No doubt you’ve been hearing a lot about User Interface design - it’s become a hot topic both on and off the tech scene, in startups, agencies and at large corporations alike. Maybe you’re wondering what user interface design is or how UI design is different from UX (user experience) or visual design.
Although you are probably well aware that User Interface design is a hugely popular field that’s growing rapidly, it can be hard, even impossible, to know where to start. What do you do when you get stuck? Without a solid definition, it’s no surprise that it’s so hard to get started!
Let’s see if we can clear things up a bit!
What is UI Design?
Think back to the last app or website you used. UX design is the process of enhancing user satisfaction by improving the usability, accessibility, and pleasure provided in the interaction between the user and the product: Was it easy to navigate? Did you ever feel lost or confused? How did you know where to click to get to where you needed to go?
This is all part of the user experience, and it’s the job of the UX designer to make this as good as it can be.
Jennifer Aldrich, UX and Content Strategist at InVision said:
UX design is about having complete understanding of the user. UX designers will conduct intensive user research, craft user personas and conduct performance testing and usability testing to see which designs are most effective at getting a user to their end goal in the most delightful way possible. The UX designer wants the navigation of a site, the type of user interface or product to feel completely intuitive so the user doesn’t feel confused or frustrated while trying to accomplish their goal.
How did it make you feel? Think again about the last application you used. Was there a logical hierarchy to the interface and typography? Was the color scheme consistent? Were there User Interface design patterns that you recognized from other interfaces?
These UI elements are all essential parts of the graphical user interface.
Hannah Alvarez from User Testing defined the job of the UI designer as follows:
The purpose of any interface is to help the user accomplish their goals. As a UI designer, your job isn’t just to create something beautiful; it’s to understand the user’s mindset, predict what they will expect, and then make the design as user-friendly as possible.”
UI designers will spend a lot of time creating wireframes, building mood boards and actually designing interfaces using tools like Sketch, Figma and Photoshop. They also conduct user interface testing to ensure the product meets its specifications.
Jeff Gothelf, author of Lean UX, says:
The most important thing I’ve learned to become a great UI designer is build a deep understanding of the customer. By conducting and participating in continuous research activities you will learn what motivates your customer, what problems they’re trying to solve and what solutions make the most sense. This may force you to abandon some ideas you might love but UI design is not strictly about aesthetics, it’s about making your customer successful.
User Interface Design is a crucial subset of UX. They both share the same end goal—to provide a positive experience for the user—but UI Design comprises an entirely separate leg of the journey.
Put simply, UI is what you use to interact with a product, while UX is concerned with how this overall interaction feels. We’ve already written extensively about the differences between User Experience and User Interface design, so from now on we’ll focus solely on UI. If, after reading all about the role of a UI designer, you feel inclined to become one, be sure to move gracefully over to senior UI designer Eric Bieller’s step-by-step guide on how to do exactly that
UI design focuses on the user’s visual experience. It determines how a user interacts with an interface—be it an app, a video game or a website. It’s all about how the user navigates from A to B via different visual touch points. Think tapping a button or swiping through pictures.
The job of a UI designer is to design all the screens through which a user will move, and to create the visual elements—and their interactive properties—that facilitate this movement.
Human Centered Design
At the same time, a UI designer works with human behavior in mind.
Look at it this way. A good interface requires barely any thought from the user. Consider your favorite app: it’s easy on the eye and simple to use, right? When you first installed it, you didn’t spend ages working out how to get from A to B—it was just obvious.
The UI designer is pivotal to this. They think about the human user and how the mind works. They use things like patterns, spacing and color to guide the user.
“Intuitive” is the keyword here. Not only is the UI designer a creative creature; they also put themselves in the user’s shoes, anticipating what they expect at each stage. They then use this empathy to design visual, interactive elements that respond in a way that feels natural to the user.
Let’s say you’re using an app to look for a new apartment. One listing in particular catches your eye, so you click to view the gallery. A full-size image takes over your screen, captioned 1/5. You know there are more pictures, so you use your finger to swipe through the gallery. There were no instructions to do so—somehow, you just knew.
This is the work of the UI designer. They think about what the user will expect, and design the app’s interface accordingly.
In a nutshell: UX draws out the map, the bare bones. UI then fleshes them out with visual, interactive touch points that take the user through their journey as intuitively as possible.