User interface (UI) design is one of several overlapping disciplines responsible for creating spaces where users interact with digital products. UI design is found on a spectrum with user experience (UX) design, interaction design (ID), and visual or graphic design.
What Is UI Design?
In its broadest definition, the user interface is the zone where humans and machines interact. Humans give instructions to machines, and machines respond with information and feedback that informs humans’ decisions and further instructions.
User interface design for digital products is primarily concerned with the layout and appearance of individual screens for software programs, web sites, or mobile apps, but can also include video games or TV interfaces.
Good user interface design supports usability with clear, consistent visual layouts, providing clues to help users complete tasks while minimizing interference caused by unnecessary content or design elements.
User interfaces are made up of different types of elements, including the following:
- Input controls, where users make selections from available choices, choose between options, or enter text. Specific user interface elements include check boxes, radio buttons, dropdown lists, or text fields.
- Navigation controls, where users choose a destination or change the data displayed on their screen. UI elements include sliders and scrollbars, breadcrumbs, and pagination controls.
- Information elements, which provide feedback to the user. UI elements can include icons, text and visual content, progress bars, and other notifications.
Good UI designers follow best practices and basic usability principles to ensure that the interfaces they create meet user needs effectively. Some of the most important principles are:
- Consistency in the use and reuse of common interface elements so that users are familiar and comfortable with the interface.
- Page or screen structure with a clear hierarchy of elements so that the highest priority items are most prominent for users.
- Use of color and typography to emphasize higher priority elements, providing clarity to users.
- Good communication and feedback to inform the user of state changes, errors, or confirmation of user actions so that the user is able to see how the system reacts to input and make decisions more easily.
- Understand user preferences and priorities so that the most common tasks or goals are accomplished most easily, with default behavior tailored to simplify common tasks.
- Reduce the load on users by designing interfaces that are as simple and intuitive as possible.
How Does UI Design Differ from UX Design?
User interface design is often confused with user experience design. While there can be considerable overlap, they are distinct fields with different skills required for each role. A user experience designer is focused on the overall structure and function of a website or application.
UX designers work with (or as) information architects to organize content; they reference user research and perform detailed task and business analysis to determine the optimum workflow for complex operations, such as an eCommerce checkout and account creation process. UX designers then create lower fidelity wireframe diagrams or interactive prototypes to test and refine their concepts.
UX Is Not UI
The interface is not the solution. UI design generally plays an important role in the work of a UX designer, but it is not the only part. Think of it this way: UX design is the journey and the UI is the destination.
UX design is a multi-step strategic design process that aims to create a product or site that customers/users are drawn to, find easy to use, and quickly understand. And through the UX design process, we arrive at the right user interface solution.
What Do UI Designers Do?
User interface designers build on the framework provided by UX design to bring digital products closer to their final form. They follow UX wireframes for the hierarchy and priority of elements on each screen and then apply visual design guidelines to ensure consistency throughout the entire experience.
UI designers are responsible for visual hierarchy, spacing, and alignment on the screen, visual weight of headers and typography, correct use of standardized interface elements such as buttons and form fields, and following brand guidelines for color treatments and logos.
Given that modern user interfaces are not simply static screens but interactive experiences with dynamic behaviors and animated transitions, UI designers will also work with (or as) motion designers or interaction designers, refining basic interaction concepts developed by UX designers.
User interface design can also include data visualization and information design work, which helps users make sense of highly complex information through simplified presentation.
User interface designers deliver the final visual mockups of each web page or application screen, from which developers will produce the finished product. Just as UI design sometimes overlaps with UX design, so too can UI design overlap with the actual front-end development of a digital product, particularly when working with well-defined screen templates and component libraries.
In summary, user interface design is the design of websites, computer user interfaces, mobile apps, interfaces of appliances, communication devices, and various software applications with the focus on the user’s experience and interaction. We hope you found this guide helpful.