People new to UX often ask which tool should they use or which tool is the best for doing our work. The short and unhelpful answer to this is that there are many different tools each with their own strengths and weaknesses. A longer answer usually starts with… The current most popular tool is Sketch and to have the broadest appeal to employers you should learn this tool. While it is a great tool capable of doing both wireframes and high-fidelity designs it lacks certain capabilities that make it less than ideal.
In order to easily share designs specifications with developers you will need to couple it with another tool. Again, the most common tool that allows designs to be shared with developers without having to manually create detailed specification overlays is called Zeplin. Sketch also lacks interactive prototyping capability (there are plugins for animations/transitions), but again it can be coupled with InVision or MarvelApp to create basic prototypes.
Other popular tools include Figma, UXPin, and Adobe XD which all offer varying level of combined capabilities to design, prototype, and share with developers. Again each of these have their own strengths and weaknesses. For most of them, the prototyping capabilities are limited to basic interactions. Which is simply linking screens together with hotspots. They offer some mobile interactions (Swiping) and simple transitions (slide in/out), but for the most part you will need to create multiple screens/states to emulate / represent a design more completely.
For more sophisticated interactions, there is the venerable tool Axure and an even older one called iRise. There is also Framer X, which has the full capabilities of code as it can integrate with React and Google Sheets. Of course, the more flexible the tool the more complex it is to create designs. There is a balance to having multiple tools that each does one thing well vs having one tool that does most of what you need.
The Best Tool is…
So what is the best UX tool? In my opinion it is the one inside your head. I have learned multiple tools over my career as I changed roles and/or organizations. And while some tools are better than others, I have found I can design with anything. You can have the most powerful and expensive tools, but if you do not understand why, what, and who you are designing for, then you will not create anything of value. The best tool is going to be how you think and learn about the problem you will be designing a solution for and the thought process you use to get to the solution. The tool you use to communicate and collaborate that process is the one you have access to at the moment.
There is one tool that is indispensable and that is a pencil/pen and a notepad. Sketching by hand is something that designers should do to visually think through content and designs. Beyond that however, the tool you use to share more detailed versions of your design is going to often be a matter that your organization decides. Occasionally, you’ll get to introduce a new tool or at least use a tool you prefer for yourself. However, there have been times where I needed to start with a new tool that the org had decided to standardize on.
This is not to say that you shouldn’t spend time learning how to use a specific tool’s full functionality. Again, some tools do certain things better than other tools. For example, while not ideal, I have used PPT as a wire framing tool so that I could share and collaborate with other team members who did not have a budget to get Visio. Today, I might use a tool called Miro or Conceptboard or other online whiteboarding application.
Learning all the features of a tool and achieving some level of competency will help you to be more efficient. Currently, I am using Figma and I really like it a lot. It is a very good tool for general design with great design system features along with basic prototyping functionality. It is not overly complicated which makes it easy to focus on design.
My final advice is to not be afraid of trying out other tools even if you use a tool that you feel is the best. Learning other tools helps you to see the weaknesses of the tool you are using to do your work. And as mentioned previously, it can help you also to avoid letting the tools limit your design.
The following is an overview of some of the different tools used in UX in a nice comparison chart: