Did you know? Good UI can increase a website’s conversion rate by up to 200%.
On the other hand, about 75% of consumers form an opinion about a website’s credibility based solely on its aesthetics. An improvised UX design can raise the conversion rate by up to 400%.
This implies that UI is an integral aspect of UX design and it directly impacts the ROI of a product.
What's in this guide:
- What is user interface design?
- User interface design elements
- Types of user interfaces
- User interface design principles and the impact of good design
- What is the difference between UI design and UX design?
- Best resources for learning UI design
What is user interface design?
User interface or UI is a communication touchpoint between a user and a computer device/application/website. The process of building application interfaces that facilitate and encourage the user to use the application is called user interface design or UI design.
UI design in software engineering is made up of building blocks called UI elements. A UI designer is responsible to weave these elements together to build a visual language. This visual language becomes a medium for the user to interact with the technological system.
User interface design elements
A typical UI Design is made up of the following elements:
- Input Controls
- Navigation Components
- Informational Components
1. Input controls
They are interactive elements that accept data inputs from the users. A text field is an example of input control. The below image shows an example of form input control elements that take the first name, last name, and email as the data inputs.
Similarly, other input control elements include:
- Radio button
- Multi-select button
- Date/Time picker
- Segmented Control
- Number field
2. Navigational components
Navigational components help users to navigate a software product or website. Accordion is an example of the navigational UI element.
Other navigational components are:
Breadcrumbs are a nifty little tool that helps users keep track of their location within a website or application. Inspired by the story of Hansel and Gretel, these secondary navigation aids show the relationship between a page and its higher-level pages, making it easy for users to retrace their steps and navigate their history. Breadcrumbs encourage users to explore the rest of the site without getting lost. Even Google uses breadcrumbs to categorize information on the search engine results page.
There are 3 types of breadcrumbs:
1. Hierarchical breadcrumbs are navigational that make the UI design an experience for the user
For example Home > Resources > Blog > Case study
2. Attributable breadcrumbs are commonly found on ecommerce sites
For example: Home > Women > Tops > Sleeveless
3. Historical breadcrumbs show the previously visited pages
For example: Home > User-centered Design > User Interface Design
Sliders are used when a user’s input data falls in a predefined range of values.
- The search field is an amalgamation of the input field and the submit button.
- Pagination: The end of a Google search engine result page is a perfect example of a pagination element.
Tags are used to label, organize, or categorize information. Tags are typically small rectangular or circular shapes that contain a keyword term or phrase that describes the content they are associated with.
Tags are used to filter and sort content, indicate the status or priority of an item, or label different types of content. For example, in a blog, authors use tags with keywords like "saas marketing", "product marketing", etc. to categorize the content.
Icons add depth to information by elevating it visually. They’re a powerful tool for designers to communicate functionality and enhance the user experience in digital interfaces. By using relevant, recognizable symbols and imagery, UI icons can make navigation more intuitive and efficient.
Icons contribute to the overall aesthetic of a design, adding personality and style to the interface. When designing with icons, ensure there’s consistency, clarity, and accessibility.
They are the primary purpose of buttons is to invoke a specific action from the user. Buttons are mainly placed to trigger decisions. There are different types of buttons namely:
- Solid buttons - They are primary buttons whose purpose is to help the reader further in their discovery journey
- Ghost buttons guide the user to secondary information like “Know more”, “Learn more” etc.
- Floating action buttons are icon-only buttons. Sometimes these buttons come with a shadow effect to give a 3-dimensional feel.
They make it easy to switch between views or sections of categorized information.
In the summer of 1997, a 25-year-old Pasadena software developer named Adam Stiles created a navigational device called tab. Tabs are ubiquitous. They revolutionized the way we use browsers. Google Chrome overtook Microsoft mainly because of its UX and UI capabilities.
A menu is a GUI element representing a variety of options to navigate categorized information in a digital application or website. A menu is a set of options presented to the user of a computer application to help them find information or execute a function.
There are different types of menus namely:
- A Kebab menu or a vertical ellipsis is a classic icon design used in UI to expand a hidden menu or navigation drawer like the internal settings of an app. It consists of three vertical dots and is commonly used in mobile app and website design to simplify navigation and save screen space.
- Hamburger menu - According to Google, “navigation drawers provide access to destinations and app functionality, such as switching accounts.” Conceptually, the functional difference between the kebab menu and the hamburger menu is that the kebab menu represents an inline menu. Whereas the hamburger menu lets you access the rest of the application or pages.
- Doner menu represents a filter function. It consists of a vertical stack of three lines of uniformly deprecating lengths.
- Bento menu or bento boxes are a grid-like representation of related, yet categorized information. They are an array or a static gallery of options commonly used to represent broad classes or groups.
- Meatball menu (...) represents a menu with additional options.
3. Informational components
They are designed to convey relevant information to the users clearly and understandably.
Here are some examples of informational components:
- Error messages inform users about what went wrong and include instructions to resolve the problem
- Tooltips provide additional information about icons or buttons
- Carousels and comment bars organize and prioritize information for the users
- Progress bars show the status of a task or action
- Labels and captions describe the content or function of a UI element
- Help documentation guides users through complex features or workflows
- Onboarding screens provide information about a product's features and benefits
- Notifications alert the users about important events, warnings, or updates
- Status indicators show the availability of a feature or system
- Feedback tools such as surveys or ratings collect user opinions and insights.
- Containers - Containers are savvy little design elements that help keep page elements organized and tidy. By setting a maximum width that adjusts to a user's screen size, containers create a more user-friendly experience and ensure that content is displayed in a visually pleasing and consistent pattern. They’re used to group and organize relevant content in a unified manner.
Types of user interfaces
There are four types of UI design:
- Graphical user interface (GUI)
- Command line interface (CLI)
- Touch user interface or haptic interface
- Voice user interface (VUI)
- Game user interface
- Gesture-based interface
Graphical user interface
A graphical user interface (GUI) is an interface that displays information with the help of graphical elements like icons, menus, toolbars, data input fields, and other visual representations.
A user interacts with electronic devices such as computers and smartphones through GUI.
GUIs were developed to tackle inefficient usability on highly technical 20th-century computers.
A GUI uses toolbars, icons, menus, and buttons to facilitate the user to execute commands that complete a desired set of actions to achieve tasks. This is done with the help of a stylus, pointer, keyboard, or touch screen.
A good GUI should:
- Not overwhelm the user
- Be easy to use
- Appealing to the human eye
- Encourage the user to explore
- Follow a predictable pattern an average user can recognize
- Use relatable color patterns
- Use simple words and avoid jargon
- Be accessible to as many people as possible
- Have a technical documentation guide available for further help
Did you know?
“A company like Microsoft spends millions of dollars to study the effect of UI and have come to a conclusion that their revenue drops drastically if they change the color of buttons to anything other than a shade of blue. Once users get accustomed to your products, they build a habitual mindset toward interacting with your products. So, find out what works for you and do more of that ”
- Harish Kurudi Gowda, iOS Developer
The Model-View-Controller (MVC) architectural pattern is used in software engineering to understand the relationship between the data repository (database), the business logic (how the data gets applied), and user interaction (how the data and actions get projected visually).
Command line interface
GUIs revolutionized the internet. Before GUIs, all human-machine interactions happened through text commands as input. It’s called a command line interface. A command-line interface (CLI) is used to run programs, manage computer files and interconnect with a computer or network of computers. Command-line interfaces are also called console user interfaces and character user interfaces.
Touch user interface (Haptic interface)
The user interaction interface involves a touch-sensitive screen that responds to physical touch or haptics. Touchscreen mobile phones and laptops are a standard today due to increased usability. A touchscreen GUI is operated by fingertips or a stylus.
Touch-sensitive GUIs are widely used in the medical industry as they streamline urgent and important technological processes.
Voice User Interface (VUI)
Amazon’s Alexa, Apple’s Siri, and Google Assistant are the most common examples of voice user interfaces.
Voice user interfaces (VUIs) let the user interact with a computer through voice or speech commands.
The biggest advantage of VUI devices is that user interaction may happen without any physical contact. Just like this one.
Game user interface
There are four types of visual representation and UI in video games namely: Non-diegetic, Diegetic, Meta, and Spatial.
Diegetic: Diegesis was studied by Plato and Aristotle and was used in Greek theater. The word “diegetic” means “existing or occurring within the world of a character in the story”. UI elements that can be seen or heard by the video game character are called diegetic UI. The holographic interface in Dead Space is an example of a diegetic user interface.
Non-diegetic: UI components that are not a part of the video game or story, but are accessible to/by the player are called the non-diegetic user interface. Some examples include pop-up windows, modal windows, ads, menu screens, etc.
Spatial: UI elements that are represented within the game space but aren’t accessible or visible to the characters are called spatial interfaces. Spatial elements enhance the experience of the player. For example, while completing missions in games like “Need for Speed” or “Splinter Cell Conviction,” the player interacts with text/visual instructions hovering in the game space.
Meta: UI features that are related to the game but don’t live within the game space are called meta user interfaces. A dynamic speedometer, virtual GPS, scrolling text, or overlay information that updates the player’s score or symbolizes a shift in the player’s status is called meta UI.
Ever taken a screenshot on a mobile phone device with a 3-finger swipe gesture? Yep! Your touchscreen mobile device is a gesture-based user interface that uses hand movement patterns as input. A gesture-based user interface is run on special mathematical algorithms that recognize the pattern of the gesture and associate it with a specific action. Gesture-based UIs are commonly used in the video gaming, automotive, and medical industries.
This kind of user interface-enabled technology saves crucial time for medical professionals and helps save a life. For example, in hospitals, contactless UI devices are used by surgeons to view reports and records without having the need to step out of the operation theater.
Why are gesture-based devices becoming popular?
ABI Research said that global fingerprint biometrics revenues had dropped by 22% in the year 2020. This drop was worth $1.8 billion. This is a consequence of the clear decline in using touch to access public spaces since the start of the Covid-19 pandemic.
User interface design principles and the impact of good design
User experience or the lack of it is one of the top reasons for the success or failure of a software product respectively.
In fact, according to a survey report, 80% of the users are willing to pay more than the average pricing in exchange for a better user experience.
This implies that a user-centered design approach is the real competitive differentiator. Here are 7 UI design principles that shape the user experience of a product and help in creating effective UI design:
- Seamless, friction-free design is the first step to UX
- Menus that serve easy navigation increases user dwell time and are a top priority among users
- A clean, simple, and easy-to-use design interface is the number one bounce rate deflector
- Usability testing is the feedback loop UI designers should rely on to create a user-centric product
- Consistency and predictability in design are key. Innovation in design should always be towards improving the functionality and not towards differentiation
- Good typography has the power to set the tone and personality of a UI
- A successful UI design is a right balance between colors, tones, margins, borders, icons, typography, line height, and images
A diagram depicting UI, UX and Usability with user-centered design.
Phases of UI design
The process of designing user interfaces is aimed at arriving at a visually appealing, practically usable, and time-saving design. This process happens in 6 stages:
Stage 1 - Low-fidelity user-behavior sketches
This is a low-cost, quick, and effective way to capture user requirement ideas and translate them into functional technological user interfaces. The purpose here is to kick off the layout and design processes. This can be done with the help of paper, a whiteboard, or tools like Miro, Lucispark, etc.
A wireframe is a two-dimensional, architectural blueprint of a webpage or an application. The purpose of a wireframe is to get a clear view of the user flow, functionality, and design. At this point, styling, typography, colors, etc. is postponed until the skeletal structure is finalized.
Lucidchart and Balsamiq are great tools to get started with creating quick wireframe designs.
Stage 3 - Dynamic component design
In this stage, a UI designer organizes and lays out the design components to produce a series of situational, dynamic user flow pages complete with UI elements with a designated call-to-action buttons.
Stage 4 - User flow diagrams
A user flow chart is a visual representation of the path a user follows to complete a desired action in a web application or website. The role of user flow is to understand the end user’s needs and anticipate their experience during the prototyping phase.
For each user flow, the designer should consider the following user needs:
- What’s the user trying to achieve?
- What’s the most important matter of concern to the user at this point?
- What else does the user need to accomplish the task?
- What’s the user experience friction that’s stopping them from accomplishing the desired task?
- What are the user’s hesitations to accomplishing the task?
Stage 5 - High-fidelity designs
Now’s the time to merge the graphical layer and add conversion-focused copy to the design.
Stage 6 - Minimum viable prototyping
This is the phase where you bring all the above steps together to produce a minimum viable, functional prototype of the product before it goes to user testing and iterative improvements.
Note: Is interaction design the same as UI design? Interaction design falls under the umbrella of UX design.
What is the difference between UI design and UX design?
UX designers are user-oriented and study the user through the voice of customer data, surveys, etc. before building the products.
Whereas, UI design is a subset of the UX design process. The UX design process also comprises the visual design and interaction design (IxD).
Best resources for learning UI design
1. Interaction Design Foundation offers several courses for beginners as well as experts. They have several courses covering exclusive subjects such as:
- User experience for beginners
- User journey mapping
- Design for the 21st century by Don Norman (himself)
- Human-Computer Interaction: The foundations of UX design
- Visual design: The ultimate guide
2. UX Design Institute offers a professional certificate in UI design for completing their 12-week course. It’s an online-self paced course that aims at teaching:
- How to infuse personality into a brand
- Principles of design
- Components of design interaction
- Iconography and imagery
- Design Process
- Design tools
- Presenting designs
3. The Futur is one of my all-time favorite YouTube channels for all things marketing, branding, and design. They have an exclusive playlist of resources for UX and UI Design.
4. Don’t Make Me Think by Steve Krug has sold more than 600,000 copies in twenty languages. It’s the go-to book on user experience and it comes recommended by thousands of designers.
5. The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman is considered the bible of design. The book covers:
- The Psychopathology of Everyday Things.
- The Psychology of Everyday Actions.
- Knowledge in the Head and in the World.
- Knowing What to Do.
- To Err is Human.
- The Design Challenge.
- User-Centered Design.
User interface design processes improve sales and product quality through agile customer feedback cycles and iterations. Balancing the UI design with the right elements placed at the right juncture ensure usability – which is the primary cause of user retention apart from its functionality.
By adopting user interface design processes, businesses can increase customer satisfaction, reduce costs associated with software patchwork, and release products that make the end user’s life easier.
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