The best tools in the ideation stage are the most simple ones: pen and paper. At this stage, brain should be focused on finding a solution and not on any tool or visualization method, so it is straight "thinking + drawing" process and not "thinking / trying to find some illustration / trying to find some icon / fighting with proper path curvature / struggling with a color combination, etc".
Obviously, this is the best approach for some complex tasks when there is no clear framework in mind yet. When I know how to represent some new feature or modification, I work with wireframing and prototyping tools.
Just some history on why Axure is still viable. For many years designers drew their interfaces in vector tools like Illustrator, Corel Draw, or in bitmap ones like Photoshop. A long time ago there was a revolutionary vector/bitmap tool Macromedia Fireworks, which was a great tool for drawing website interfaces, but it was bought by Adobe and retired. And Adobe, by being a leader in the graphic field, didn’t offer a UI-focused creativity tool for many years.
That was a time of InVision great popularity. When designers needed to create a prototype, they had to draw UI in Illustrator or Photoshop, then export an image, import it to InVision and add clickable areas on the image to create a primitive prototype.
It was obvious, that newly created UI-focused tools like Figma and Adobe XD needed to include some prototyping features to simplify the creation of prototypes for undemanding users of InVision and similar tools. And prototyping functionality was added to both Figma and Adobe XD and it is rather rich nowadays. But it is still prototyping of some vector objects: rectangles, circles, paths etc. They allow to show some general behavior, but they don’t deal with HTML elements.
On the other side, there were specialized tools to create prototypes. These tools may be unknown for many interface designers of informational websites, for example: Justinmind, iRise, UXPin, Indigo Desktop, GUIMachine, Microsoft Expression Blend, and of course, Axure ↗.
For now I prefer to work this way: for input-heavy apps — Axure first, so we
can test hypothesis, then Figma to finalize
UI, establish design system and collaborate
with team members. For typical project with general interaction patterns, or projects with many custom complex elements, e.g. process flow editor, Figma
may be the best and only tool we need.
More articles are on my Medium blog ↗