Whether you’re working on a web design project yourself or preparing to request one, here are some of the best design tools and programs used in this type of design.
In case you’re not sure, web design is the process of creating the look and feel of a website. In essence, it’s a subcategory of graphic design, but requires a special type of expertise called UX/UI design.
Unlike many other types of design (branding, marketing) web design necessarily involves interaction. Since people don’t just look at it but rather interact with it as well, web designers need to understand a lot more than just basic design principles.
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Naturally, this also means that they have to have the technical skills required to work in programs and tools meant for creating web designs. Here’s a list of the most important web design tools and programs.
Best web design software
In this section, we’ll talk about the most popular web design programs that you have to download. All of them require payment, but naturally, they usually offer a lot more options and features than some free web design tools.
Adobe XD is part of the Adobe Creative Suite, but can be purchased separately for just $9,99 per month. It’s long been the industry standard for web design, thanks to its user-friendliness.
The interface is intuitive and easy to navigate, and there are tons of features that will ensure your designs are looking sharp and professional. Prototyping is easy, as well as the creation of interaction features.
If you have experience working with other Adobe programs such as Adobe Photoshop and Illustrator, then you should definitely give this one a try.
If you’re a web developer or designer using a Mac device, chances are you’ve already heard or perhaps even used Sketch. Because it’s only available to Mac OS users, it might not be the ideal tool for freelance web designers (you can’t assume all of your clients will have a Mac).
However, it has numerous advantages that still make it a very popular tool; for example, it’s very compatible with the CSS coding language, and since all of the graphics in Sketch are vectors, scaling up and down is very easy.
Sketch has different pricing plans, each at around $99 per year (you can choose between personal license or Sketch for teams which requires payment for each individual contributor).
Adobe Experience’s older sibling, Dreamweaver is one of the first web-building software launched way back in 1997. It’s primarily built as a coding tool, so bear in mind that its design possibilities are limited. Unlike other Adobe programs that are considered the industry standard in their respective fields, Dreamweaver failed to gain a mass following as it was considered too basic for advanced web development, and too complicated with a hard-to-navigate interface for beginners.
That said, Adobe has made some big improvements in 2020, so we might yet see this software resurface. Especially if you’re already familiar with the Adobe Creative Suite or are paying for the subscription, you might be able to master the learning curve and get good use out of it.
Figma is actually available as a web as well as a desktop app, and has a free as well as paid model. Figma is a relatively new program, released in 2016, but has since gained huge popularity with designers and nondesigners.
Figma’s biggest advantage is without doubt its ease of use. The basics of the drag and drop platform will probably take under an hour to get used to. Another great thing about Figma is the option to work on projects collaboratively (although bear in mind that the free version allows for a maximum of 2 collaborators), and see changes in real time.
Similar to Figma, InVision is available as a web and desktop application. InVision was primarily created for wireframing, but it has an additional tool for more complex designs called InVision Studio.
Like Figma, it’s an awesome collaboration tool as it allows design teams to work together in real-time. One of its strongest suits is creating transitions, for actions like hovering, clicking or swiping.
If you have any design knowledge, you’ll know immediately that Photoshop isn’t a web design tool primarily. However, as one of the most (if not the most) powerful photo manipulation and graphic design software, it could prove to be an integral part of creating a stunning website.
Web design newbies are not advised to use Photoshop for this type of design (there is inevitably a lot of adjustment involved), but if you need to tweak or create smaller elements that make up the look of your website, Photoshop is the graphic design tool to go with. For example, if you need to optimize photos for web use (so that the large files don’t compromise the loading time of your website), or you want to create additional elements like custom icons, it may be easier to do this in a familiar program like Photoshop, and then import them onto a more intuitive web design tool.
Online web design tools
Professional designers need professional tools. And yet, there are several online, often free programs for creating web design which are free to use. This could be a great solution for clients who don’t want to purchase a software just so they can see the source file their designers have sent; or for designers who are starting out and want to test the waters before committing to a software purchase.
One of the oldest and still most popular website builders, and one that’s made this type of tool well known, WordPress still enjoys immense popularity and is used for both micro as well as well known websites such as BBC America, Variety and MTV News.
It’s an open source program, meaning that any developer can simply add source code for themes and plugins. While the thought of it is very exciting, it means that WordPress can be risky to use sometimes, especially if you’re not that tech savvy. For example, you might find the perfect plugin, but it might not be compatible with others you choose for your site; or it can simply start crashing or turn out to be malware.
And while WordPress is still the market leader in online website builder, it’s been on a slow decline for several years. One of the reasons for this that some of the newer solutions are slightly easier to use and offer a more direct approach (e.g. with WordPress you have to purchase a domain name and hosting separately and then merge the two together, whereas some of the others allow you to do both on the same platform
Wix is one of the most popular website builders, famous for its user-friendly drag and drop editor, and tons of gorgeous customizable templates that enable anyone to build a website or landing page, without any design knowledge whatsoever. With Wix, you have complete control of the look of your website, which can be a double-edged sword for people without any design background. For example, you might need to make tweaks manually on both the desktop and mobile versions of your website to make sure that everything looks good.
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When it comes to SEO, Wix is definitely one of the strongest contenders, allowing you to edit the usual stuff like page titles and meta descriptions, but also the finer touches (e.g. headings go all the way down to H6).
Wix offers eight different pricing options, in two categories: website and ecommerce website. It’s a simple all-in-one solution since Wix plans also include hosting service and purchase of a domain, so you won’t need to make any additional payments.
That said, as with all website design templates, it’s not a bad idea to work with a designer who can make sure that your website has a truly custom and unique look that fits your brand perfectly.
When it comes to beautifully designed templates, Squarespace is definitely one of the top web page builders out there. It’s a lot less intuitive than Wix (e.g. Wix provides a quick drop-down menu of editing options for each element with a right click, whereas with Squarespace you always have to use the main toolbar).
If you’re considering creating a portfolio website, or work in any type of creative industry, then Squarespace is definitely a great option to consider, thanks to its stunning design templates. If you want to connect a social media account like Instagram, Squarespace allows you to that quite easily and make your website even more visually stunning. If you’re after a more traditional, text-heavy website, then the learning curve might not be worth the end result.
It doesn’t, however, offer a free trial, but the subscription plans start at just $12 per month.
When it comes to online stores, no tool offers quite as many functionalities and support as Shopify. Once you have everything set up, you’ll benefit from stellar customer support and a smooth experience for your customers.
However, if you’re creating a website on your own, Shopify can sometimes feel challenging. Firstly, it only offers a very limited number of free web design templates, so it’s likely you’ll need to purchase a template if you don’t want to settle for something completely basic.
Next, the process of setting up your store requires a lot of time and effort. It’s for a good reason, as this will ultimately improve your visitors’ website experience, but be warned that it’s not something you can do in a couple of hours.
If you want a solution that’s cheap (or free) and effective, Weebly is a strong contender to try. Its drag and drop interface is very simple to use. It’s also another great solution for those looking to create an ecommerce website or online store.
For as little as $5 per month, or $12 for online stores, you can connect a free domain name and use many of Weebly’s helpful features. Although the customization options are slightly more limited with Weebly than some of the others like Wix and WordPress, it’s a fantastic option for first-time site owners or people with no knowledge of design. Weebly’s structured editing system means that you don’t have to worry about how the changes you’ve made will look on mobile devices.
Another, perhaps surprising thing about Weebly is that it’s great for complex websites with many pages, since it allows you to create complex navigation (even more so than Wix!). Of course, remember that when it comes to some basic design principles, simplicity is always preferred, so you might not want to (ab)use this feature to its full extent.
Further reading on web design
We hope that our list gives you some basic information about the best web design tools. If you want to read up on the topic some more, make sure you check out our articles on web design companies (in case you decided not to take the DYI route), what’s included in web design services and our intro to motion graphics, which are an important part of good web design.