19 of the best product design tools in 2021
I've been designing digital products for the last 15 years, and I figured I'd share my favorite design tools to my fellow product designers.
Best design toolFigma
If you asked me just a few years ago which tool I used for app and interface design, I would not have hesitated to say Sketch. Now, I feel like Figma is the best design tool for web and mobile ui ux design that absolutely nails team collaboration.
Figma is browser based, which is great if you're switching between mac and PC. As a bonus, the plugin ecosystem is extremely healthy, and you're bound to find something that will end up saving you time.
I'll give Adobe XD a credit here as well, if I were to pick another product design tool that wasn't Figma, XD would be my next choice.
Best illustration appAffinity Designer
I was unhappy and stuck in the Adobe platform for years, mostly due to the lack of competition when it came to Adobe Illustrator. Since the launch of Affinity Designer, I've escaped the clutches of Adobe, and have had no complaints since.
The great thing about affinity software is that the shortcuts are pretty similar to Adobe Illustrator, so most users will find it easy to switch over without too much of a learning curve.
Best icon management appIconJar
This is another one of those little apps that I can't live without. Not only does IconJar allow you to organize and group your icon sets, it allows you to easily export, and drag and drop individual icons out to design software of your choice.
It's also nice for shared libraries for teams—we have a shared folder in dropbox with all the icon sets, which means everyone is able to pull from the same source.
Best sketchbookField Notes
When I sketch out designs, I like to go pretty quick and loose. Using Field Notes is a great tool for creating because I don't feel like I'm "ruining" a nice sketch book during these frenzied sketching sessions.
Best app to create animationsAnimator by Haiku
Long gone are the days of firing up After Effects for simple animations destined for web. With Haiku, you can create animations with their intuitive timeline view, then export them to video, GIF, or even straight into Lottie.
Their ui design is very focused, allowing users to quickly create and preview animations in real time, without all of the bloat of Adobe After Effects.
Best app for color accessibilityContrast
This is a little mac app that lives in your status bar, which tells you if there is enough contrast in your design to meet accessibility guidelines for various users.
It's pretty simple to use, you just click the eyedropper, select a color on your design (say the background), then click the other eyedropper, and select the item you want to compare the contrast to (say the body type). Once both are selected, it will show you the rating according to the Web Content and Accessibility Guidelines.
I've got my whole design team using this tool in our workflow, and find myself using it daily.
Best app to find measurementsPixel Snap 2
This is a recent discovery of mine, and I've already found it useful on a number of occasions. Pixel Snap allows you to measure the distance between two objects, whether it's in your design, or on some random webpage. They did a really great job with edge detection in this version, and its reliability is unmatched.
Best communication toolSlack
This is a pretty obvious one at this point, but I figure I'd add it anyways. I work as part of a remote team, and communication is essential. With Slack, we have private channels for the team, and separate channels for contractors and clients that allow for quick, real time collaboration.
Best prototyping app for macProtopie
I've been a principle user for a long time, and can work pretty fast and effectively within it. Their small dev team means they ship updates slowly, and at at this point their competition has not only caught up, but surpassed them in features.
Protopie is a great little app that allows me to do everything I could do in Principle, but with the added benefit of hardware specific controls and logic.
There might be a little bit of a learning curve, but this tool allows you to create things that just aren't possible with other prototyping tools.
Best project organization appNotion
This is hands down my favorite browser based tool I've discovered in a long time, and recommend it to all product designers.
Before using notion, I would have project information scattered throughout Dropbox, Google Docs, Google Sheets, and wherever random locations files tend to find themselves in. Since switching to Notion, I have a central hub of all of my information, split into projects that's easily accessible wherever I am.
It really has been a game changer for me, and I haven't even hit the limitations of their free plan yet with my existing projects.
They have a small team, but you can tell they listen to their users when it comes to feedback. I always look forward to the changelog when a new version is released.
Best VPN appNordVPN
Since I work remote, I tend to have to access a variety of public wifi, through coffee shops, co-working spaces, airports, or otherwise.
At this point, I've been using VPN software enough that I can't imagine not having it on when I'm using these public access points. If you're a remote worker, take the extra step to ensure your connection is private, it's been the best few dollars a month I've spent.
Their UI is nice and simple, and the visual map is great when you want to quickly connect to a new country.
Best web development toolWebflow
This is another one of those tools that have changed my process for web design.
Before discovering Webflow, my job typically involved doing the strategy and design for a site, then passing it off to a developer for full code implementation. This isn't a bad way to go about things, but I really hit the wall when it came to getting momentum on personal projects—changes were slow, and got expensive over time.
With Webflow, not only can I design the whole site, but develop it myself without code. Their CMS tool is crazy powerful, and everything on this site you're on now has been built and optimized for it, whether it's design articles, or shop items spanning a variety of categories.
Their version control tool is also awesome. If you manage to screw something up it doesn't matter, as Webflow automatically creates backups often, and you can restore from where you'd like with a single click.
Best font management appRightFont
I've used a variety of Font Management software over the years, but the latest release of RightFont is my favorite. It's got a simple interface, has Google Font integration, and has auto-activation for most popular design tools.
I have a type library organized by category in Dropbox, and whenever I need to set up a new machine, I simply have to drag and drop it into RightFont.
Best place to buy fontsFontshop
When it comes to type, we typically have two ways to go about things. Grab a free font from somewhere like Google Fonts, not have to worry about licensing fees, but have to deal with your project looking like a million others.
The other way is to license a single typeface that's perfect for your project, and much less used overall. Fontshop has an absolutely massive collection of great paid fonts, as well as some that are free. Licensing is pretty affordable compared to buying off single type foundries, so this is a place I find myself often going for new projects.
Best writing app for macHemingway
While I used to recommend Grammarly, I found their pricing a bit extreme in what they were offering. Hemingway is a great alternative that is not only free, but doesn't include all the privacy concerns of Grammarly (unless you want them to have access to everything you type).
Hemingway is a free web, or mac app that allows you to quickly get an idea of the grade level of your writing, as well as a variety of improvements you can make. I've been using this app for years, and it does it's job really well.
Best image compression toolImageOptim
Every image that I add to this site first gets run through the ImageOptim Mac app.
It's great because I can bulk upload files, doesn't require an internet connection like other services, and it saves me at least 70% on file size.
If you're a designer doing any web work at all and don't have access to server side image compression, grab ImageOptim and just drag and drop your assets into it.
Best web hosting platformNamecheap
I've been using Namecheap for a while now, and it's mostly because of their overall design of their site and mobile apps. Things are easy to find, customer support is quick, and like the name says, they're pretty cheap.
Best password manager1password
There is no reason everyone shouldn't be using a password manager at this point. They are easy to use, flexible, and offer a sense of security that generating your own passwords don't offer.
I started using 1password in 2011, and it's been a part of my daily workflow ever since. My favorite feature is having shared vaults, so I can share login details with my business partners to keep everything centralized.
There are a few alternative password managers out there, but none of them match the user experience of 1password.
Best wordpress hostingWP Engine
When I do need to work with a client on a Wordpress project, I like to stick with a higher end host like WP Engine.
They'll manage the server itself, update Wordpress, protect against vulnerabilities, and give you access to 24/7 support. When it comes to client hosting, I tend to take as little risk as possible, and WP Engine is one of the most recommended in the business.
They may not be the cheapest option, but when you've hit a snag and need to contact customer support, you'll see the benefit over the cheaper guys (HostGator, I'm looking at you).