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GuidesUser experience (UX)User interface design 101: updated guide

User interface design 101: updated guide

Last updated

26 January 2023

Author

Dovetail Editorial Team

Reviewed by

Jean Kaluza

Understanding how branding and coloring work is not enough these days. You need to modify and adapt design skills to fit industry requirements.

User interface (UI) design is a creative but particularly challenging field within user experience (UX) that offers numerous benefits. It involves creating user interfaces for machines, websites, and software to make navigation as efficient and simple as possible.

Have you ever switched to a cellphone with a different operating system for increased functionality? Have you ever found it almost impossible to navigate a website because its layout was too confusing? UI design played a crucial part in your answer.

Below, we take a comprehensive look at user interface design. Think of this article as an updated beginner’s guide to UI basics that can help you start your journey toward becoming a UI designer on the right foot.

What is user interface (UI) design?

UI design is the process of creating interfaces with an emphasis on style and appearance. It refers to the aesthetic design of a product’s user interface (usually websites and apps).

Although the term is typically associated with digital user interfaces, it broadly describes the interface used for humans to interact with machines.

Other examples include voice-controlled interfaces (VUI), gesture-based interfaces (zero UI), command-line interfaces, menu-driven interfaces, touchscreen graphical user interfaces, and graphical user interfaces (GUIs). GUIs are typically what people mean when they say “UI.”

UI designers create all the screens of a particular product and its visual elements to help facilitate user interaction. They use spacing, colors, patterns, and text to help the user interact with the product. Therefore, UI designers need to be super creative while anticipating what users expect at each stage of use.

UI versus UX design

Although the terms “UX design” and “UI design” are often used interchangeably, they refer to two very different aspects of the design process. Here is a complete breakdown of the two to ensure you understand the difference between them.

UX design is about improving user satisfaction by enhancing a product’s accessibility and usability. In comparison, UI design focuses on how the product looks and feels. UX designers create a map of the product and UI designers flesh it out using interactive and visual touchpoints.

Think of the app or website as your human body. Your bones represent the code and your organs represent the UX design, which helps support life functions. Your cosmetics (i.e., your body’s senses, presentation, and reactions) represent the UI design.

Remembering the following is key: UX design refers to the overall feel of the experience, whereas UI design refers to the product’s interface function and look. A UX designer will map out the user’s journey while a UI designer will focus on the details within that journey.

Why is UI design important?

UI design plays an integral role in a mobile application’s or website’s success. Apart from optimizing the aesthetics of an application or website, it also maximizes its accessibility, efficiency, and responsiveness.

An effective UI design leads to overall improvements in brand recognition, trust in your corporation, and stunning products. In contrast, a poor UI design can lead to a lack of confidence in your brand, a high bounce rate, and few users.

The UI design elements

The building blocks of an interface are referred to as user interface elements. These UI elements are the primary components in building websites or apps. A UI designer uses these elements to generate visual language that’s easy for users to understand.

Below are the four main UI element types to get you started:

Input controls

These components allow the user to enter data into the system’s interface.

Examples include radio buttons, checkboxes, drop-down lists, toggles, and date fields. Think about when you add your destination address on the Uber app—it’s quick and easy because of input controls.

These are defined sets of actions that allow you to move around the website or app. They ensure you can complete tasks easily and quickly.

Examples of navigational components include search fields, icons, tabs, sliders, and menus.

Informational components

These components help you understand unfamiliar or unknown objects within the user interface via feedback. The feedback typically appears after you take an action. Equally, these components showcase vital information at the right time.

Examples of informational components include progress bars, modal windows, tooltips, and notifications.

Containers

Containers hold relatable content together and ensure page elements keep to a reasonable maximum width. They form a UI design’s layout when put together.

The optimum width of some containers is determined based on the user’s screen. For example, they might slide underneath or around each other on narrower devices like cell phones. When implemented correctly, containers can ensure consumers get the best possible view of the product—regardless of the device.

What are the types of user interface design?

There are three main types of user interface design. These include GUIs, voice-controlled interfaces, and gesture-based interfaces.

Here’s a quick look at each of them to get you started:

  • Graphical user interfaces represent visual components that users interact with, such as control panels, buttons, and menus.

  • Voice-controlled interfaces are UI components that require users to start actions with their voices. They have become very popular over recent years. Examples include Siri, Bing, Google Assistant, and Alexa.

  • Gesture-based interfaces (zero UI) enable a user to control how a particular product behaves with their motions. Virtual reality games are an example.

10 usability heuristics for user interface design

Usability heuristics for UI design are broad rules of thumb that support user interaction effectiveness. Think of them as the general UI design principles.

Here are the top 10 to get you started:

Familiarity

UI design needs to speak the user’s language. They may not understand technical terms and jargon.

For this heuristic, you need to leverage concepts, words, and phrases that users understand and relate to. Use real-world conversions that make information appear logical and natural.

Limit errors

All UI designers need to keep one vital consideration in mind: users are humans and we are prone to mistakes. Ensure you provide good error messages and initiate measures to prevent problems. Error prevention is critical in ensuring the user doesn’t make obvious mistakes.

A good example of this is the Gmail message that pops up when you forget to attach a file to an email. 

User control and freedom

Users tend to make mistakes, so it’s helpful to offer a clear “emergency exit” that lets them leave without going through an extended process. This fosters a sense of freedom and confidence because the user stays in control and is less likely to become frustrated.

System status visibility

An excellent design should keep users informed on what’s going on via appropriate feedback. Users find it easier to determine their next steps when they know the outcome of prior interactions. Predictable interactions also foster trust in the product and brand.

Consistency

UI design needs to follow industry and platform conversions. Your users shouldn’t have to worry about words or actions having different meanings. Inconsistency will force users to learn something new, since they are accustomed to industry standards.

Easy recognition

Make actions, elements, and options easily recognizable. The user should find it easy to identify information rather than recall it. A visible design will reduce the amount of information your user needs to remember.

Efficiency and flexibility

While shortcuts help speed up how expert users interact with the product, hide them from novice users to ensure the design caters to everyone. Providing accelerators like touch gestures will also help while allowing for customization.

Minimalism

Unnecessary information within your UI design makes it more difficult for users to access vital information. A good interface should not have irrelevant information, especially on the main pages. Instead, ensure the design is focused on information that is essential to the user and what they intend to achieve.

Easy-to-understand error messages

Present error messages in plain language that precisely indicates the issue and how it can be resolved. Error codes make things much more complicated for the user without offering any further assistance.

Avoid technical jargon and clearly outline what went wrong together with viable solutions.

Help

Include accurate and concise help content like FAQs, help documentation, and tooltips to help your users out when they get stuck. Also, consider listing concrete steps that the user can use to solve their problem.

UI designers will work on the following things:

  • The product’s look and feel: design research, customer analysis, user guides, and keeping to and sometimes developing company branding

  • Responsiveness and interactivity: adapting to different screen sizes, UI prototyping, and animation

  • Style library: depending on the project’s size and scope, developing a library of components can mean most of your focus is on ensuring that specifications make sense for large-scale operations

What do new designers need to know about UI design?

Getting started with UI design can seem complex at first. However, the following pointers can help new designers master this design niche:

You’re designing to solve problems

A good design helps solve problems for the user and business. You must remember that you’re designing for this specific purpose and not yourself, your peers, your portfolio, or dribbble. This will help you balance user and business value with what’s technically feasible.

You’re designing for different devices

When it comes to UI, you are working with displays for a variety of devices, including desktop computers, tablets, and smartphones. These all come in different dimensions, which have unique technical roadblocks. You’ll need to maintain a consistent look and feel across the different user devices.

Starting with mobile design is a common technique to help you do this effectively. Collapsing a design is thought to be harder than expanding it.

Accessibility matters

Ask yourself critical questions to ensure your UI design is accessible.

For example, can users with a hearing or visual impairment use the interface? Is the text color easy to read on the background you’ve chosen? Will users read all the text you’ve included? Where would they click if they don’t read it? Is the design helping them to accomplish their goal? Can the user get help on issues they don’t understand?

Less is more

Including lots of features and information in a UI design is never a good idea, even though most clients will ask you to do this.

As the UI designer, you will need to keep the user in mind at all times. Only consider including what is vital to the user’s needs. This will make it easier to use and navigate the product, increasing user interaction. Remind your client of this to keep designs clear of unnecessary elements.

What key skills should a user interface designer have?

UI designers apply creativity and design elements to develop attractive website and app designs. This means they require soft and hard skills that need to be developed through practical experience.

Below are key skills that user interface designers should have:

Creativity

You need to be creative to design enticing visuals and attractive features. UI designers should therefore be aware of design elements like font styles and textures and current design trends. A good UI designer will be motivated by keeping to design patterns while also pushing and exploring their boundaries.

Industry knowledge

Like all other web development fields, the UI design field changes rapidly. This is due to continuous advancements and innovations. UI designers need to keep up with ever-changing methods, tools, and trends.

Problem-solving skills

UI designers need problem-solving skills to troubleshoot and apply solutions to overcome UI challenges. This is a critical skill that allows you to achieve successful results. You’ll need to be flexible and open enough to take constant criticism from clients or redesign to account for user-testing results.

Attention to detail

Figuring out problems with UI systems is easier when you pay attention to details. The ability to identify small elements that can improve the quality of your design is vital.

Designing for digital products usually means you will eventually hand over your designs to your development team with specs. The transition will be smoother if you have kept organized and consistent specifications.

Planning skills

Outlining and initiating new projects is only possible when you can plan effectively. UI designers need to evaluate specifications, develop strategies, and incorporate feedback for their UI designs. For bigger teams, you’ll usually need to determine what you’ll need to design, how many screens it may include, and by when you’ll need to deliver it.

Communication skills

Collaborating with team members is essential when creating UI designs. Communication will be essential, whether it’s on an internal UI design team, in your research feedback sessions, or when delivering to your development team.

Good communication skills also make it easier for UI designers to negotiate job contracts and projects.

Get started today

Becoming a user interface designer is a transformative journey that starts in different places. What matters most is learning how to convey information visually and having a strong grasp of basic design principles.

Get started today

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