What Is A User Interface, And What Are The Elements That Comprise one?

User interface (or UI) design has grown substantially over the past few years, and has blossomed into one of the most creative, innovative and exciting fields in tech. But while you may have seen the job title “UI designer” crop up on job boards, you might be wondering: what actually is a user interface, and what might I find within one?

In this blog post, we’ll uncover what a user interface actually is, and the elements that comprise one. We’ll also give you an overview of what UI design is, why it’s so important, and what tasks you might expect to carry out as a UI designer.



1. What is UI design, and why is it important? 

Before we dive into the anatomy of a user interface, let’s start off by taking a look at the field of UI design—and why it’s become such a vital tool for connecting with your users. 

UI design, also known as user interface design, refers to the aesthetic design of all visual elements of a digital product’s user interface; namely the product’s presentation and interactivity. UI design is often confused with UX design, also known as user experience design. While UI and UX designers work closely together, the two fields refer to separate aspects of the design process.

UX design is the process of enhancing user satisfaction by improving the usability and accessibility of a product, webpage, or app. On the other hand, UI design is the design of the product’s interface—in other words, what the user actually sees when they interact with the product. From color schemes to typography, UI designers are responsible for the product’s look and feel. UI design involves anticipating the user’s preferences and creating an interface that both understands and fulfills them. UI design not only focuses on aesthetics, but also maximizes the responsiveness, efficiency, and accessibility of a website.

Still a tad confused? This blog post sets the record straight on the differences between UX and UI design. 

As of January 2019, there were over 1.94 billion websites in existence. There are currently over 4 million mobile apps available for download on Android and iOS combined, and UI designers are responsible for designing the visual, interactive elements for all of them. So how did UI design evolve into one of the most popular and innovative fields in tech?

With the birth of Windows 1.0 in the 1980s, it quickly became apparent that having a digital interface that was appealing to the user was paramount in crafting a memorable and enjoyable user experience. Despite this revelation, it wasn’t until 2007—the year that Apple disrupted the tech industry with the first iPhone—that the concept of UI design was truly revolutionized. With a user interface explicitly crafted for handheld devices that featured sophisticated touchscreen functionality, UI design would never be the same.

Today, most businesses recognize that an excellent user interface is vital for building customer loyalty and brand recognition. Customers don’t just enjoy well-designed products; they expect it. Good UI design draws in visitors, retains customers, and facilitates interactions between the user and your business. UI design, in a nutshell, can make or break the success of a product.



2. What does a UI designer do? 

UI design is a multidisciplinary field that requires UI designers to wear multiple hats as part of one role. While UI designers need a keen visual eye, there’s also a psychological aspect that many don’t consider to be a part of visual design. To design user-friendly interfaces, UI designers need to understand how people work—and how each visual, interactive element shapes their experience. Empathy, adaptability and communication are just a few of the key skills commonly attributed to UI designers. 

UI designers are ultimately responsible for making sure the application’s interface is attractive, visually stimulating, and in line with business goals. UI designers are also responsible for ensuring consistency across the board, and often create style guides that can be used throughout the business.

UI designers also have a crucial role to play in designing for accessibility and inclusion. From designing a suite of UI elements, such as buttons, icons, and scrollbars, choosing colors and typefaces, to regularly testing their designs through prototyping, UI designers carefully weigh up what each design choice means for the end user. At the same time, UI designers consider the size and scalability of various UI elements, and whether there is adequate spacing between touchpoints.

Reckon you’ve got what it takes to become a UI designer? Check out our 5-step guide on getting started in UI design. 




3. What is a user interface?

So now that we’ve explored the responsibilities of a UI designer, let’s dive into the nitty-gritty of what a user interface actually is.

Put simply, a user interface is the point of human-computer interaction and communication on a device, webpage, or app. This can include display screens, keyboards, a mouse, and the appearance of a desktop. User interfaces enable users to effectively control the computer or device they are interacting with. A successful user interface should be intuitive, efficient, and user-friendly. Which leads us to our next section…


4. What are some of the most important elements of a user interface? 

User interface elements are the parts we use to build interactive websites or apps. They provide touchpoints for the user as they navigate their way around; from buttons to scrollbars, to menu items and checkboxes.

User interface elements usually fall into one of the following four categories:

Input Controls

Input controls allow users to input information into the system. If you need your users to tell you what country they are in, for example, you’ll use an input control to let them do so.

Navigation Components

Navigational components help users move around a product or website. Common navigational components include tab bars on an iOS device and a hamburger menu on an Android.

Informational Components

Informational components share information with users. This includes notifications, progress bars, message boxes, and pop-up windows.

Containers

Containers hold related content together, such as accordions. An accordion is a vertically stacked list of items that utilizes show/hide functionality.

To find out more, read our ultimate glossary of the 32 user interface elements for UI designers!

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