Wondering what user interface is? Wanting to pin down the difference between user interface and user experience? Looking to take your user interface design skills to the next level by discovering some essential tips?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, this article is for you. We break down everything you need to know about user interface, as well as provide you with some great tips you can integrate to make your designs shine.
What is user interface?
User interface, often abbreviated as UI, is closely related with user experience, or UX. It’s basically the interface that users are presented with when they’re using a software, app or other computerized device.
Not surprisingly, the goal of user interface largely revolves around how visually appealing and easy to use it is.
Think of a software or computer product that you love to use. A big part of that reason is likely because it has a great user interface. For example, many consumers love Apple products and choose to buy them even though they are often more expensive than the competition. A big driving force behind Apple’s success is because of their masterful UI across all their software and products.
There are several categories of UI. Here are some of the biggest ones:
- Graphical user interfaces (GUIs): This is the most-used category. It covers visual and graphic elements on digital control panels. For example, most things that appear on websites or apps.
- Voice-controlled interfaces (VUIs): VUIs are newer technology and refer to programs that users interact with via voice control. Good examples of this would be Siri and Alexa.
- Gesture-based interfaces: This is the newest technology and is not yet widely used. However, it likely will be in the future. It refers to programs that users interact with via 3D technology. An example of this would be Wii video games or virtual reality training programs.
For the purposes of this article, we’ll mostly be focusing on graphic user interfaces or GUIs.
What’s the difference between UI and UX?
As mentioned, UI and UX are closely related. For this reason, there’s a lot of confusion between them and many people find themselves asking what is UI vs. UX? We’re here to break down the difference for you.
They may interact with each other a lot, but the difference is simple. When we’re talking about user interface, we’re talking about a software asset that users are interacting with directly (whether it’s a GUI, a VUI or something else altogether).
User experience (UX) is a lot more broad. How easily users interact with a UI forms part of their UX, but it doesn’t tell the whole story. User experience refers to a user’s entire experience with a company, as well as their products and services. It’s much more holistic and comprises pretty much every element that makes up a company.
Tips for perfect user interface
Now that we’ve covered exactly what user interface is and how it differs from user experience, we’re going to share a few great UI tips with you. Whether you’re venturing into UI for the first time or just want to refine your skills, this list is for you.
1. Know your audience
If you want to put together a user interface that your users will love, first you’ll have to make sure that you understand the audience you’re working with. Great UI design will mean different things depending on the profile of your ideal user.
If you really want to get to know your users in-depth (which we’d recommend in order to produce a great user interface), you’ll need to conduct some user research. While you can gather some insights by looking at data analytics, you’ll get a lot more valuable information if you actually talk to your users, get to know what makes them tick, and understand what they’re goals are when they’re using your product.
The two approaches we’d recommend to user research are:
- Open-ended user surveys
- Face-to-face interviews
Both of these options have advantages and disadvantages. Open-ended user surveys are easier to conduct online and will likely have more participants and higher completion rates. Nevertheless, they won’t collect as in-depth insights and have limited follow-up opportunities.
On the other hand, in-person interviews will allow you to really delve deep and get to know your users on a more personal level. Nevertheless, it will be a lot harder to recruit participants and you’ll probably be able to interview less people because of time constraints.
Whatever you choose, this is a worthwhile step to really get to know your users and design the perfect interface to suit their needs.
2. Research designs that work
There’s nothing wrong with looking for a little inspiration. You may have seen some great user interfaces recently, or you might have to do a little bit of research to find some excellent examples. Either way, checking out existing user interfaces is a great way to get your creative juices flowing when thinking up your own ideas. There are tons of free resources out there at your disposal like this one to help you out.
This can also work in the opposite sense. It can also be worthwhile to search for less-than-ideal interfaces and take note about what doesn’t work about them. This will help you be intentional with your own design and avoid similar mistakes.
3. Be intentional about your design and layout
In the context of user interface design, nothing should be accidental. Every element you include should be intentional and serve a purpose. You don’t want anything that’s only there for the sake of being there. That will only detract from your main goal, which should be helping users interact with your product the way you want them to.
This should go without saying, but only your most important information should be front and center on your user interface. It’s great to add contrast to any element you want to catch users’ eye, whether that’s with borders, long shadows, font colors or overlays.
Only include essential text on your user interface. If you really want it to stand out, make it big and bold. Use subheadings in order to categorize information and make it easy to skim. At the end of the day, most of your users probably will not read all the text on your interface.
In terms of fonts, keep it simple. It’s a good idea to develop a hierarchy of text styles, so users can clearly differentiate between headings, quotes, subheadings, and general text. We’d recommend using a maximum of two fonts on one user interface. If one of your fonts is especially intricate, it’s a good idea to make the second font a basic one.
Your company may already have specific branding colors. If you do, be sure to use those some branding colours in your UI design. Establish your UI color palette and be consistent with that. Don’t go overboard with colors or else you’ll risk your design appearing too busy. Choose two to three main colors along with some neutrals and you’ll be good to go.
Basically, everything on your user interface should serve a specific purpose, stand out, be consistent with your branding, and be easy to read.
4. Don’t be afraid of white space
White space, sometimes referred to as negative space in the design world, is a somewhat contentious topic. Many designers are afraid of using white space in their UI projects because they think that it looks too boring. Other designers might go a little bit overboard with white space, which leaves something to be desired with their finished products.
Of course, your use of white space depends on your individual style as a designer as well as the needs of your project. Once you think you’ve finished your design, a good trick is to give it a good look and consider where you can add a little more white space.
Whether you love or hate white space, it often makes designs stand out, look cleaner, more professional, and easier on the eyes.
5. Make it intuitive
Last but not least, it’s important to make your UI design as intuitive and easy to learn as possible. If you’re designing an interface, it’s easy to fall into a trap where you believe your product is easy to navigate. However, that could be because you’ve navigated it so many times yourself… not because it’s actually easy to navigate.
Your interface should be easy to figure out for someone who’s looking at it for the very first time. This is why pre-launch testing is so essential in the UI world.
Ultimately, your UI design will only be successful if people are able to use it, and fast. People have limited attention spans, so your goal is to design something people can learn to use before losing interest. That’s no easy task, but we’re sure that you’re up to the challenge.
Now, get designing!
There you have it, you’re ready to start designing an excellent user interface that will perfectly suit your needs. Be sure that you know your audience, get inspiration from other tried-and-tested designs, design intentionally, embrace white space, and prioritize your design’s ease of use.
If you keep these best practices in mind, you won’t have a problem producing a user interface you’re truly proud of and users will love interacting with.