UI design stands for user interface. In computing, an interface is simply the space where humans and computers interact and in UI design, the interface is designed with the user in mind for the mutual benefit of both the consumer and business. So far, so good.
UI design focuses on the style and aesthetic of a technological device. The design process tries to unite, strategically, the visual and practical elements of the device to optimise its usability by anticipating the needs of users and visually guiding them through the interface.
In practice, this literally means the buttons users will click, the images and icons they’ll see, and the text they’ll read. Naturally, UI designers want the look and feel of an application to act harmoniously with how it actually functions, so that the result is an engaging and understandable UI design that is appealing for users. Consequently, many of the principles of art and design are integrated into the process.
However, UI design is only part of the finished article. User experience (UX) design is also crucial. Put simply, UI design is concerned with the form of an application, and UX design is concerned with function. When you browse a website, what you see – the colours, the images, the logo etc are the work of a UI designer. What appears when you click on the menu is the UX input so what you see is pleasing and what you get is useful. The ideal is to get UI and UX design to work together seamlessly for the best possible user interaction and experience.
Visual and practical clarity is vital. Good design will anticipate the expectations of the user, enabling them to navigate an app or website easily and confidently. Users want to feel in control.
Consistency is also key. Once a user has learned how to navigate an interface, they don’t want it to change and they don’t want to relearn it. In practice, this means keeping colours, fonts, sizes and positioning consistent – minimising confusion, and giving brands the opportunity to cultivate their look and feel, thus marketing the brand through the interface and increasing brand recognition.
Inevitably, design intends to communicate some type of message or idea. A key principle for the designer is attempting to guide a user’s eye towards the most important information. This is called the visual hierarchy – arranging the elements to illustrate importance. Legibility and readability are obviously crucial, but the actual size of text is important as well. Just as newspaper headlines are writ large to draw the reader in, designers make the most important text the largest, so users more likely to engage with the content – and the same goes for images. The visual hierarchy communicates to users, and businesses rely on it to guide the user through the buying process.
And there’s the crunch. UI design should ensure that each interface works to accommodate the needs of the user – whether it’s paying a bill, streaming a film or online shopping. The whole point of UI and UX design and function, through emotion, psychology, visual stimulation and ease of use, or indeed or any other route, is to fulfil the objectives or goals of the application.