User Interface (UI) Design

Your constantly-updated definition of User Interface (UI) Design and collection of videos and articles
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What is User Interface (UI) Design?

User interface (UI) design is the process designers use to build interfaces in software or computerized devices, focusing on looks or style. Designers aim to create interfaces which users find easy to use and pleasurable. UI design refers to graphical user interfaces and other forms—e.g., voice-controlled interfaces.

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In this video, Michal Malewicz, co-founder and CEO of UX consultancy Hype4, shares his vision of UI design.

Designing User Interfaces for Users

User interfaces are the access points where users interact with designs. They come in three formats:

Graphical User Interface | Voice-Controlled Interface | Gesture-Based Interface

© Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-SA 4.0

  1. Graphical user interfaces (GUIs)—Users interact with visual representations on digital control panels. A computer’s desktop is a GUI.

  2. Voice-controlled interfaces (VUIs)—Users interact with these through their voices. Most smart assistants—e.g., Siri on iPhone and Alexa on Amazon devices—are VUIs.

  3. Gesture-based interfaces—Users engage with 3D design spaces through bodily motions: e.g., in virtual reality (VR) games.

To design UIs best, you should consider:

  • Users judge designs quickly and care about usability and likeability.

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    In this video, Michal Malewicz explains the aesthetic–usability effect and its relationship with UI design.

    • They don’t care about your design, but about getting their tasks done easily and with minimum effort.

    • Your design should therefore be “invisible”: Users shouldn’t focus on it but on completing tasks: e.g., ordering pizza on Domino’s Zero Click app.

    • So, understand your users’ contexts and task flows (which you can find from, e.g., customer journey maps), to fine-tune the best, most intuitive UIs that deliver seamless experiences.

  • UIs should also be enjoyable (or at least satisfying and frustration-free).

    • When your design predicts users’ needs, they can enjoy more personalized and immersive experiences. Delight them, and they’ll keep returning.

    • Where appropriate, elements of gamification can make your design more fun.

  • UIs should communicate brand values and reinforce users’ trust.

    • Good design is emotional design. Users associate good feelings with brands that speak to them at all levels and keep the magic of pleasurable, seamless experiences alive.

Airbnb's homepage screenshot

Airbnb’s simple, inviting layout lets users satisfy their travel needs quickly, easily and enjoyably.

© Airbnb, Fair Use

UI vs. User Experience (UX) Design

Often confused with UX design, UI design is more concerned with the surface and overall feel of a design. UI design is a craft where you the designer build an essential part of the user experience. UX design covers the entire spectrum of the user experience. One analogy is to picture UX design as a car with UI design as the driving console.

“Interfaces get in the way. I don’t want to focus my energies on an interface. I want to focus on the job.”

— Don Norman, Grand old man of UX design

How to make Great UIs

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Learn the basic principles of UI Design.

To deliver impressive GUIs, remember—users are humans, with needs such as comfort and a limit on their mental capacities. You should follow these guidelines:

  1. Make buttons and other common elements perform predictably (including responses such as pinch-to-zoom) so users can unconsciously use them everywhere. Form should follow function.

  2. Maintain high discoverability. Clearly label icons and include well-indicated affordances: e.g., shadows for buttons.

  3. Keep interfaces simple (with only elements that help serve users’ purposes) and create an “invisible” feel.

  4. Respect the user’s eye and attention regarding layout. Focus on hierarchy and readability:

    1. Use proper alignment. Typically choose edge (over center) alignment.

    2. Draw attention to key features using:

      • Color, brightness and contrast. Avoid including colors or buttons excessively.

      • Text via font sizes, bold type/weighting, italics, capitals and distance between letters. Users should pick up meanings just by scanning.

  5. Minimize the number of actions for performing tasks but focus on one chief function per page. Guide users by indicating preferred actions. Ease complex tasks by using progressive disclosure.

  6. Put controls near objects that users want to control. For example, a button to submit a form should be near the form.

  7. Keep users informed regarding system responses/actions with feedback.

  8. Use appropriate UI design patterns to help guide users and reduce burdens (e.g., pre-fill forms). Beware of using dark patterns, which include hard-to-see prefilled opt-in/opt-out checkboxes and sneaking items into users’ carts.

  9. Maintain brand consistency.

  10. Always provide next steps which users can deduce naturally, whatever their context.

IxDF Course page screenshot

On our courses webpage, colors, brightness and contrast draw attention to key features.

© Interaction Design Foundation, CC BY-SA 4.0

Because the best interface is no interface, you should offer users the most direct, accessible, comfortable control (and best experience) where they’ll forget they’re using your design. Therefore, keep asking yourself “Can I make things simpler?”.

Learn More about UI Design

Learn more in the Master Class Beyond Interfaces: The UI Design Skills You Need to Know with Michal Malewicz.

Take our course on Mobile UI Design.

Take our course on UI Design Patterns.

Read some helpful advice to develop an approach to UI Design.

Learn more about the differences between UX and UI in the article UX vs UI: What’s the Difference?

Questions related to User Interface (UI) Design

How much do UI designers make?

The industry highly values UI designers, and their salary reflects this demand. Glassdoor states that the average salary for a UI designer in the US in 2023 is approximately $75,057 annually. However, experience, location, and the company can significantly affect salaries, ranging from $90,000 to $128,000 per year in the United States. For more detailed information about UI & UX designer salaries in your region, check this article: UI & UX Designer Salaries: How Much Can I Earn in 2023.

How to become a UI designer?

To become a UI designer, develop visual design skills in color theory, typography and layout. You must also be well-versed with interaction design and interface design best practices and heuristics. Michal Malewicz emphasizes the importance of visual skills in this video snippet, noting that good visuals are perceived as more usable.

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This is critical in a world with a diminishing human attention span. Create interface design projects, get feedback, and build a strong portfolio. Enhance your skills by enrolling in the Interaction Design Foundation (IxDF) courses offered in the UI Designer Learning Path.

What does a UI designer do?

A UI designer focuses on designing the user interface, which includes the layout, visuals, and interactive elements of an application or website. While most interfaces are graphical, UI designers may also work with:

  • Voice-controlled interfaces (VUIs): Users interact with these through their voices.

  • Gesture-based interfaces: Users engage with 3D design spaces through bodily motions.

UI designers ensure the interface is intuitive, easy to navigate, and aesthetically pleasing. Essential tasks include creating wireframes, mockups, prototypes and conducting user research. 

As Frank Spillers highlights in his video, understanding the 'context of use' is crucial. It involves observing users in their environment and understanding their experiences and needs. 

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For a comprehensive understanding of Mobile UX Design, consider this course by the Interaction Design Foundation.

How to learn UI design?

To learn UI design, you must understand the basics of design principles, accessibility, color theory, and typography. Become familiar with design software such as Sketch, Adobe XD, or Figma. Create wireframes, mockups, and interactive prototypes as practice. Seek feedback from peers and online communities, and analyze well-designed applications to understand good practices. Lastly, consider taking online courses from the Interaction Design Foundation in the UI Designer Learning Path to strengthen your skills and knowledge. Continuous practice and learning are essential for proficiency in UI design.

How to be good at UI design?

To excel in UI design, you must understand the users' needs, develop a keen eye for aesthetics, and learn design principles. Practice regularly, seek feedback, and stay updated on the latest trends and tools. Additionally, as Michal Malewicz suggests, simplify your color palettes. Use a background color, a foreground color, and an accent color, and avoid clashing combinations like red with saturated blue or green. 

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Test your colors by overlaying them and checking for a fuzzy line, using fewer colors, especially when starting, results in a more professional design. Most importantly, always design for accessibility. WHO estimates 2.2 billion people have some form of vision disability. Make sure your interfaces are easy to use for everyone, not just those with full vision. Enhance your skills further by enrolling in this UI Design Skills Masterclass.

What is UI/UX design?

UI/UX design involves two crucial elements: User Interface (UI) and User Experience (UX). UI encompasses all the elements a user interacts with, such as colors, typography, buttons, and icons. It focuses on the aesthetics and the overall look of a product. On the other hand, UX involves creating a holistic and pleasurable experience that meets the user's needs. It includes all aspects of the end user's interaction with the company, including its services and products. Ultimately, UI is about a product's appearance, while UX is about the overall product experience. Both elements are essential for designing successful solutions and experiences. Learn more about UI and UX design from this:

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Does UI design require coding?

UI design does not necessarily require coding skills. A UI designer's primary focus is on the visual aspects of an application, such as color schemes, graphics, and typography. If you have some familiarity with coding languages such as HTML, CSS, and JavaScript, it can be helpful. It enables effective communication with developers and provides an understanding of the potential and limitations of the technology used. 

Although it's not a requirement for a UI designer to be proficient in coding, possessing some coding skills can provide a competitive advantage in one's career. For a more in-depth discussion, see this article: Should Designers Learn to Code?.

Are graphic designers and UI designers the same?

Graphic designers and UI designers are not the same, but they do share similarities. Graphic design involves creating visual content for print, digital, and social media. It includes creating logos, brochures, posters, and more. UI design, on the other hand, focuses specifically on the elements of interfaces, such as apps or websites. UI designers may occasionally need to develop graphical elements such as logos and icons, however, their primary responsibility is to ensure that interfaces are usable and intuitive.

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As mentioned in the video, UI design involves visualizing, grid typography, hierarchy, readability, and some basic aesthetics. While both graphic and UI designers work with visual elements, UI design requires a more specialized skill set focused on creating user-friendly digital interfaces. UI designers may also work with non-graphical interfaces such as voice-controlled interfaces (VUIs) and gesture-based interfaces.

Is UI design a good career?

Yes, UI design is an excellent career choice for individuals interested in the intersection of creativity, technology, and user experience. The demand for UI designers has surged with the proliferation of digital products, apps, and websites. However, it is a competitive field that necessitates continuous skill development and staying updated with the latest trends and tools. UI designers play a crucial role in shaping the user's interaction with a digital product, impacting its success and usability.

They work in various industries, including tech companies, design agencies, and freelancing. Overall, UI design is a rewarding and fulfilling career for those dedicated to enhancing user experiences and creating visually appealing interfaces.

What is Material UI?

Material UI is a popular open-source component library that helps designers and developers implement Google’s Material Design. It includes powerful predefined components and functionalities that are useful, culturally appropriate, safety compliant, and pleasant, ultimately addressing user needs and goals and fostering a deeper connection between the user and the app.

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Material UI aligns with the principles discussed in the video, emphasizing the importance of understanding user needs, defining value propositions, and creating a differentiated UX strategy that provides users with functional and emotional value.

Literature on User Interface (UI) Design

Here’s the entire UX literature on User Interface (UI) Design by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:

Learn more about User Interface (UI) Design

Take a deep dive into User Interface (UI) Design with our course Mobile UI Design .

In the “Build Your Portfolio” project, you’ll find a series of practical exercises that will give you first-hand experience of the methods we cover. You will build on your project in each lesson so once you have completed the course you will have a thorough case study for your portfolio.

Mobile User Experience Design: UI Design is built on evidence-based research and practice. Your expert facilitator is Frank Spillers, CEO of ExperienceDynamics.com, author, speaker and internationally respected Senior Usability practitioner.

All open-source articles on User Interface (UI) Design

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