User experience tools are a useful thing to have in any digital project you might be working on. Even if your project is small-scale, there are some things you just have to have, if you want to do it right. Visual tools are especially advantageous to those who do not want or need to design interfaces or layouts from code, blindly. For a long time, we had to do this, but thankfully, that’s in the past. User experience tools are important and you really have to have certain ones. But, bare bones, what do you absolutely need beyond all doubt? We’ll put aside things like a coding environment and graphical design tools, which are a standard for pretty much any project of this sort. We’re looking at specific things for user experience here. So, let’s take a look at what you need. I’ll cite three specific pieces of software that I recommend, but do note that each one of these has a million alternatives in its niche. I recommend these specifically simply because I’ve used them heavily myself and know they are good to vouch for. #1 – Visio Visio is a charting and planning program that’s part of the Office suite by Microsoft. It’s not packaged with the rest of office, but does install into its framework. It lets you do a lot of things like make floor plans, design graphs and charts, but the thing you’re going to want it for in this case is the flow chart capacity. You need to flow chart not only how the core functionality of a system will work, but how the interface and presentation to the user – the user experience- must work, as well. You need a quick and effective tool for this, and Visio’s really what I’d call the best one. OpenOffice has an analogue of it, but I’ve not used it. Still, OpenOffice is pretty competent for an open-source knockoff, so its Visio analogue is probably pretty good. You can also use this for some mild preliminary layout planning too, though you can’t go past a “sketch” level of design on that here. For layout, you need a dedicated program. #2 – Balsamiq We’ve mentioned this program before, but it belongs on this list, because it’s the only non-programming GUI design tool I’ve ever worked with, and frankly, from what I hear, its alternatives are far less competently designed themselves. Balsamiq is a prototyping tool, which allows you to design mockups of user interfaces. If you’ve gotten the hang of Visio, and dragging and interlinking visual components with it, doing mockups in Balsamiq will be an easy transition, as I’d say they feel similar despite serving distinctly different purposes. Balsamiq is a good tool for artists who know how a GUI should work and look, but aren’t coders who can implement it. This can create a Rosetta Stone for the programmers to understand the vision of the visual team. Be warned, though, that it cannot make active GUI which programmers can just import and compile. They must duplicate your mock ups in the native environment they code in. Expect this to be a minor bottleneck in development speed, but an unavoidable one alas. #3 – DreamWeaver You may be wondering how this is applicable to all of UX, but trust me, more than ever before, it’s integral. You need a visual web design system compatible with HTML5 and all the AJAX and CSS trimmings too. As services continue to become very web centric, you will need to be able to design adept web interfaces. If you’re going SaaS, this is absolutely invaluable and impossible to be without, but even if you’re designing Windows software, you’ll need help libraries, and a web presence for support, releases and information dumping. Without something like DreamWeaver, your work here will suffer. These are three user experience tools I wouldn’t be without, and you shouldn’t be without them, or something that equally competently fills their niches.