What is User Interface (UI) Design?
User Interface (UI) Design is the process of making websites, applications, or software user-friendly and delightful to use. To do this, UI Designers carefully consider the visual layout and interactions of all elements on a screen, including grids, typography, and colour. UI Design also visually communicates the presentation and interactivity of a website or app through buttons, dropdowns, checkboxes or an icon that a user swipes, taps, or clicks.
As UI Design is focused on creating seamless and visually pleasing experiences for the user, it is often attributed to the second half of the design process (also known as the Double Diamond). This part of the design process is known as “designing things right”. Here UI Designers develop and deliver solutions that were framed up in the first part of the design process.
The first half of the Double Diamond process involves research and iterative development to discover and define an insightful, human-centred solution. Ultimately, both sides of the end-to-end design process involve determining the correct solution to create and then executing it well. It is through this process where both User Experience (UX) Design and UI Design come into play.
What’s the difference between UI and UX Design?
Though closely related and often used synonymously, UI and UX Design are not the same. Where UX Design is concerned with the usability of a feature, it provides the user-centric pathways that UI Design visually communicates.
UX Design provides the underlying rationale and research that allows a product (including its UI features) to work smoothly. Both UX and UI considerations are crucial for the development of a product, but the process behind each role varies — UX applies analytical skills to its research and design, and UI lends itself closer to the actual graphics and visual elements of a users’ interactions and responsiveness.
If we were to take the example of getting from destination A to B by booking a ride with Uber:
- UX Design would be the process in how the app is structured, how easy it is for you to set up your account, book a ride, or navigate your map. Does everything work and do what you expect it to?
- UI Design would be the icons, colours, fonts, and how buttons, dropdowns, or search bars look and feel on the Uber app. Is the visual layout of the app aesthetically pleasing and logical?
As demonstrated in this example, UX Design is the framework or guide for a digital product, whereas UI Design is the visual representation and interactive touch points a user experiences.
Both UX and UI Designers need to work collaboratively with one another to provide the roadmap of how elements on a website or app will interact, and then how these elements are visually produced.
As technology advances, the scope of UI Design is still expected to expand. Collaboration between UX Designers, UI Designers and even Graphical User Interfaces (GUIs) which include voice-command devices and chatbots, will become more common.
Basic principles of good UI Design
Though it may seem like common sense, one of the most important principles of UI Design is to keep the user — us humans — at the heart of the solution. To ensure comfort and ease of logical flow, some key considerations include:
Predictability and consistency
For every action, there should be an appropriate reaction. Ensure buttons and other common elements such as sliders or drop downs are intuitive and act as a user predicts them to. An example of this is on mobile devices, where users expect a pinch or a double tap of the screen to zoom into an image or text.
The functionality of specific elements should work consistently throughout a website or app, and should not change throughout the user’s experience. Consistent colours, fonts, and styles should also be used not just to ensure a pleasing aesthetic, but because varying visuals could be jarring for the user.
When determining the layout of a solution, it’s also beneficial to design with real-world references. A key example of that is a recycle bin icon: it’s the place that stores deleted files, or a speaker symbol is used to adjust the volume. Also, be sure to make any action reversible through a back button or an ‘undo’ function.
High discoverability is a crucial part of good UI Design, referring to how easy it is for a user to understand your website or app. A user should be able to move throughout your website or app smoothly and not have to go searching for items such as their shopping cart, help page, or login. Icons and headers should also have clear labels or universal iconography.
Simplicity and minimalism
Simplicity is king, and cleanliness and minimalism will always outweigh any fancy design. With UI Design, less is more, and each element or interaction on your digital solution should serve a functional purpose and not just an aesthetic one.
Where possible, reduce the number of steps or clicks it takes a user to perform an action. When a user performs an action, elements on the page should indicate that an action has taken place such as the changing colour of a button clicked or providing a thank you message after the completion of a complex task (such as completing a form).
Hierarchy and readability
Our brains have limited cognitive functioning at any given time, and therefore UI elements must follow a logical structure. For example, in most Western countries, reading from left to right is the norm, and therefore, text on a website or app should flow from top to bottom, left to right.
Another important note in the readability of a digital solution is to ensure accessibility. Could someone who is visually impaired or with special needs access and easily use your website or app? Have you considered key accessibility concerns to ensure that your design is inclusive?
How do I become a UI Designer?
For many UI Designers, a transition from UX Design or other design-related careers is not uncommon. Many UI Designers are hybrid UX/UI Designers or have come from backgrounds in:
- Graphic Design
- Industrial Design
- Web Development
- Product Management
That being said, the pathway to becoming a UI Designer is a non-linear one, and many people who have entered the field have come from an array of diverse backgrounds and not just design.
Getting into the UI Design Industry
Regardless of whatever background you’ve come from, transitioning into the UI Design industry can be daunting at first. If you’re struggling and not sure where to start, some of our recommendations to beginning a career in UI Design include:
- Doing research: Whether it’s through blogs, videos, or other content online, explore more into the UI Design field. Is this something you would enjoy and are interested in?
- Get active: Attend meetups, events, or online groups to learn from your peers and grow your network. You may never know who might be the link between you and your next role. You can check out some of our UX or UI events here.
- Understand the industry: The average UI Designer salary in Australia is AUD $91,000 a year and there are over 1,000 roles available. With this wealth of opportunity, it’s worth looking at industry trends, checking what employers are looking for and trying to tailor your skills towards niche industries.
- Expand your skillset: One of the quickest ways to equip yourself with the skills and digital acumen to become a UI Designer is through short-term education. Our UI Design course can equip you with the knowledge and experience in design tools such as UXPin, Sketch, and Figma to bring your UI Design skills to life, and increase your employability through your portfolio.