What Is UI?

By Indeed Editorial Team

Updated February 22, 2021 | Published February 25, 2020

Updated February 22, 2021

Published February 25, 2020

The Indeed Editorial Team comprises a diverse and talented team of writers, researchers and subject matter experts equipped with Indeed's data and insights to deliver useful tips to help guide your career journey.

When user interfaces, or UIs, are designed well, the user can effortlessly accomplish goals and tasks within an application, website or device. A product or service's user interface ultimately determines its efficiency and success. That is why it's so important for companies to prioritize an application's aesthetics and functionality. In this article, we'll explain what a user interface is, why it's important, and the differences between UI design and UX design. We'll also explore the importance of research in the UI field, list different types of user interfaces and provide some examples.

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What is a user interface?

A user interface, commonly referred to as UI, is a term that describes an application's graphic layout. Simply put, it refers to any element that allows the user to interact with and navigate through the information stored on a device. This includes:

  • Clickable buttons

  • Text

  • Text entry fields

  • Sliders

  • Keyboards

  • Computer mouses

  • Desktop appearances

  • Screen layouts

  • Interface animations

  • Transitions between screens

UI designers are essentially graphic designers who specialize in developing these user interfaces. They make informed decisions about an interface's overall aesthetics, or its look and feel. They make a series of seemingly small choices about aspects of a design's appearance, such as:

  • Color schemes

  • Button shapes

  • Fonts used for text

  • Line width

More than just creating designs that look visually appealing and stimulating, user interface designers must ensure that the theme appropriately represents the intent of the application. Additionally, every element must be cohesive in look, feel and purpose.

Though UI design usually refers to graphic user interfaces, commonly referred to as GUI, many types of interfaces require design. With the development of new technology, new user interfaces are emerging. For example, mobile UI is geared toward developing interactive and accessible interfaces for mobile devices, such as tablets and smartphones. The accessibility and popularity of the web and mobile applications have made it a necessity for companies to prioritize UI design to improve the overall experience of their target audience.

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Why is the user interface important?

User interface design is an important part of building a positive user experience with a product or service. Most users determine whether they like a product or service very quickly based on the design's appearance and accessibility. The primary responsibility of a designer is to develop interfaces that the user finds highly efficient and usable. That is why designers must conduct research in an attempt to fully understand the needs of the user and the context in which they will be interacting with the product.

Users should be able to accomplish their goals and tasks as effortlessly as possible when they interact with the product, as well as enjoy the experience.

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UI design vs. UX design

Though very different specialties, good UI is dependent on effective UX or user experience, and vice versa. Both areas must be cohesive and well-designed to create an effective and successful product. When both areas are well-executed, the result is a truly wonderful and accessible product.

A UI designer is responsible for developing the visual aspects of a user interface. UI consists of the aspects of a design that allow a user to interact with a service or product. The primary concern of a UI designer is the overall look and feel of the finished product.

A UX designer, on the other hand, develops how the user interface functions. The primary concern of a UX designer is how the user interacts with a product and what they're getting out of the entire experience. During the design process, both of these teams usually work closely together. Their constant collaboration and communication are integral to creating a user interface that is efficient, intuitive and looks attractive.

User interface design and research

Research is a key aspect of any kind of design. However, when developing an effective user interface, it is especially useful to be aware of the successes and pitfalls of past, relevant designs. By examining similar products, UI designers can determine what aspects of those designs worked well and which were ineffective.

UI designers are attempting to predict the expectations of users, so a little research helps inform the entire process. They must decide on a visual language that is conducive to the content and class of application being developed. They can aid the process by finding out user preferences and expectations. For example, research might uncover that the target audience prefers bold shapes to outlined icons.

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Types of user interfaces

Different types of user interfaces include:

  • Natural language user interface (LUI or NLUI): This interface allows users to interact with a device using a human rather than a computer language.

  • Form-based user interface: Form-based interfaces present a list of options or questions for the user to complete, much like a traditional paper form.

  • Voice user interface (VUI): This is a voice command interface that uses speech recognition to allow users to interact with the device.

  • Touch user interface: This type of interface allows users to interact with the device through touch.

  • Menu-driven user interface: The user interacts with a device by navigating through a series of screens and menus.

  • Command-line interface (CLI): This is a text-based user interface that is utilized to manage and view files on a computer.

  • Graphical user interface (GUI): This type of user interface allows interaction with electronic devices through the use of graphical icons.

Examples of user interfaces

User interfaces can take many forms. Here are a few examples of user interfaces that you have more than likely encountered before:

  • A car's speedometer

  • ATMs

  • Virtual reality devices

  • Remote controls

  • Computer mouses

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