User Interface Design: A Complete Guide

User interface design (UI) is all around you — from your refrigerator, to your smartphone, to your favorite websites; user interface design examples are everywhere. As you live your life, it’s likely that your daily interaction with machines via software interfaces to complete various tasks isn’t given a second thought. However, if you don’t notice how a UI feature works, that’s a good sign that a well-designed UI is making your experience intuitive and easy. However, it is very likely that you do remember the last glitchy UI experience you had — and probably didn’t enjoy it!

The user experience (UX) and UI design are ever-growing and expanding fields, with job opportunities available in just about every industry you can imagine. Making online brand interaction, content access and e-commerce transactions as pleasant and seamless as possible is critical, not optional, in today’s marketplace. It is excellent user interface design that achieves this seamless interaction, making UI professionals in-demand across the board.

Read on to learn fundamental aspects of UI design, its principles and more to determine whether user interface design is the right field for you.

What Is UI?

UI is omnipresent and commonplace in contemporary society. For example, people without coding experience are able to create beautiful websites via SquareSpace, or non-native speakers can learn a new language quickly via Duolingo. What do these experiences have in common? Intuitive, enjoyable user interfaces that are able to smooth complex technology and content into a seamless, easy experience for the user.

With that said, what is UI design? Basically, it’s the creation of everything a user will interact with when using a product or service. When speaking specifically about computers and software, UI definition relates not only to interactive elements such as drop-down menus, sliders and buttons, but also fonts, colors and other aspects of graphic design. Interface designers also have to consider accessibility for differently abled users who may be using adaptive equipment to access systems and content.

In order to understand UI design, it’s important to ask the question: What is a user interface? A user interface is any screen, image or prompt that a user must interact with in order to complete a task. There are thousands of ways to design the homepage of a smartphone or the landing page of a website — but a skilled UI designer will know the best way to do it so users have a logical, positive experience they want to repeat again and again.

For example, if a streaming service offers an immense variety of movies for users to enjoy, but fails to offer easily accessed trailers, prominently displayed user ratings or well-written descriptions, their vast catalog of movies may not matter to users. This is why an excellent user interface is key for businesses to attract and retain their desired customer base and grow their business.

Another key point to know about UI design is that despite often being mentioned in conjunction with user experience, UX and UI design are two different fields. Specifically, UI design refers to the sensory process of using software — what is seen and how it affects the user’s interaction. User experience refers to the process or information flow of a machine or software, such as the purchasing of an item from an e-tailer. While user experience, or UX, is often focused on ease of accessibility, UI focuses on environmental details.

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UI Design Principles

Though many UI design principles feel intuitive, it is best to know in clear terms what makes for a good UI. Often the best UI is so natural and understated that we don’t even notice how successful it is. Keeping the following graphic design principles in mind will make it easier to spot competent and colorful UI when you do encounter it.

One of the first things to keep in mind about user interface design is that aesthetics should never come before useability. That’s to say that the look, feel or sound of software or a website should never interfere with its actual purpose — it should enhance it. For example, graphical user interface (GUI) is something we take for granted today. The icons that sit on our mobile phone’s screen or PC desktop make opening applications a breeze and finding programs easy. However, this wasn’t always the case. Prior to GUIs, users would have to sort through lists of programs and select the one they wanted. And, to perform any function on a computer, it was necessary to enter a text command with complex syntax. This was until Steve Jobs (Apple) traded $1 million in Apple stock options to tour Xerox in Palo Alto, California, and saw a prototype of the first GUI and mouse. That was the day that changed human and computer interaction forever, and it was all due to a seamless, innovative UI idea.

Another important aspect of UI design principles is that the user should feel like they have autonomy so they can move through content at their own speed. This is a key element of UI design because of something called “cognitive load,” which is the amount of information that a human brain can handle during a specific period of time. In order to provide content in a way that most people can process, information is often segmented by tabs, exposed by hovering or expanding windows so users predominantly see content they’re seeking as opposed to being bombarded with all available information at once. This is called interaction design (IxD), which gives users relevant information in an efficient, concise manner to help them accomplish their goals.

Interested in learning more? Consider enrolling in Berkeley UX/UI Boot Camp to gain in-demand skills in UI design principles, graphical user interface, interaction design and more.

UI Patterns

UI design is different from website to website, or product to product, but there are quite a few common elements. For example, improving consistency and accessibility is one way common UI patterns emerge to keep users engaged with the interface at hand.

These UI patterns may be familiar to you even if you consider yourself a novice user. Think about how a “submit” button on a website is usually a brighter color than the “cancel” button, or how retailers often show how many steps remain before a purchase is complete at the top of a window. Or, think about what a relief it is when an online form can be completed with minimal information. These are all intentional UI design decisions made to make task completion easy and consistent.

However, designers must be careful not to rely too heavily on patterns in their work. Certain clients or companies may want customizations, so it is important for UI designers to be able to adapt while still applying UI and interaction design best practices. In addition, it’s always important to align UI design with brand style guides in order to maintain consistency with a company’s brand identity.

For this reason, many UI designers use tools that help them develop prototypes of their ideas, and share them with clients in a way that they can incorporate suggestions easily. One of those tools is Fluid UI, an intuitive wireframing and prototyping tool which enables UI designers to create their own UI patterns and share original creations.

UI Design Tools

There are countless UI design tools and UI design software options. Here is a summary of some of the most popular options.

An image listing all the helpful UI design tools people should consider to practice and enhance their skill set.

Adobe XD is a part of the larger Adobe Creative Cloud, and its features work seamlessly with other aspects of Adobe software. Working with both Mac and PC, it’s a reliable workhorse for prototyping and wireframing, and offers a UI kit which is a collection of design elements containing UI components and styles such as navigation menus and widgets.

Figma is UI design software that allows multiple designers to work and collaborate on a platform at the same time. It also has a digital whiteboard feature that enables brainstorming in real time. As Figma lives in the browser, it doesn’t need to be installed and works on Windows, Chrome, Mac and Linux. As more teams become remote, software like Figma lends itself well to team UI design.

Framer boasts similar features to Figma, but has a code feature which UI designers who are fluent in Java, JavaScript, Python and C# may find helpful.

Sketch is considered a go-to UI design software program for die-hard Mac users, though it no longer dominates the UI software charts. Because it is a reliable favorite for those familiar with iOS products with prototyping, wireframing and team collaboration capabilities, there is every expectation that this tool will continue to be a UI design staple.

Maze is primarily a rapid, remote testing platform for agile teams, including concept and idea validation, prototype and wireframe testing, copy and content testing and survey functionality. This UI design tool is often used in conjunction with some of the other UI design software packages mentioned here.

Marvel is a UI design tool focused primarily on the design process. Functionality includes surveys, wireframing and prototyping, as well as a developer handoff feature with automatic design specifications.

Axure is a UX/UI tool which enables realistic, functional prototypes. It also supports unlimited combinations of event triggers, conditional logic and actions to truly explore digital experiences. And, while this tool does include UX functionality, it is also helpful for UX/UI collaboration.

Examples of User Interface

Examples of user interface designs are everywhere. The home screen of your smartphone is a UI through which you can look for apps or messages. How your keyboard and trackpad (or mouse) control commands on your computer is also an example of UI design.

UI does not only involve digital screens or graphical design, it often also extends to other sensory details like audio and touch. UI designs usually include at least two senses to be considered successful. For aspiring designers, a UI design portfolio is a great way to show clients and employers that you have innovative ideas about how a user interface can engage user senses while making product or service interaction a pleasant experience.

UI Design Jobs

UI combines creativity and technology, aesthetics and functionality. It is the perfect job for those who enjoy using all their skills — creative and technical — to develop new ways to engage users and help companies achieve their goals. And, given how much time we spend online, it’s not surprising that every year, there are more and more UI design jobs available. In fact, according to LightcastTM Analyst 2021 data, user interface designer demand is projected to grow by 12 percent annually through the next decade.

Those who want to pivot into a UI design career often come from a variety of backgrounds — creative or technical. Some of the most common career transitions to UI design jobs include those from journalism, art, computer science or statistics backgrounds, though anyone with creativity and passion for UI can be successful.

With all that said, the most common UI design job is UI designer. But, what is a UI designer? These professionals work on the look and feel of the user interface, making it as accessible and aesthetically pleasing as possible. Many tech companies not only hire UI designers to design their website or app interfaces, but also to map out processes and determine the brand’s style translation into the interface. Since consistency is such an important aspect of UI design, a UI designer will often work with a team and a product manager to come up with the right colors, font and use of negative space to optimize the user experience with the product or service.

So much of our world lives on screens these days, and to make sure that UI design meets the demands of an ever-changing consumer market, a UI designer needs to think intuitively and uniquely about how a product works. The growing necessity for strong and engaging UI design has led to higher demand for UI designers. This rapidly expanding field needs new minds with fresh perspectives. Perhaps you’ll be the next UI design innovation leader.

Learn UI Design Today

No matter where you are in your career journey — whether just graduating from a boot camp or pivoting mid-career — you can begin a career in UI design. A traditional degree is not required and there are a variety of employment options in the field. What’s more, you can learn UI design while still employed in your current job.

Many aspiring UI designers learn UI design online in a virtual classroom setting through UI boot camps. Many UI boot camps will also teach UX, which can provide the experience necessary for a full-time career in UI, helping aspiring UI designers to better understand the teams they’ll be working with and how to best support overall UX/UI goals. UX/UI boot camps allow learners to gain the in-demand skills employers need while reinforcing those skills through real-world team projects that can then populate their professional portfolios. In addition, flexible schedules and the ability to learn UI design in as little as 24 weeks are significant benefits as well.

Interested in learning more and pursuing a career in UI design? Consider enrolling in Berkeley UX/UI Boot Camp to begin preparing for your new career today!

User Interface Design: A Complete Guide FAQs

A user interface (UI) is the meeting point between a user and a machine product or service. This could be anything from a smartphone to an ATM. Even an alarm clock has a UI. The UI is the aesthetic perception of the interface, including font, color, sound and overall feel.

A UI designer is responsible for the aesthetic nature of a user interface, as well as the development of a consistent brand look throughout that interface. The UI designer’s role is to work alongside UX designers and project managers to create an interface that is intuitive, seamless and enjoyable. The UI designer often creates and oversees multiple versions, or prototypes, of an interface until the final version is decided upon and executed.

There are three main types of user interface design:

Graphical User Interface (GUI): In this type of design, users interact with visual representations, such as icons on a PC desktop, to open programs and initiate activities.

Voice User Interface (VUI): By speaking commands or questions, users are able to interact with a variety of products and services. The most commonly used VUI is associated with “smart assistants” such as Alexa or Siri.

Gesture-Based Interfaces: In this type of interface, users interact with products and services through bodily motions in virtual 3D spaces. Examples include virtual reality gaming or training exercises.

Good UI design will vary depending on the product or service offered but, in general, a good UI is intuitive to use, consistent throughout from an aesthetic perspective, visually appealing and provides user autonomy.

Summary

UI design is everywhere around you, from your smartphone to the microwave you’ll use to heat up your leftovers. The industry is rapidly growing and changing with plenty of room for creativity and innovation. For those ready to embrace a creative challenge, consider enrolling in Berkeley UX/UI Boot Camp to kickstart your career in UI design today!

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