What is UI design exactly?

Wireframes. Mockups. HTML. Fonts. Elements. Users. If you’re familiar with user interface design, these terms will be your bread and butter.

An integral part of any website or application, user interface design is also arguably one of the most important. This is because your design is what your users see and interact with. If your site or app functions poorly and looks terrible, that’s what your users are going to remember.

But isn’t UX design and UI design the same thing? Or is there just an extremely blurred line between the two? What’s involved with UI design and, more importantly, what makes good design?

What is UI design exactly?

If you’re wondering how to test UI on your website, it’s a good idea to first learn some of the differences between UX and UI design. Although UI design and UX design look similar when written down, they’re actually two totally separate things. However, they should most definitely complement each other.

UX design, according to Nielsen Norman Group, “encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products.” Meanwhile, UI design focuses more on a user’s interaction, the overall design, look and feel of a system. The two still sound similar, right?

For those of you still trying to wrap your ahead around the difference, Nielsen Norman Group has a great analogy up on its site that helps to explain it: “As an example, consider a website with movie reviews. Even if the UI for finding a film is perfect, the UX will be poor for a user who wants information about a small independent release if the underlying database only contains movies from the major studios.” This just goes to show the complementary relationship between the two and why it’s so important.

User interface was popularized in the early 1970s, partly thanks to Fuji Xerox’s ‘Xerox Alto Workstation’ — an early personal computer dubbed “the origin of the PC”.

This machine used various icons, multi windows, a mouse, and e-mail, which meant that some sort of design and design principles were needed to create consistency for the future. It was here that human-centred UI was born.

Web Design Lytham UI design also covers graphical user interface design (GUI design). A GUI is the software or interface that works as the medium between a user and the computer. It uses a number of graphical elements, such as screen cursors, menus, and icons so that users can easily navigate a system. This is also something that has stemmed from Fuji Xerox back in the late 1970s and early 1980s.

Since then, UI has developed quickly and so has its design principles. When the Xerox Alto Workstation was first born, Fuji Xerox came up with eight of its own design principles. These were:

Metaphorically digitize the desk environment
Operating on display instead of entering on keyboard
What you see is what you get
Universal but fewer commands
Same operation for the same job at different places
Operating computers as easily as possible
No need to transfer to different jobs
System customized as desired by users
Over time, these principles have evolved and now you’ll likely find many more added to this list. Here are just a few of the most important ones identified in “Characteristics of graphical and web user interfaces” by Wilbert Galitz.
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