Let’s face it. These days you have a lot of choice for UX design & prototyping tools.
There are some great new options on the market, but we haven’t been converted from Axure (yet).
This is mostly down to the level of interactivity it allows. When it comes to making big, complex prototypes, Axure can’t be beat.
Mind you, this complexity can be a drawback for many. Axure is (ironically) notorious for being clunky, with a steep learning curve. It’s what’s puts many newcomers onto alternatives like Sketch and InDesign / Marvel, instead.
When we first started seeing previews for Axure 9 we got excited. It looked like they had gone to great lengths to improve the tool’s usability, to be more in line with its contemporaries.
As of last week, we finally saw the release of Axure 9’s open beta. We took a deep-drive, and played around with all of the changes. For your delectation, we’re sharing our 10 favourite improvements (And a few little gripes, too).
Our 10 favourite improvements in Axure 9.
1. A more modern UI.
The most obvious change to Axure 9 is how it looks. There’s been a full revamp of the software’s UI.
Whilst most of the functionality will still appear familiar to seasoned users, it’s been made a lot tidier.
The grey and boxy controls of Axure 8 have been replaced with much more graceful underlines and use of colour. It’s whiter, brighter and generally better looking.
None of this is going to revolutionise your workflow. It does make Axure 9 easier on the eye though, and more in-keeping with its peers.
Axure’s reputation for being a bit of a dinosaur hasn’t been helped by how old-school it looked. This much-needed face lift could help bring new designers on board, who might previously have been put off by it’s ugliness.
There’s some more practical stuff thrown in, too.
You can now customise the layout, placement and docking of Axure’s ‘panes’. This includes the ability to group panes into tabbed layouts too. It’s a nice touch, and will be pretty helpful for designers transitioning from other tools.
2. Greater control (and visibility) of the canvas.
This one is pretty huge, and one of the biggest functional changes in Axure 9.
In previous versions, the editable ‘canvas’ always began in the top-left corner of the editor, and expanded to fit whatever was on your page.
In Axure 9, you control specific canvas size, including the height. It’s made visible in your editor, just like Sketch’s artboards.
Also like Sketch’s artboards, you can zoom, drag and move the canvas around.
This makes it much easier to see what you’re positioning off-canvas. It gives you a better idea of what’s on the screen and what isn’t. You can also pinch-to-zoom, if you’re using a trackpad. It all feels a lot more like Sketch, which is no bad thing.
3. Better shortcuts.
Sometimes it’s the smallest updates that can make a big difference.
In Axure 8, adding any new widgets to the page involved dragging them out of the ‘library’ and onto your canvas.
In Axure 9, you can now add the most common widgets like paragraphs, rectangles and lines with just one keypress. When making basic wireframes this is most of what you’ll need, so it speeds up the process massively.
We actually had to go back and double-check that this wasn’t in Axure 8 - just because it felt like such a no-brainer.
NOTE : Currently the drawing shortcuts are all pre-determined, but we’re hoping they’ll add some customisation of these before the full release.
4. Distance guides
Another hugely useful feature that’s been in Sketch forever, but felt glaringly absent in Axure 8.
When dragging widgets around the page, guides now automatically appear, telling you how it’s spaced between other objects. This makes it much faster to make high-fidelity prototypes, where your margins and placement need to be pixel perfect.
It’s not particularly ground-breaking, but it makes a big difference.
5. Better typography options.
Axure NEEDED this, if it was ever going to be a viable option for high-fidelity design prototyping.
You can now control simple formatting of text, including kerning and super/subscript. You also have a bit more flexibility over things like bullet point formatting.
It’s certainly no InDesign, but it’s good enough for a prototype. In the past, we often had to take screenshots from designs in other tools like Sketch, and paste them into Axure - simply because Axure’s typography options were too limited for the fidelity we needed.
For us, this is a much needed improvement.
6. Better form styling.
Continuing in the same vein, the styling of Axure 9’s form widgets is also much flexible.
This might not seem like the biggest deal, but form usability is a big part of what we do. Think registration forms. Checkouts. Profile pages.
Forms are everywhere, and they’re one of the most important things to get right in your design. Having realistic form prototypes is also so useful when usability testing.
Axure 8’s default form widgets, such as text inputs, radio buttons and dropdowns were incredibly limited. We usually ended up hacking together our own weird bespoke widgets, simply to make them more attractive (and usable).
In Axure 9, you can finally edit the styling properties of form elements. Rejoice!
Things like text field padding, drop shadows and radio button sizes are all controllable. This is a surprisingly big deal for us, and will help form prototyping much easier to manage.
7. A half-decent pen tool(!).
Axure 8 introduced it’s own pen tool which (let’s be honest), was hot garbage.
This made it pretty difficult to get vector shapes into your prototype, and we’d usually avoid doing so.
The new pen tool has been much improved. It feels faster, smoother - with more visible information about handle placement. You can actually see them this time, too!
We still need a little more time to play around with this, but for now it seems like a fairly viable option for creating custom shapes & icons.
8. Inline editing for dynamic panels & repeaters.
This is one of the biggest efficiency gains in Axure 9, and something we’ve been wanting for ages.
Dynamic panels are one of the most important unique features of Axure, and are used in virtually every prototype we make.
The problem with panels in Axure 8 was that once created, you needed edit them in their own separate view. This meant that editing didn’t take place in the context of your wider design.
Sometimes this wasn’t a problem, but when your dynamic panel was a small part of a wider page, you were screwed. Getting widgets to line up with things in the wider wireframe was a massive pain, and took a lot of trial and error.
That’s all changed in Axure 9. Dynamic panels are now edited inline, so you can see what’s around them - and even ‘snap to’ other widgets outside of the panel.
You still have the option to ‘isolate’ the panel when editing, just in case you DO want to hide the wider wireframe.
This is massive improvement, and something we’re very thankful for.
9. Master overrides.
Overrides were something sorely lacking in Axure 8. We really noticed this features absence after Sketch started allowing them with it’s ‘symbol overrides’.
Until now, were forced to use various hacks in order put specific text or images into individual instances of a master. We made complicated series of ‘onload’ events, and arbitrarily used repeaters - just so that we could put real content in our designs.
Master overrides give you a way easier way to pass any text or image into an instance of a master.
This is massively helpful when you want to show real content in a design. You can have realistic content, without compromising on efficiency.
NOTE : This still shares Sketch’s issue of not dealing well when longer amounts of text spills over, and wraps onto a new line. We’d love to see a solution for this, but it’s a great step in the right direction.
10. A faster, more useful prototype player.
The new prototype player is excellent.
It’s much cleaner. It’s much faster. It also has a bunch of new features for previewing your design.
One of the best things is when viewing a prototype with a ‘mobile canvas’. Only the visible part of the screen is shown, making it much more realistic when demonstrating mobile designs.
The cursor also changes to a finger-sized ‘hit area’ too, which is a nice touch.
The prototype player also seems to load a lot faster in general, which is lovely.
What didn’t we love?
Generally, we’re loving the Axure 9 beta.
The improvements are much-needed, and the team has done a great job at modernising the software. We’ve noticed that these improvements put a particular focus on making Axure more viable as a high-fidelity design tool.
We wholeheartedly approve of of the updates. That said there’s a few things in the Beta that we’re not sure they’ve nailed quite yet.
The interaction builder feels too compressed.
We expect this will be quite contentious. Some designers will appreciate the changes, as it’s definitely been simplified.
In Axure 8, when adding interactivity to a widget (for instance, an ‘OnClick’ event) a modal window would display. This window contained all of the targeting and condition options for that interaction. It gave a lot of space to plan and configure things.
In Axure 9, everything is handled in the sidebar pane. It’s great for really simple things, like quickly adding a link to a button. There are even shortcuts for ‘common interactions’.
For us, this simplification caused some problems. For really complicated interactions, things just feel a bit overwhelming when crammed into the sidebar. It felt like we were having to do too much, in such a small amount of space.
Perhaps Axure have assumed that most prototypes won’t need this level of complexity. And sure, for more basic use having a simplified interaction builder is probably a good thing.
Still, we kind of miss the modal. It made it slightly easier to concentrate on the interaction being planned, and consider all of the all of the different steps and targets.
Lack of new animation features.
A lot of work has gone into making Axure 9 a more suitable choice for high-fidelity design. Most of the updates seem focused around achieving greater feature parity with Sketch.
Something we’d like to see more of are animation options. Little micro-interactions and ‘delighters’ have become a major consideration for UX designers. It’s why tools like Principle and Flinto have really taken off.
Axure doesn’t really bring anything to the party in this respect. Some new options to move widgets along an arc have been added, but nothing fancy.
We’d love to see more options for animation in Axure, and something we’re crossing our fingers for as version 9 develops.
For the most part, Axure 9 is a major step in the right direction.
The new canvas and styling additions bring it up to the standard set by other tools like Sketch. When it comes to making designs, the software feels much less clunky.
The new interaction builder may take some getting used to… but overall, we’re very impressed.
Axure has fallen out of vogue with designers in recent years. The accessibility of version 9 should hopefully attract a lot of new users. Great work, guys!