UI stands for User Interface. It can be described as the visual element of the computer operating system or application. It allows users to command the software and determines how the operated machine displays feedback information for the users. Well designed and constructed User Interface allows users to operate computer efficiently and with relative ease.

There are 3 main types of User Interface Designs:

  • Command Language Input

This design requires the user to know and be familiar with specific commands and instructions to operate the software.

  • Menu Type

This one is much simpler to use as it only requires the user to choose the command from the list displayed on the screen.

  • Graphical User Interface (GUI)

This is the design widely used nowadays in both phone and computer applications and requires the user to select and click on a particular icon on the screen.

The UI design is not limited to computers and phones. Other examples of User Interface design might be hand tools, heavy machinery operating controls or industrial production process controls.

It is also worth mentioning that part of the User Interface may be Human-Machine Interface (HMI) machines. These machines allow to physically input information and control the software by using hardware such as a keyboard or a mouse. This also allows the machine to give the information back to the user using the output hardware – a computer monitor or speakers. Other UI layers can interact with additional human senses, such as: Tactile UI (touch), Visual UI (sight), Auditory UI (sound) or Olfactory UI (smell).

Designing a good User Interface is a complex process and to better understand what does UI mean, let’s take a closer look into the process of creating one:

How is great User Interface created?

It is impossible to create an ideal User Interface without deep understanding of its future users, their goals and abilities of using software, for which the UI design is being planned. This information is vital and much needed to create the visual side of the system.

1. User research

The team behind the design needs to find out who will be the end customer of their product and in what ways they are going to use it. They need to research and understand the users’ needs and the problems that they might encounter. The UI designers also need to know how advanced are the users’ skills and knowledge when it comes to using the systems.
This stage is extremely important to the whole process because good and comprehensive research maximises the future success of the User Interface.

2. Design and Prototyping

When all the research is done and the information is compiled and ready to be used, the team now can move on to the creative part of the process. First they create sketches and wireframes, which define the overall view of the design. They can be easily changed or revised, which is often the case at this stage.
Based on the final sketches, the team starts to create a prototype of the final design. While the prototype hasn’t got the full functionality of the end product, it usually gives the researchers / customers / users the ability to check the functionality of the design by clicking on certain elements and therefore simulate how the end product will work. It is still relatively easy to make some changes at this stage.
The prototyping stage is not obligatory in the process of creation of UI, however it is invaluable in case of the more complex applications. The final step in this stage is creating mockups. These provide the first view of all graphic elements that will be used in the end product.

3. Evaluation

The evaluation process actually takes place throughout the whole UI design, from the very beginning of creating first sketches to the very end when the customer is shown the final design. The project is constantly reviewed and adapted to provide better experience for the users and also to fulfill goals of the future owners of the product.
The most important evaluation takes place when the final design is in place to make sure that all of the ideas and instructions have been properly fulfilled and that the whole design hasn’t got any errors or mistakes, which will be much harder to remove after the development process has started.

What is the difference between UX and UI?

The process of creating the perfect UI is extremely important as this is the only part of the system that customers can actually lay their eye on, however without a good and comprehensive User Experience (UX) Design even the best UI can fail. While UI designers concentrate on how the end product looks, the UX designers need to comprehend how the product feels to users. They have to make sure that there is a logical flow between different parts of the design.

As you can see, even though the differences between UX and UI are quite significant, the two are also very similar when it comes to output. Therefore, it is common for the companies to combine roles of UI/UX designers as both processes should run simultaneously and fulfill each other requirements.

User Experience designers make the product useful for the users, while User Interface creators make it visually good looking and easy on the eye. Good UX layout can help users to easily and efficiently achieve their goals, when a beautiful UI can attach them emotionally to the product. If you want to know how UI designers create such works of art you can read our post on the topic.

Image representing the work environment of a UI designer to help understand what does UI mean.

Both UI and UX are extremely important in successful design, however these are not the only things to conducer while creating new software. In addition to UI and UX designers, the design team can also consists of an Interaction Designer who is responsible for any animation designs that are used in the project. Besides them, there can also be a Visual Designer who creates the small graphic details which are then added to the design by UI designers.

Front-end developers combine the efforts of all the designers mentioned above and “code everything together” to create a usable end product, which can be shown to the future owner.

This list is by all means non-exhaustive, as there are many people responsible for creating the software of the computer systems and applications that we use every day. Of course, the more complex the system is, the more people have to work to develop its elements.