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GuidesUser experience (UX)What is user interface (UI): meaning, principles, and examples

What is user interface (UI): meaning, principles, and examples

Last updated

12 February 2023


Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Jean Kaluza

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User interface (UI) is simply the point of human-computer interaction. A user interface enables the end user to interact with or control a device's hardware or software. For example, display screens, mice, keyboards, buttons, app icons, and text fields constitute a user interface.

A good UI should ensure the user applies minimum effort to achieve maximum outcomes. It should be intuitive and appealing to the human senses and works effectively. All of this happens through user interface and user experience design.

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What is user interface design?

User interface design creates visual elements and interactive properties that enable users to access, understand, and use the interface to perform desired actions. This design field deals with ensuring that the interface looks and feels good.

Principles of quality

An interface must have the following attributes to be user-friendly, efficient, and intuitive.

  • Clarity A user interface should enable users to interact with the website or application. Avoid anything that could confuse or detract from their interactions. Language and flow should be unambiguous. Interface metaphors (visual cues) should be unmistakable, such as a folder or a bookmark.

  • Concision While things should be clear, strive to be succinct.

  • Usable The design of the system should be easy to use. A good interface should enable the users to accomplish the tasks they want to perform easily.

  • Desirable The interface should be aesthetically pleasing and attractive to capture users' attention.

  • Findable The interface should be easy to navigate and enable users to find the information they want.

  • Accessible The interface should support enlarged text without breaking. In addition, it should be accessible to all users, including individuals with disabilities.

  • Credible Company details and relevant security details should be visible to the users to enhance credibility and build trust.

  • Valuable The end user should derive value from the UI.

Principles of habit formation

The continued use of an interface will likely cause the user to develop habits. It is on the designers to create interfaces that do not allow habits to cause problems for the user. They can do this by understanding users' habits and designing interfaces to encourage users to adopt better practices. Designers should be wary of making unconscious assumptions about how the user will interact with the interface.

UI vs. user experience (UX) design

As mentioned earlier, user interface design involves developing buttons, icons, screens, and visual elements that make it possible to intuitively and easily interact with apps and websites or control devices. In addition, UI design pays attention to the quality of the user's interaction with the product and employs artistic design components to enhance the look and feel of the product.

UI is distinct from user experience (UX) design, which focuses on the purpose and functionality of the product.  User experience designers conduct market research, identify user needs and create user journey maps to analyze customers' interaction with the product, ensuring the product is functional, accessible, and enjoyable.

While UI is mainly concerned with visual appeal and is almost exclusive to digital products, UX design has to do with the functionality and usability of a product—whether digital or physical.

Why is user interface important?

Strong UI design contributes to a positive user experience, differentiating your brand from competitors and helping you to reap the following benefits.

Attracting new users

Customers want UI design that eases their work and enables them to accomplish their tasks. If they are looking for information, they are likely to opt for web content that is well-labeled, structured, and organized in a manner that makes it readily accessible. Users are also more likely to go for apps that allow them to navigate through the sections without needing much help to get what they need. Therefore, organize content logically to help users navigate the site with minimal effort. A business that invests in a good UI interface can attract and acquire new customers.

Increasing user engagement

It has become challenging to engage clients and inform them of your product. On average, customers leave a page in seconds if they dislike something about the page. A good interface design will curb sudden disinterest using colors, images, fonts, and other enhancements. In addition, increasing engagement raises your chances of converting leads to clients.

Saving future development costs

By getting your UI design right the first time, a business can save future time and money. Also known as the first-time-right principle, validating design choices and correcting navigation design mistakes up-front leads to creating a high-quality product. 

Spending less on customer support

Investing in a simple and functional interface will reduce customers' complaints and the associated costs.  Moreover, when your UI  is interactive and intuitive, users have fewer doubts and navigate the product with greater ease, so they require less support.

Improving productivity

An appealing and easy-to-use interface saves users' time by allowing them to fulfill their needs quickly and efficiently. As a result, they are more likely to use the product again in the future. This loyalty enables the business to increase its sales volume and, coupled with the savings on customer support, realize higher profits.

Building and establishing trust in the brand

The UI of your online presence plays a huge role in how potential and existing customers see your brand. Inconsistencies between your online and offline presence can make customers uneasy about purchasing online. For example, having a sophisticated brick-and-mortar store but a slow-loading, visually unappealing app will likely create dissonance for the customer. Additionally, your brand may only exist online, making that UI your customers’ only brand experience. Consequently, issues like bugs, device-specific design errors, misalignments, or low performance will lower your brand’s esteem or, in some instances, cause the consumer to dismiss your brand entirely. 

Types of user interface

The various types of user interfaces include:

  • Graphical user interface (GUI) entails graphical representations on digital control panels that enable users to perform functions. Icons, cursors, and dialog boxes are graphic elements that allow users to interact with software.

  • Command line interface is a text-based interface that allows users to deliver commands via text that operating systems can execute.

  • Menu-driven interface provides a list or menu of command options from which to choose.  ATMs are a classic example of a device that uses a menu-driven interface.

  • Touch user interface is a graphical user interface that allows you to use your fingers or a stylus to select the visual representations on your screen. Smartphones and tablets are typical examples of devices with a touch user interface.

  • Voice user interface (VUI) allows users to give voice commands to devices through speech recognition. Siri, Cortana, and Google Home are examples of apps that use a voice user interface.

  • Form-based user interface provides the user with a form-like structure to enter the relevant information. It provides users with a box to input information, after which the system can take the next steps.

  • Natural language user interface allows the user and the system to communicate through human language. Users must input speech, and the system formulates a response that it can deliver through speech or text.

Examples of strong UI

While there are many user interfaces around, the most common examples include

  • Graphical UIs are the UI of choice for most computers. Users no longer have to input text commands and wait for the operating system to execute them.

  • Mobile UIs create usable interactive interfaces on smaller screens, such as smartphones and tablets, to improve features like touch controls.

How to create excellent user interfaces

Creating suitable user interfaces is a process that involves numerous steps. Below are some tips for creating a compelling user interface:

  • Ensure the interface is user-focused—design against data rather than intuition.

  • Ensure sufficient contrast between text and background color

  • Make the interface adaptable (responsive) to all screens, large or small.

  • Experiment with different designs to determine which fits best.

  • Ensure that the interface is easy to use and navigate, even for first-time users.

  • Keep the design reasonably consistent. Give all pages the same layout to avoid confusion for the user.

Your brand elements should be recognizable on your interface.

  • Make text readable by aligning the text edges and keeping a limited color palette. Remember to choose a font that is easy to read.

  • Proofread to get rid of any errors.

  • Ensure that UI design provides interaction feedback (such as progress bars or error messages) and allows users to figure out what to do next.

  • Ensure that buttons, toggles, and all other elements function as the user would expect, based on standard conventions.

  • Use interactive elements sparingly, as overuse may discourage users and take away from their experience.


What does UI stand for?

UI stands for user interface, which is the point of human-computer interaction.

Is UI the same as graphic design?

UI entails creating interactive graphical elements for apps, websites, and electronic devices. Graphic design uses color, images, and fonts to create visual content for print and digital media.

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