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6 Tools for Mastering Usability & Interface Design

Posted on 4.30.2013

The hallmark of a quality website is that it puts the user first. In that regard, website designers have a lot of power and influence, as they impact the way visitors view and interact with a site or application.

Much of the initial end-user experience, and thus much of a company’s Web success, rests squarely on their shoulders. But creating an attractive and usable website isn’t for the faint of heart. It requires careful and deliberate planning, as well as a healthy amount of communication between the website owner and the designer and/or developer. While all the Web tools in the world can’t necessarily improve someone’s communication skills, there is a bright side. There’s an abundance of user interface-focused Web design tools, from wireframe kits to pattern references, that allow designers to quickly create a simple layout of an idea to present to a client. These solutions make it easier to share their vision without creating an actual website that may or may not be used.

These offerings provide designers with opportunities to mock up most of the basic elements of a Web page (e.g. headers, footers, sidebars, example content, etc.) to illustrate the structure of the project, and finally, to provide a foundation for any changes that the site owner wants in the future. Some of these tools also serve as reference libraries that designers can turn to when they’re in need of a little inspiration. Below are six of the Web’s best usability and interface design tools to help improve the overall quality of a site by ensuring it offers a user friendly experience.

Patternry

This pattern reference tool identifies problems that a site’s user interface design may have and offers solutions. Users can build style guides, design pattern libraries or even complete front-end resources with this tool, which can contain everything from design patterns to HTML & CSS to wireframes, links, images and more. Patterny offers single-user personal plans (which include one private library, unlimited patterns and “normal” security) for free, as well as other plans that support more users and offer unlimited private libraries.

ForeUI

ForeUI is a simple tool that allows designers to create mock-ups, wireframes or prototypes of a website or application. All of the prototype projects created with the tool are skinnable, meaning designers can alter their look and feel by just changing the UI theme. It also lets users set the behaviors of their prototypes by defining intuitive flow charts that handle specific events. Prototypes can also be exported to wireframe images, PDF documents or HTML5 simulations to make them easily sharable.

mockingbird

Create wireframes “on the fly” with mockingbird, a popular interface mock-up and prototyping tool with a special focus on online collaboration. With mockingbird, users can drastically improve the communication gap with their clients and fellow designers thanks to a handful of features that make it easy to create, link, preview and share the website or application they’re working on. After using the simple drag-and-drop interface to insert UI elements on a page, designers can link multiple Web page mock-ups to establish a feel for the “flow” of the site or application. They can then share those links with clients or teammates, who can edit them in real time.

Lumzy

Designers in need of a little more interactivity than what the average wireframe tool can offer should consider Lumzy, a UI interface mock-up and prototyping tool that makes it easy to create functional website prototypes. Lumzy is all about making processes as seamless and simple as possible for designers and their clients, and does so by giving users the ability to add actions to their prototypes that can trigger things like pop-ups, alerts, page navigation features and more. This allows clients to see, test and even annotate the work. Plus, there is nothing that clients need to download to view the prototype; all they need is a link.

Dojo

This small and fast JavaScript toolkit offers designers a powerful set of base APIs and rich UI widgets to build both desktop and mobile Web experiences. Dojo’s base modules provide designers with the essential capabilities that their websites will need, including DOM functions (e.g. query, NodeList extensions, events, etc.), effects and animations, language helpers, behaviors and Ajax I/O, and the service also provides cross-toolkit integration with MooTools, jQuery, underscore, backbone, cujo, uber, Wink Toolkit, eventd and more.

Pattern Tap

Last, but not least, this design pattern library provides designers with inspiration by breaking down various user interface elements into different collections and tagging individual entries based on browsing options. It also categorizes different patterns by platform type, so users can search exclusively for Web, tablet or mobile designs, depending on what they’re looking for. Great design ideas don’t happen in a vacuum — they come from being inspired, and that is exactly Pattern Tap’s goal.

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