I’ve been asked a few times recently about my opinion on what software people should know if they want to do UX so I thought I’d share my thoughts here. Of course, the first answer is – it depends.
It depends on what *kind* of a UXer you want to be (there are many types – some are more design-y or research-ish, some some are closer to the business or the interface) and what kind of place you want to work for (there are many options there too).
The tools you use affect the work that you output, so I think you should be thoughtful about the toolkit you decide to use.
To begin with, I would say that no software will ever replace the advantages provided by a willingness and ability to sketch.
If you are not confident with sketching you will start designing into software and this is not something you want to do.
The minute you start designing into software you limit the number of options you explore, you move more quickly to high fidelity and are more likely to become attached to your own design. You sit by yourself at a desk instead of collaborating with your team.
Before you learn any software, get comfortable sketching in company.
Another important thing to understand is that most of the time, the tools we use are substitutes and shortcuts for the actual raw material for which we design.
The last thing I would say before I give you the list you’re really here for, is that it is less important which software you learn now, and more important that it doesn’t become your hammer.
(You know the saying – when all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail). Every day a new piece of software comes out that might be a great tool for you on the particular project that you’re working on. Get comfortable always exploring, evaluating and learning new tools. In fact, I’d go so far as saying, don’t even bother trying to be a master of one, be a jack of all software! And be prepared to change your mind.
But, tools you must have. Here’s my thoughts what you might find useful.
- A ‘diagramming’ tool for basic wire framing, sitemapping, content/data modelling and flow charting. Common choices are Omnigraffle (for Mac) or Visio (for PC). There are also a swathe of online (SAAS) alternatives including Balsamiq, Mockflow, Mockingbird, Hotgloo, Pencil, Pidoco and the list goes on (there’s a nice list with summaries here)
- A tool for making higher fidelity (prettier) wireframes/prototypes. Common choices include Fireworks, InDesign, Photoshop. Keynote (Mac) or Powerpoint (PC) are also increasingly popular with good reason I think – they’re easy to use, flexible and increasingly powerful little apps.
- A tool for image processing – a lot of people use Photoshop but most UXers could get away with Fireworks or even Preview (comes with Mac) for their requirements
Personally, I’ve moved away from Omnigraffle and towards Fireworks in the past 12 months or so for various reasons, but there are no perfect UX tools. I’ve seen people make a compelling case for moving back to Omnigraffle. Personally, I think Axure is more trouble than it’s worth, unless you are having to do all your detailed interaction design work in the absence of developers. (Which, if you know me, you’ll know I try very hard to avoid).
Some companies will only hire people who have skills in specific software, eg. Axure. This is idiotic as software is easy to learn, being a good UX designer is the hard part.
Good UX Designers will also read this section – there’s not a clear break and more and more designers should be integrating these tools into their daily practice.
If you’re doing UX Research then having some good Excel skills will come in handy for analysis. You might alway want to get handy with SPSS (although, again, this will be overkill for some). I’ve found having some good mind mapping software to be handing for research analysis as well.
Important note: the best analysis, in my opinion, happens doing affinity sorting using post it notes on a wall – this is research’s equivalent to sketching.
You’ll also need some software to record the user research you do in person. The obvious contenders are Morae (if you’re working for a company with a decent budget) and Silverback which you can run on your Mac.
The tools I find most interesting for UX research tend to be newer web services such as:
- Online remote usability testing: Usertesting.com / Whatusersdo.com etc.
- Other online research tools such VerifyApp and the other tools from the team at Zurb, and OptimalWorkshop‘s great range of online usability testing tools.
- Online analysis tools such as Reframer
- Remote moderated research tools (mostly screensharing/online meeting tools) such as GoToMeeting or Webex
- Apps that can be used for longitudinal contextual studies such as Yammer, Twitter, Facebook, DScout
- Online recruitment tools such as Ethn.io
- Optimization and other measurement tools such as Google Optimizer
This is by no means a definitive list – there are lots more great tools out there that I’ve no doubt neglected to mention. Feel free to add your favourites in the comments below.
Just remember – it’s not the tool you use (although they will no doubt leave their imprint), it’s the way that you use it that really matters.