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What Is User Interface Design?

What is user interface design? How’s it different from user experience? What makes good UI and why is that important? Here are the answers to your questions!

Product design
March 10, 2023
6
min

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What is user interface design? What’s the difference between UI and UX design? How important is user interface design, and can you do it yourself? We’re here to answer all your business questions about UI!

What is user interface design?

Let’s start with a basic UI design definition.

   User interface (UI) design is the process designers use to build interfaces in software or computerized devices, focusing on looks or style    Interactive Design Foundation

In simpler terms, a user interface designer creates the look and feel of digital products. Although a UI designer is essentially a graphic designer, there’s much more to UI design than mere graphics. Let’s dive a bit deeper into the work of a user interface designer to understand this better.

What does a user interface designer do?

A user interface designer’s process is much more complex than just putting a few graphic elements together. Here are some of the most important aspects of UI design.

what does a ui designer do.png

Bad UX design in practice. Source: Career Foundry

Although both of these UI designs fulfill their basic functionality, the second example is much more user-friendly, thanks to larger fonts, better spacing, and more effective use of images.

oh.my
Common UI mistakes. Source: Career Foundry
  • Research: Good ui design is always user-centric. This is why UI designers need a comprehensive understanding of the end-user: what problems they’re trying to solve, how, and why.
  • Wireframing: Creating the basic (draft) look of interfaces allows designers to figure out what works. These drafts are called wireframes in UI/UX design.
  • Information architecture: UI designers must also have an excellent understanding of the information included in the interfaces, and figure out the best way to group information together and present it for optimal user experience.
  • Graphic designing: Choosing the right colors, fonts, shapes, images, icons, and UI layouts that will allow for seamless interaction.
  • Interaction design: Aside from creating the look of buttons, sliders, icons, popups, scrollbars, and other elements, user interface designers also need to think about how users will interact with these elements, and how that will affect the design (e.g. a button changes color once clicked on).
  • Animation: It’s not a must, but animation/motion design is pretty common nowadays in UI designing, so it’s another skill that most UI designers have.
  • Responsive design: This means designing for different screens and adapting the design accordingly.
  • Accessibility design: The best interfaces can be used by anyone. So, UI designers also need to think about implementing features that enable ease of use (e.g. voice controls, text-to-speech, dark mode, etc.).

UI vs UX design

Whereas UI design is more focused on the aesthetic experience of the product, UX design is more concerned with how the product is used. For example, a website UI designer will ensure that the look of the website is on-brand and users can find information easily. A UX designer, on the other hand, has to figure out all the ways in which the users will interact with the website, create different roadmaps and

The thing they have in common is that both UX and UI design has a human-first approach: before looks and innovation, they try to solve the final user’s real problems. The idea of both UI and UX is to guide the user through the product and make them feel like they can use it instinctively.

Although these types of design are different, user experience and user interface design teams work closely together to deliver an inevitably intertwined final product. In fact, because they are so intertwined you’ll often find that professionals working in this field are called UX/UI designers and work on both aspects of a digital product.

How important is UI design?

UI is the older discipline out of the two, but it’s equally as confusing to many people, both inside and outside the IT industry. UI has its primary focus on the look and feel, as well as the presentation of the product, as well as its interactive features.

The main purpose of UI design is to allow users to use the product.

How successfully they can do it will be determined by both UI and UX design. However, the basic information and a framework for using a digital product are provided by user interface design.

On another level, user interface design should also work to strengthen your brand image and provide a visually pleasing experience.

How important is UX Design?

Complimentary to how the design looks, UX takes care of the psychological part of using a product.

Why does a mug have a handle? Cause otherwise, you’d burn yourself. Why do hospitals have swing doors? Cause in a place where it is very possible to contract an infection, patients and doctors shouldn’t touch knobs.

UX design solves these problems too and does not simply apply to digital solutions.

The inventor of the term user experience design, Don Norman, explains it like this:

“User experience encompasses all aspects of the end-users interaction with the company, its services, and its products.”

So although in this definition UX design isn’t at all a digital profession, nowadays you’ll mainly see these professionals working on websites and apps. It has nothing to do with the visual design of things, but simply finds the best way to solve everyday issues and give the user the best experience possible. A UX designer is more a cognitive scientist than an interactive designer.

A UX designer, in short, creates wireframes, prototyping tools, tests the first product and iterates it.

bad ux.jpg

User interface design principles

Now that you know what exactly is UI design and how important it is, let’s go over some of the golden rules for creating effective interfaces.

Put users in control

The most fundamental purpose of user interface design is to achieve a specific goal. Therefore one of the most vital user interface design principles is putting users in control. Some ideas on how to do that are providing feedback on an action they’re about to take, making actions reversible, or including visual clues along with written instructions. All of this makes interfaces more comfortable and are used as intended.

Create familiarity (respect conventions)

In the world of user interface design, you should never opt for innovation for innovation’s sake. Most of us encounter user interfaces daily, so we’re used to things looking a certain way. For example, most buttons for a negative action will either have a red or muted color. The affirmative CTA button is usually green, or a bright color contrasting the negative one.

Other design elements such as icons and symbols are also a way to create familiarity and enhance ease of use.

Make information clear and organized

Aside from being skilled at their craft, a user interface designer needs an in-depth understanding of how and why a certain product is used, as well as of all the information that needs to be included in the UI design. Grouping relevant information together and using clear, everyday language instead of specific jargon are necessary for creating user-friendly designs.

Reduce the cognitive load

This principle of user interface design means that you should always use as few steps/elements as possible so as not to overwhelm the user. We’ve already mentioned the importance of visual cues as a way to ensure users stay in full control and know exactly how to interact with a product.

Engineer for errors

The final, but certainly one of the most important user interface design principles is to have in mind the possibility of errors, whether human or technical. A 404 page or feedback on a restricted action will ensure users know what the issue is and won’t get frustrated using a product.

Where can you get UI design done?

As with any other digital skill, there are plenty of ways online to find a UI designer or agency to help you with a project. Here are some of the best places to start:

  • Upwork: As with any other design, it’s reckless not to suggest the oldest hiring platform for freelancers. Upwork has plenty of highly-skilled UI designers, working on hourly rates ranging from a dozen, up to a hundred dollars.
  • Fiverr: Similar to Upwork, Fiverr also has a lot of freelancers, UI designers included. Make sure to use their amazing filtering tools to find the best one for you.
  • Behance: As a platform dedicated to all things design, Behance is an amazing place to find a UI designer, especially because their portfolios are clearly seen and easy to find on this platform.
  • Dribbble: Although more commonly known for showcasing logo and branding design, Dribbble also has a lot of UI designers in its ranks.
  • Envato Studio: Another global design platform, where you can also find developers for hire.
  • 99Designs: The world’s most popular membership-based design platform, where designers compete on projects.
  • Design Crowd: Similar to 99Designs, it holds contests where designers can compete for a prize.
  • ManyPixels: An unlimited graphic design service that offers a vast number of graphic design services, which also include UI and web design for a flat monthly rate.

Journalist turned content writer. Based in North Macedonia, aiming to be a digital nomad. Always loved to write, and found my perfect job writing about graphic design, art and creativity. A self-proclaimed film connoisseur, cook and nerd in disguise.

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