Our world has never been more digitally connected, and as a result, there’s never been a higher demand for effective UI design.
Like other types of graphic design, it takes a good eye to create something extraordinary. While you may not be aiming for an award-winning masterpiece, there is value in learning how to create functional UI design.
The “UI” in UI design stands for user interface. Now, some people may be thinking to themselves: what is an interface? In computing, an interface is simply the space where humans and computers interact. When an interface is designed with the user in mind, both the consumer and business mutually benefit.
What is UI design?
When trying to understand UI design, it is helpful to think of yourself as a tour guide, and the overall experience of a family of tourists is in your hands. You want to ensure that this family will have a wonderful journey, so you’ll want to craft a tour that shifts and moves their attention from one place to the next, guiding them towards the information that is most valuable to them.
UI design definition
User interface (UI) design focuses on the style and aesthetic of a technological device. Every visual element that a user may interact must be strategically designed, to optimize the usability of an interface. The UI design process anticipates the needs of users to ensure that each element of a design is united, both visually and in purpose.
UI designers have a similar goal in mind. While they aren't designing a physical tour, UI designers are responsible for visually guiding a user through an interface.
UI design consists of any visual element that a user may interact with. This means the buttons users will click on, the text they'll read, images they’ll look at, icons they’ll recognize, etc. UI design typically combines visual design and interaction design. The look and feel of an application must act in harmony to how it actually functions, so that a beautiful, engaging, and understandable UI design is created.
The overall responsiveness and aesthetic of an application fall under the discretion of a UI designer. Designers will implement the elements of art and principles of design to evoke a certain emotion or response for users, such as in the app design below. The colors, in this design, are used to express which goal a user may connect with.
This field, although broad, is an essential part of any business.
UI vs. UX
UI design is only one step in the entire design process. In order to understand what makes a truly great design, it's important to understand user experience (UX) design as well.
While the two terms are commonly confused, every successful design requires a balance of both. To put it simply, UI design is concerned with the form of an application, while UX design focuses on the function. If you’re browsing a website, everything you’re seeing from the logo, menu options, color choices, and images are all the work of a UI designer. Now imagine that you click on a drop-down menu and nothing appears, or you go to search “dogs” and your page is suddenly filled with images of cats.
All of those actions would be less than ideal, right? You may enjoy the visual aspect of an interface, but if your needs aren't being met, then the experience will be less than enjoyable.
When UI and UX design work together seamlessly, a designs effectiveness is enhanced.
TIP: Desktop vs. mobile experience is key to making the best UX/UX. Learn about the best practices for mobile UX design for developers and designers.
What is good UI design?
Users commonly won't notice the best UI design. However, if a design is done poorly, users will start to take notice. Good design has the ability to enable a relationship between a user and an interface.
Now, follow these four rules of thumb to meet the consumer’s expectations and satisfy your businesses needs.
Clarity is key
An essential part of any good design is anticipating user’s expectations. UI designers have to ask themselves: Does this belong here? What problem does this solve? How else could I place this?
Users want to feel comfortable and confident when navigating through a website or app. There is nothing more discouraging than being uncertain about how to get back to another page or confused about what a button does. By designing with clarity in mind, user’s feel as if they are in control of the application, instead of being manipulated by it.
If you're like me, cooking can be a frustrating task. Based on the visual aspects of the design below, the designer has considered the users’ emotions . Every potential interaction is simple and the user is comfortably led towards the recipe's next steps.
Keep it consistent
Consistency and familiarity go hand in hand. Imagine how frustrating it would be if every time you went to use the microwave all of the buttons were in a new place. This pertains to the elements of an interface as well. If a user understands a product, they shouldn’t have to continuously relearn it.
In good design, color scheme and typography are elements of design that are typically kept consistent. Designers not only do this to eliminate the confusion of users, but it also establishes brand marketing throughout the interface. The structure of an interface should also maintain consistency so that when a user travels across screens they have a familiarity with the placement of the navigational elements.
Consistency builds trust between the user and the interface and increases brand recognition.
Embrace visual hierarchy
Any design has the intent to communicate some type of message or idea. It is in the hands of the designer to guide a user’s eye towards the information that is considered most important. Visual hierarchy, which is how a designer arranges elements to illustrate importance, is a key principle of good UI design.
There are several factors that contribute to how we perceive information, but understanding the elements and principles of design is a great place to start. In terms of typography, legibility and readability are principal, but the actual size of text is important as well. A good designer knows that by making your most important text the largest, your user will be more likely to engage with that content.
This concept can be applied to shapes and images as well. If your interface features a call-to-action button, such as “sign up here” or “get started,” it is valuable to ensure that these elements stand out from the rest of your design. Businesses rely on the visual hierarchy to effectively communicate to users and lead them through the buying journey.
Good UI design puts users on a path to success. Whether it's online shopping, paying bills, or streaming a movie, every interface works to accommodate a user’s needs. UI designers strive to create interfaces that are united aesthetically, but also in purpose.
To create an effective design, UI designers must themselves: how does this design improve the overall functionality?
Through purpose is where UI design influences the role of a UX designer. If there is cognitive overload within a design or it’s missing a valuable element, then the user experience deteriorates. To create a great UI design, the objectives and goals of the application should be at the forefront of every decision. When an interface is designed with purpose then the application becomes convenient to users. In the app below, each element contributes to how the user will better understand their expenses.
What is a UI Designer?
Now that you can answer what is UI design, it's time to learn about what the job of a UI designer entails.
UI designers work very closely with UX designers to create interfaces that are user friendly, efficient, and visually stimulating. However, their job more closely aligns the skills of a graphic designer. Instead of focusing on how an interface functions, UI designers inject a sense of feeling and life into a product.
As consumers have become dependent on digital technology, the skills of a UI designer have become a hot commodity for businesses. With increased choices and alternatives for products, users have more buying control than ever before. As a result, businesses have quite less time to grab the attention of consumers and make a convincing argument that their product is the one.
This is where a UI designer comes in.
The field of UI design largely focuses on the satisfaction of users. Through an effective UI design, businesses are able to win the confidence of consumers, which improves the businesses’ brand value and reputation.
Emily Goorevich is a former content marketing intern at G2, and currently works as an SEO Specialist at L2TMedia. She is originally from Maryland, and loves reading, listening to podcasts, and eating falafel.