Your Guide to Web Design Software: Industry Staples & New Tools
There’s an array of great web design software available nowadays, from industry staples to awesome free web design tools. Here’s our pick of the best ones!
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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.
Naturally, this also means that they have to have the technical skills required to work in programs and tools meant for creating web designs. Before we get into the ins and outs of the best web design software, let’s look at some of the key features to look for in any program.
Key features of great web design programs
Whether you opt for paid or free web design software, here are some of the features that can make the design process easier.
- User-friendly Interface: The software should have an intuitive and user-friendly interface that makes it easy for both beginners and experienced designers to navigate and utilize its features effectively.
- Drag-and-drop functionality: The easiest web design software usually has drag-and-drop interfaces, which allows users to easily place elements and content on web pages without needing to write code manually. This feature simplifies the design process and enables quick prototyping.
- Responsive design capabilities: With the growing importance of mobile devices, web design software should support responsive design. It should allow designers to create websites that automatically adapt and display properly on various screen sizes and devices.
- Pre-designed templates: A wide selection of pre-designed website templates can be immensely helpful, especially for beginners or those seeking a quick website setup. These templates provide a starting point and can be customized as per the specific needs of the project. This is usually available with most website builders, but you can of course download the templates and customize them in a different web design software.
- Visual editing tools: The software should offer a range of visual editing tools, such as image editors, color pickers, typography options, and graphic manipulation features. These tools enable designers to fine-tune the visual aspects of the website and create a cohesive design.
- Compatibility and integration: Good web design software should support popular web technologies and standards, ensuring compatibility across different browsers and platforms. Additionally, it should integrate well with other tools and services, such as content management systems (CMS), e-commerce platforms, or third-party plugins.
- Collaboration and version control: Collaboration features, such as the ability to invite team members, share designs, and receive feedback, can enhance the productivity of web design projects. Version control functionality helps track changes, revert to previous versions, and collaborate more effectively.
Best web design software
In this section, we’ll talk about the most popular web design software 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.
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.
You can download the Sketch desktop app for $120 yearly, or pay the subscription for the web app, which starts at $12 per editor per month (or $10 if billed annually). The second option also includes handy features, such as cloud storage and real-time collaboration.
What Adobe software is used for web design? You’re not alone in wondering about this. Adobe recently removed Adobe XD, its best-known web design software, as a stand-alone tool you can purchase (the reason likely being Adobe’s acquisition of Figma).
So, while existing Adobe XD users are still able to use it, what Adobe software is used for web design, which will also be available in the future?
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.
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 gained instant popularity as one of the easiest web design software to master. 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 3 Figma files).
If you’re wondering “what is the best web design software to purchase”, and have any design knowledge, you’ll probably know Photoshop might not be your best bet. Still, 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, as it’s not the easiest web design software and there is inevitably a lot of adjustment involved. However, if you need to tweak or create smaller elements that make up the look of your website, Photoshop can be a fantastic choice.
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.
You can also check out our comparison of Photoshop vs. Adobe Illustrator for web designing, in case you’re looking to use a design program you’re already confident about.
While most of the tools from the previous section also have a web version, they’re most commonly used as a desktop application, and require payment.
However, nowadays there are loads of free web design software available, which are also beginner-friendly. 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.
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 great software to design a website. 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.
Webflow is a no-code website builder that enables you to create high-quality and responsive websites, even if you have no coding experience. On the other hand, the tool does support adding custom elements as well, you can drop custom code as well.
There’s a vast library of templates available, although you can also create custom website design and simply use webflow to create interaction. It also has an integrated content management system, which helps to keep your website updated and relevant.
You can even migrate an existing website into Webflow - the platform offers support with that as well!
And for such a comprehensive website building tool, Webflow is still fairly affordable - for $40 per month you could have a high-traffic, content-driven site with up to 10,000 CMS entries!
Few lists of the best software for website design can overlook Canva. Although it’s mostly gained popularity for less complex design projects, such as social media graphics and simple print designs, Canva is a viable option to get started with web design.
The best thing about it of course is the templates library, which can serve both as a starting point and food for thought for what you can do with web design. It’s definitely one of the easiest web design software to use, however customization options are not as vast as some of the professional software to design websites.
Another perk is that you can also use Canva to publish the website, by using a free Canva domain, purchasing a custom one, or linking an existing domain for your site.
Further reading on web design
We hope that our list provides an adequate answer to the question “what is the best web design software to invest your time and money in”.
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 DIY route), what’s included in web design services and our intro to motion graphics, which are an important part of good web design.
Having lived and studied in London and Berlin, I'm back in native Serbia, working remotely and writing short stories and plays in my free time. With previous experience in the nonprofit sector, I'm currently writing about the universal language of good graphic design. I make mix CDs and my playlists are almost exclusively 1960s.