Of course, any UX professional must be an expert in using the available tools. As a UX designer, your job is to design. So whether you’re a fan of Axure, Balsamiq, or Illustrator, or just diving straight into code, knowing how your tools work and being able to both optimize their capabilities and work within their limitations is key to an efficient design process.
But, personally, I now use design tools less than I did even a year ago. Partly, this is the result of my educating clients. If I can communicate what I need through a pencil-and-paper sketch, I can save myself a lot of time. I must confess that I’m pretty terrible at drawing, but that doesn’t matter. I can still get the ideas down, riff on them, and get feedback.
But my using design tools less is also the result of a change in my mindset. I make a conscious effort to explore the solution space more thoroughly before committing my design ideas to the computer. Creating design deliverables can sometimes create the illusion of progress. For example, creating an interactive design prototype in Axure rather than a sketch on paper or a whiteboard may be a short-term win at the expense of a better long-term solution. Sketching is the quickest, easiest medium for creating and sharing design ideas. Putting a design into a design tool takes effort, and once you’ve made that effort, it can sometimes become more difficult for you to discard that effort and address a design problem afresh.
When using design tools, you must understand the nuts and bolts—how they work and what you can do to optimize the process of getting the design from your brain or paper sketch into the tool. For example, if you’re designing in Axure and you’re using the same component more than once, convert it to a master so you can reuse it.
If your design may develop into a high-fidelity prototype, take the time to create a styled widget library and other styles, if they don’t already exist, so you won’t have to rework or restyle components down the line. It’s much easier to create a design once in the right style than to rework it later on. Plus, when—not if—you need to change your design, it’s much easier if you’ve taken the extra few moments to create your design using the proper styles to begin with. If you already have a corporate style guide to follow, using it from the outset will save you a lot of pain and rework later on!
I’m reasonably technology agnostic, am comfortable designing with either a Mac or a PC, and alternate between a mouse and a trackpad to reduce the likelihood of wrist strains. When I use a mouse, I prefer a gaming mouse, and depending on the application I’m using, assign its additional buttons to different functions. For example, within a Web browser, the buttons navigate forward and back or switch between tabs, while in other applications, they let me cut and paste or align content directly using the mouse. This is a small process optimization, but one I find works well for me. However, I’ve rarely seen others use this approach.