User Interface Design 101

Hermione at Pangea.ai
Godwin Oluponmile
Published: 11.11.2022

A well-designed digital interface is vital to an organization and its end users. A mind-blowing User Interface (UI) design turns loyal visitors into customers.

The perks of design languages have gained importance over the years to improve customers' perception towards a brand. And thanks to technological advancements, various tools are available in a designer's arsenal to create a compelling and customer-friendly interface.

Read on to discover these tools and how to utilize them when designing your next UI.

Two people deciding how the user interface design of a mobile app will work.

What is User Interface Design?

UI design is building a visually appealing interface for websites, mobile applications, and software that's easily understandable, meaningful, and accessible to end users.

UI design is often mistaken for user experience (UX), but both have distinctive characteristics. UI design focuses on creating a visual layout that enables users to interact efficiently with the product. Conversely, UX design manages overall user satisfaction while interacting with the product.

Fundamentals of a Good UI Design

An effective User Interface design creates an environment that helps the end user achieve their desired objectives — fast. Of course, all projects aren’t alike. The requirements for designing a mobile app differ from that of a website. Yet, several UI design principles cut across all platforms. Here are 7 common ones.

Aesthetically Pleasing

Human-computer interaction occurs via the visual realm. The website becomes attractive to the end user when a design comprises visually appealing elements. While there’s a wide array of design elements to use, designers must ensure that every element of the interface helps the user to achieve the desired task. This eliminates the propensity for distraction or further confusion.

Clarity

UI design must be visually, linguistically, and conceptually explicit. When users are navigating your app or software, it should be free of ambiguity and unnecessary jargon. Users shouldn’t get confused when trying to perform a task. Provide conspicuous cues that make it easier for them to identify the critical section on your webpage or app. For instance, clickable elements are underlined text or bold buttons.

Comprehensibility

The interface should be comprehensive, seamlessly guiding users through every process without confusion. There are several ways to achieve this, and these are the common ones:

  • Arrange the elements on your page according to the order of importance. Large bold fonts tend to draw attention compared to smaller ones.
  • Use visual cues to guide users as they use your product.
  • Mirror the language of your target audience. This can be terminologies, workflow, interface concepts, or arrangements they are already familiar with.

Simplicity

Remember, less is more. Endeavor to keep clutter to the barest minimum. The system should only contain components that aid action and provide a clear pathway for navigation. Also, provide uniformity in design, fonts, and overall aesthetic. Avoid jargon and technical terms that may deter visitors from your product.

User control

Users love to feel like they're in control. In UI design, it’s essential that your product or service works for the users and guides them to take their desired action without a fuss. Here are a few tips that help:

  • Actions should be reversible and should result from the user’s request.
  • Provide feedback once an action is completed. For instance, a bold tick signifies success after the user places an order.
  • Use identifiable buttons, icons, and tabs. Users should not be confused about any feature on the screen.

Recognition

Human attention is greatly minimized. According to research at Chicago Medical School, we can only focus on a task for less than 9 seconds. Due to this, designers should use task-relevant components on an interface to aid users’ navigation. The tasks, display, and movement should be based on the user’s previous action or experience. This reduces mistakes and helps tasks to be completed faster.

Consistency

Consistency is the cardinal rule for all designs. Every component should operate similarly across the pages of the software or application. To do this, develop brand guidelines for typography and color schemes for consistency across all pages so that users don’t feel lost while using your product.

A group having a meeting with only their hands showing on a table deliberating how an app's user interface design 
will look.

UI Design Process

A great UI design starts with the proper steps. Here are 6 steps to help you create a meaningful and visually appealing UI design.

Understand the Business Objectives and Audience

The first and most crucial step of UI design is understanding the user and the product it's built to serve.

  • What are their characteristics?
  • How deep is their experience or knowledge of the product?
  • What is the company trying to achieve with the product?

Use questionnaires or surveys to gather opinions on user preferences. Also, consult the sales and marketing team for marketing resources since they have first-hand experience with the potential users. Another thing to consider is discussing with the product manager, developers, and stakeholders to understand the product deliverables better.

Conduct Competitor Research

The next step is analyzing the market to identify the latest trends. Competing products can be a source of inspiration for design elements used in the product. Sites such as Dribble and Behance are also ideal for getting design inspiration.

Define Screen and User Behavior

Can the screen elements be identified without reading the words used to identify them? You want to ensure that the website is easily accessible for the users. A well-designed screen reflects the needs and tasks of users and achieves the business objectives for which it is designed. There should be a consistent location of elements within the screen, and each must serve a purpose to the end users. For effectiveness, design a user flow that shows the user's journey while on your website or mobile application. Read more about this in the next step.

Sketch a Prototype

Sketch the user flow information on a paper or whiteboard. Once you have the right sketch, work on the wireframe. A wireframe is a low-fidelity prototype representing a skeletal structure of the interface. At this stage, share the prototype with stakeholders and other UI designers to ensure you’re on the right track.

Create a Design System

A design system is a collection or library of reusable elements, components, and principles used to build a product. This is highly helpful in UI design because it allows designers to replicate designs when required. It also ensures visual consistency across products, primarily if you work in a large-scale organization with several design teams. The significant elements in a design system include brand colors, imagery, UI components, and typography.

Create High Fidelity Prototypes

Create a high-fidelity prototype using the UI elements in the previous step. Typically, the hi-fi prototype contains all the components and is similar to the final product. At this stage, the stakeholders and other team members can test the product before it’s finally launched. Since the hi-fi prototype can be navigated, just like the actual product, UI designers can use it as a tool for usability testing. This helps to identify areas of improvement.

User Interface Design Best Practices

It's easy to be overwhelmed by the wealth of online information on how to design a great UI. In this section, we outlined a few practices common to professional UI designers. Feel free to adopt them in your design process.

  • Understand who you’re designing for and prioritize their needs.
  • Keep the interface free of clutter. Every component should help the user take the desired action.
  • Don't make the users think. Be clear with the names of pages, sections, or CTA (call to action) buttons.
  • Create consistent patterns in layout, language, and design. If users learn to navigate a site, they should find it easy to replicate the skill on other sites.
  • Use colors and textures to your advantage. Understand that this can make or break your UI design. All the elements on the interface should have significant contrast to aid readability.
  • Use common elements that users are familiar with.
  • Strategically use typography to create hierarchy, and increase clarity and readability. Use it to bring prominence to the essential elements in your design.
  • Carefully place items within a page to reduce distraction.
  • Create defaults that help users perform tasks faster.
  • Don’t be overwhelmed by the excessiveness of UI design rules. Understand the goal behind every principle and leverage them as guidelines to spark your creativity.

FAQs:

Q1. What are the 4 types of user interfaces?

The 4 common types of user interface are command line interface, menu-driven interface (MDI), graphical user interface (GUI), and touch screen graphical user interface (TGUI).

The CLI requires users to type an action into the command line. Then, a list of successive commands is retrieved from the computer file. The MDI provides a list of commands in a listicle format. This can be displayed on the screen or pop-up menu.

GUI and TGUI are similar because they involve clicking icons, buttons, or other graphical elements to take a specific action. However, GUI enables users to interact with the interface using a mouse, while TGUI allows users to use their fingers or a stylus.

Q2. What are the 3 Golden Rules of UI design?

The 3 golden rules of UI design, according to Mandal, are the following:

  • Lessen cognitive load
  • Put users in control
  • Make the interface consistent

Q3. What is the thumb rule of design?

The rule of thumb of design — also called design heuristics — are evaluators that are compared to the UI to determine whether they comply with the standard usability factors. Jakob Nielsen and Rolf Molich, prominent usability experts, compiled a list of guidelines in 1990 that are still in use today. These UI design guidelines can be applied to any project and have been adopted by a few Fortune-500 companies such as Apple, Google, and Adobe.

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