXPin.