21 Must Have Tools for Mobile App Designers

To successfully design a mobile application, you’re going to need the right tools.

But with so many options available on the market, how can you tell which ones are the best?

If this is your first time designing an app, you’re definitely going to need some guidance.

Fortunately for you, I’ve been through this process before.

I know what kinds of tools you need for both design and development.

I also know the specific brands and platforms you should be using to get the most out of these tools.

You’ll need different tools for different phases of the design process.

Some of the elements of this process include:

  • Brainstorming
  • Planning
  • Interacting with a developer
  • Sharing information with your design team
  • Creating animations
  • Wireframing
  • Building prototypes

The list goes on and on, but this is a good foundation.

We’ll discuss the best tools for these components of the design process and talk about some others in detail as well.

With hundreds of tools for app designers available, I’ve come up with the top 21 that you should be using.

I know that these work well from personal experience as a designer.

The other tools that I’ve used just didn’t function and operate as smoothly as these ones.

I’ll give you a detailed description of each tool and let you know what you can use it for.

Let’s dive in.

1. Marvel

I like to use Marvel for prototyping.

It’s one of the best ways you can link all of your design elements together in one place.

You don’t need to expensive, complicated, and advanced programs anymore to accomplish this.

Their platform is great if you’re designing an app for the Apple App Store.

The prototypes are compatible with:

  • iPhone
  • iPad
  • Apple Watch
  • Apple TV
  • Macbook desktops
  • Macbook laptops

You can also create prototypes for Android devices using Marvel’s platform.

So it’s great if you’re planning to launch an app on both systems.

This software tool is also ideal for people who are designing apps with multiple screens.

The system makes it easy to navigate and stay organized while you’re doing this.

2. Sketch

Sketch is another necessity in your arsenal of design tools.

It’s got functions that are similar to Photoshop or Adobe Illustrator, but it’s made for UX and UI designers.

Sketch is great for creating symbols, buttons, headers, tabs, and other common components.

You can easily organize all of these in one place after you create them.

I also like to use sketch for creating user experience mockups.

I’ve realized that Sketch also has a much faster wireframing process.

So you can definitely save some time if you use that feature.

Once you’re done, it’s really easy to give your work to a visual designer to continue working on it.

It’s one of the best tools on the market that you can use for designing the interface of your app.

3. UI Stencils

UI Stencils is a top option for drafting early sketches of your design.

The kit is made out of stainless steel, so it’s not the like those cheap plastic types of stencils you may have used in elementary school.

You’ll also get a booklet of sketch pads and a small carrying case.

They have different design sizes for different device specifications.

So you can sketch a draft for various iPhones, Android devices, and tablets as well.

The stencils have the most common icons needed for drafting.

This will help give you a more general idea of the size of your design and how everything will fit on the screen.

UI Stencils is a perfect tool for brainstorming in the early design stages of development.

The sketch pads are similar to Post-It notes, so they have a sticky back.

This is ideal for sessions where you’re working with other people.

It’s easy to stick a sketch up on a board for a collaboration and to get feedback from another designer.

4. OmniGraffle

I use OmniGraffle to build app flow charts, but they offer so much more than that.

The software is made for Mac users who are sketching designs for iOS apps.

OmniGraffle allows you to change the canvas size, layer artboards, convert text to images, and set keyboard shortcuts.

It’s also automated with both JavaScript and AppleScript.

OmniGraffle has touch bar support and comes with a point editor tool as well.

5. MindNode

You can use MindNode to build relationship maps.

It’s one of the best design tools to help you stay organized when your ideas are running wild.

Overall, the platform and interface are both super simple.

It doesn’t have any complex or distracting features.

Their system allows you to prioritize your most important tasks when you’re working on a design.

Set reminders and deadlines on the platform to keep yourself on a timeline that’s realistic without falling behind schedule.

You can easily fold and unfold nodes whenever you need to access them for your current project.

MindNode has different style options and layouts to get you started with.

Their cloud software makes it easy for you to share your project with other people and tackle it with a collaborative effort.

The cloud means you’ll also be able to access your work on MindNode from any device.

6. Photoshop

Photoshop is a classic tool for designers.

If you haven’t used it in a long time, it’s drastically improved over the years.

It’s no longer a software that’s just made for cutting and pasting pictures.

Use this software if you’re an artist as well as a mobile app designer.

Your artistic side can really shine when you’re using Photoshop.

They’ve got features like:

  • Layering
  • Texture
  • Lighting
  • Blurring

It’s also great for bitmap manipulation.

If you’re a mobile app designer, you need to have Photoshop.

7. Iconjar

Do you wish there was a place for you to store and organize all of your icons?

Well, there is.

Iconjar is exactly what you’re looking for.

It’s frustrating for designers when you have to go searching for something that you know is on your computer or software somewhere, but you just can’t seem to find it.

Iconjar eliminates that problem.

Their platform is specifically designed for organization, so you never have to worry about searching for icons again.

This simple design tool will save you so much time, which is why I recommend it.

8. Pen and notepad

Do not underestimate simplicity!

When an idea comes to your mind, you don’t always have to run to your computer, phone, or tablet.

I carry around a pen and notepad with me at all times.

Just jot your thoughts down and start sketching whenever something comes to you.

I recommend using a pen and piece of paper before you start to put anything into a computer software.

It’s a great chance for you to collect your thoughts, so you have a better idea of what you want your design to look like before you get started.

9. Axure RP

As you can see, lots of the tools on this list are made for specific parts of the design process.

But Axure RP is perfect for designing your app from start to finish.

Some of the top features include:

  • Mockups
  • Wireframes
  • Flowcharts
  • Idea boards
  • User journey maps
  • Diagrams
  • Personas

It might just be your new favorite design tool.

The software is easy to use and has a really clean navigation system.

I never have to worry about staying organized when I’m using Axure RP because it’s just that simple.

Even if you’re new to design, you won’t have to worry about struggling to understand how the different components of this software work.

But with that said, it’s still great for experts to use as well.

10. Principle

Lots of design tools out there will allow you to create some basic animations.

But if you’re designing an app that has complex animations and interactions, you’ll definitely need to get Principle.

It’s also great for designing an app that has multiple screens.

Even if you’re animating a basic app, I still recommend getting Principle.

The day is going to come when the complexity of your designs change based on the client, and you’ll want to have this software readily available for it.

11. Zeplin

Zeplin is perfect for app specs.

It’s also one of my favorite organizational tools for designers.

So you can schedule and plan your day accordingly when you’re using Zeplin.

Use this software as the next step after you’ve completed a design in Photoshop or Sketch to complete your specs.

Zeplin also has resources for developers in addition to designers.

Their software can help save you time and money.

12. Adobe XD

Adobe XD has tons of features.

Personally, I use it for prototyping and wireframing.

It’s compatible with both iOS and Android platforms.

So not only are you able to design an app for either operating system, but you can install the software on whichever device you prefer.

This is great because some design tools that we’ve seen are specific to one operating system.

13. Proto.io

In case the name didn’t give it away, Proto.io specializes in helping designers prototype different templates.

But in addition to that feature, you’re also able to design custom animations on here.

Those are definitely the elements that make this software stand out from the crowd.

If you’re on the fence about Proto.io, they make an offer that’s too good to turn down.

You can try it out for 15 days absolutely free.

They won’t even ask you for a credit card number during the trial.

So why not give it a shot?

I also like it because you can sync it up with your Google Drive or Dropbox account, which makes it really easy to import and share your work.

14. Origami Studio

Origami Studio is an interface design tool.

It was actually developed by the Facebook engineers, so it’s quality and performance should speak for itself.

Those developers used Origami Studio to design Facebook Messenger and Instagram.

I almost forgot to mention the best part.

It’s free.

That’s right.

So go download it now.

I’ll promise that you’ll find a way to use it.

It’s great for complex functions, and it’s available for both Android and iOS systems.

15. Balsamiq

Wireframing is essential for every mobile app designer.

That’s why Balsamiq needs to be part of your toolset.

It’s one of the best ways to control different versions of your design.

As you work, you may realize that you want to see something you did a few days ago.

Well, Balsamiq stores all of those old versions, so it’s easy to work and rework your ideas.

You can also print out your prototypes and run user tests online before any code gets written.

Their software also allows for seamless collaboration between designers and developers.

Ultimately, this will help keep your clients happy.

16. Flinto

Flinto is another tool that makes team collaborations easy.

You can import designs from Sketch or Photoshop and share them with your team.

It’s got all of the resources and functions you need for every step of the design process.

Some of the highlights include:

  • Interactions
  • Video layering
  • 3D rotations
  • Gestures
  • Animated transitions

You can also preview your app in real time.

Flinto has drawing tools and organizational procedures that make it easy for you to design complex apps with multiple screens.

17. HotGloo

HotGloo is another top choice for building prototypes of your design.

Since HotGloo is a web based tool, you can use it from anywhere.

You don’t have to be tied down to your own laptop or tablet.

This great for designers who are always on the go and need the flexibility to work from someone else’s device.

It’s got great interactive features to help you with wireframing as well.

18. JustInMind

You can use JustInMind for nearly every phase of the design.

In addition to wireframing and prototypes, I like it use it for:

  • Adding HTML
  • Videos
  • Documents
  • Online widgets
  • Maps

So try to incorporate this tool into your next design.

You can thank me later.

19. Invision

Invision takes your design to the next level.

You can take a static prototype and turn it into a clickable prototype, which you won’t get from every tool out there.

You also have the ability to upload design files and design custom animations.

Invision allows you to create gestures and manage your workflow so all of your tasks get completed on time.

20. FramerJS

FramerJS is a visual editing tool.

For advanced designers, you can even start the coding process on here, which is ideal for when you’re working with a developer.

The corresponding backend code is reusable, so it helps speed up the process and saves you lots of time doing tedious work in the long run.

21. UXPin

UXPin lets you create UX without using any code.

You can use your designs from Sketch and Photoshop, and they are compatible with UXPin.

The import process is super easy.

You can also create workflows with their software.

Although there are other tools on this list that are more specialized for wireframing, you can accomplish this on UXPin as well.

Conclusion

All mobile app designers have one thing in common.

To be successful, you’ve got to have the right tools.

This is true for designers who have been doing this for ten days as well as ten years.

You may be creative and talented, but if you’re not using the right software, it’s going to be difficult for you to get the most out of your designs.

I have no affiliation with any of the tools on this list.

I just wanted to share my favorite ones with you.

These 21 tools have helped me design a countless number of apps.

Unfortunately, it took me a while to find out which ones were the best.

But luckily for you, that won’t be an issue.

I’m fairly certain that the options above will make your life as a designer much easier.

So check them out and let me know what you think.

What’s your favorite design tool for prototyping and wireframing?

Ian Blair :BuildFire Co-Founder. I'm a digital marketer by trade and an entrepreneur at heart. I'm here to help businesses go mobile and build apps more efficiently than before.