Design Tools for Product Managers in 2021

Ellen Merryweather

Author: Ellen Merryweather

January 9, 2023 - 5 min read

Updated: January 24, 2024 - 5 min read

What Does Design Have to Do With Product Managers?

Product Managers sit at the intersection of technology, design, and business. Did you spot the design in there?

Now, Product Managers are not expected to do all of the heavy lifting of product development. You’re not expected to do any coding or UI design or launch any PPC ad campaigns. Your job is to manage the development team and direct them towards a common goal: realization of the product vision.

However, even the Product Management team needs to have at least a general awareness/rudimentary skills in most of the disciplines involved in software development. When it comes to design, you’ll need to at least be able to collaborate with designers on wireframes.

Being able to use design software to help translate your ideas from your head and into something understandable is a great skill for any Product Manager’s toolkit.

One of the predicted trends for Product Management in 2021 is that product development is about to get even more design-centric, so familiarizing yourself with the most popular design tools will help you make big strides in your career, a bigger strides in the tech industry.

silver laptop computer with assorted logo screengrab

Things To Consider When Choosing a Tool

There are a few key things to keep in mind before choosing your next design tool:

  1. Popularity. When you’re training yourself to use new tools in order to help land a new job, find out which tool is being used by most companies, or specifically try to find out which tool the company of your dreams uses.

  2. Price. In a large organization, the price of a design tool is probably neither here nor there, but when you’re working on your own projects or for a startup with a budget, cost is certainly a consideration.

  3. Usability. How user-friendly is the tool? When asking this question, you should also think about who in your team will need to use the tool, and what their level of expertise with design is.

Top Design and Prototyping Tools for Product Managers

You might be coming to this list as an aspiring Product Manager with absolutely no design experience looking for something user-friendly. Or you could be a leader in the space with tonnes of design experience and you’re just looking for something new to add to your stack.

Luckily for you, this list has it all!

1. Figma

Figma Integration with Translation Management | Smartling

If you’ve been anywhere near the design world in recent years, you’ve definitely heard of Figma! This innovative cloud-based tool is similar to Sketch, but allows for more web based collaboration. Working both in-browser and as an app, Figma is fast and easy to adopt for newcomers to design.

2. Adobe XD

Adobe XD - Wikipedia

Those who are already familiar with Adobe’s design suite will find Adobe XD the most helpful. The co-editing feature is especially handy for helping distributed teams collaborate. You’ll also benefit from a selection of 200+ plugins to help boost your creativity with even more features and functions.

Adobe XD works well with other platforms within the Adobe creative cloud, so we’d recommend this one the most to those of you already in that ecosystem.

3. InVision

#Happy10Abduzeedo - InVision Giveaway

InVision is a very well known and commonly used by top tech companies. So you know that this is both a safe choice for your teams, and also something useful to learn for your own career.

InVision’s Inspect feature translates designs into detailed specs, helping your development team to hit the ground running without having to engage in continuous back and forth just to get things looking right! Having a platform which facilitates easy collaboration between designers and developers is going to lead to big wins!

4. Balsamiq

Balsamiq: Painstakingly simple mockups - PSD Mockups

If you’re going to invest in learning one design tool with the goal of opening doors in your career, make it Balsamiq. Balsamiq is the OG and perhaps the most well-used platform in the tech industry. Unlike other tools on this list, the sketch style Balsamiq offers focuses on communicating usability and structure rather than fancy animations and sound effects.

This is especially useful for pitch/stakeholder meetings when you just need to cut away the bells and whistles and translate the concept of your product as cleanly as possible.

Specifically built for non-designers, this tool is very user-friendly, and being cloud-based helps to make your designs accessible to anyone who needs them.

5. Sketch

Sometimes you need to design more than just wireframes/prototypes. Product Managers are creative people, and the list of potential design work that could pop up ad-hoc is endless. Sketch is a multi-functional design tool that’s easier to wield than Photoshop but with a similar enough toolkit.

Sketch is very popular with marketing teams as well as designers, so getting familiar with this tool will help you to collaborate and communicate with both of these disciplines.

How To Find Tools for Product Managers

Finding the right tool for your stack isn’t easy. Whether you’re looking for product roadmap tools, project management solutions, or a better way to manage A/B testing, data management, or customer feedback, the search can feel overwhelming.

How to Learn More About Design

Interested in learning more about design? Get started with these great articles…

Our CEO Carlos sat down for a Fireside Chat with Figma’s VP of Product, Yuhki Yamashita. Check it out here.

You can also find some handy talks from product people at the top of their field, with all of the design knowledge you need. Check them out on our YouTube channel. Try these on for size…

Updated: January 24, 2024

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