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“My favourite UX tool for 2021” (and it’s not what you’d think!)

In 2021, there are a whole host of new, exciting tools we can design with. Currently, Adobe are still refining and improving Adobe XD. As well as that, there’s the Sketch and Marvel combination doing almost exactly what Adobe XD does but for a fraction of the cost. Axure is on its ninth iteration with it’s weird Mission Impossible style upload animation. As well as that there are Proto, Invision, Framer and many more. These are all fantastic UX tools that will bring everything you design to life.

So how about me? What’s my favourite UX tool for 2021? Well, we all have our favourites but mine currently is the red and black Staedtler Tradition 2B pencil. For a long time, I favoured the British-made Derwent Graphic with it’s Cumbrian pedigree and rugged looks but the yellow and black of Staedtler’s Norris School pencil drew me back before I finally embraced the Teutonic excellence of the Tradition.

When I first started in design, back in a time when Macs were deeply unsexy beige boxes, and when using a Gaussian blur filter on Photoshop would leave you enough time to go to the pub for a cheeky pint before it had finished processing, we had less choice. I used to design wireframes in Illustrator or Quark Xpress, which are publishing tools at best. Back in the late ’90s and early ’00s, there really weren't a great number of tools to choose from and those that we had were not built for the demands of the time.

So most of the time I used a pencil.

And why was this? Well it had nothing to do with the fallacious story about Russian cosmonauts getting one over their well-funded US cousins. It was because a pencil was quick to iterate with – because my first idea is never even close to usable. A pencil allowed the client to join in the process. A pencil doesn't have problems with licences or updates – though it does need the odd sharpen. A pencil stopped me going too far on a concept before everyone told me it was unworkable. And a pencil could change a usability session around in ten seconds.

Of course, twenty years later, I have all the wonders of UX design listed at the top of the page at my fingertips. But continuing to sketch out my ideas manually means that I spend time only on my best ideas with the rest finding their way into the recycling. One day, I might find a way to improve that process, the iPad Pro with Apple Pencil makes a compelling case, but until then it’s graphite pencil first and then whatever tool floats my boat next.

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