According to businessdictionary.com, USER INTERFACE (UI) is defined as the “visual part of a computer application or operating system through which a user interacts with a computer or a software.”
In other words, user interface creation is a discipline of computer/digital design that focuses on anticipating what users want/need and engineering an experience that gives them that in the simplest, most user-friendly way possible.
A Little Bit Of Background
Back in the 70s, in the inception of the computer era, graphics, icons, dropdown menus, etc. weren’t a thing. In fact, computers weren’t easy to use in the slightest. To work a computer you had to understand how to write and read code. It wasn’t until 1981 that the Xerox Star became the very first personal computer with graphical user interface (GUI) options. The Xerox Star pulled out all the stops – windows, menus, icons – and it allowed users a brand new, easier-to-navigate computer experience. For the first time, normal people could utilize computers sans reliance on knowledge of code. As a result, computers became much more accessible, and when Apple Computer came along this only escalated. In 1984, when Apple released the Macintosh (introduced by the iconic Super Bowl commercial), the computer era had its first commercially successful user-interface-centric personal computer and the rest is history.
UI & The People
Once a GUI became a necessary component of computers, the way in which computers were devised had to change. Cue the birth of the user interface designer. Since the 80s, user interface (UI) has become a key aspect of systems, applications, and products (SAP) of every sort. UI is not just a recommended facet of digital success these days; it is a necessity, and must bring together three key components:
- Visual Design (how an SAP looks)
- Interaction Design (how a user interacts with and navigates through an SAP)
- Information Architecture (how an SAP’s information is laid out)
The Heart Of UI
The most important thing to remember when designing user interface is to adhere to natural predilection and train of thought. What I mean by that is: put yourself in the minds of the users. The best UI understands user goals, preferences, and tendencies, and then gives the people what they want. And in terms of train of thought, keep these questions in mind when designing your user interface:
- If users are on your SAP and want to access certain information, where would they look?
- What would make their lives easier?
- How can you play to their behavior to take them to the right places?
Think of your users as Lewis and Clarke and user interface as the archetypal Pocahontas that every explorer needs when navigating new terrain. In the digital sense, utilize those three aforementioned elements (visual design, interaction design, and information architecture) to engage your users and keep them from getting lost in the metaphoric woods.
UI Best Practices
With the heart of UI and its three main components in mind, here are a few specific things you can do to maximize your user interface.
- Be Consistent: Create patterns for how your SAP works using common elements and layouts throughout, so that your user can get comfortable with navigation and thus have an efficient, easy experience.
- Keep It Simple: SAPs with the best user interfaces don’t try to complicate things. Don’t crowd your SAP with unnecessary elements and use clear, concise language and labeling.
- Strategic Design Choices: When considering the user interface for your SAP, employ colors, textures, sizes, fonts, text arrangements, and spatial relationships between different elements of the SAP to direct users to areas of importance and help Pocahontas them in the right direction (and yes, I am using Pocahontas as a verb here).
- Anticipate Needs: Wherever you are able, reduce the work users have to do and make their lives easier. Whether that means pre-populating a form or making a contact email clickable so they can write a message straight away, help them along whenever you can.
By The People, For The People
In the 70s and 80s, GUI came about because designers wanted to make computers more accessible to the average person. That foundational idea still holds true for the reason UI is so important today. If you want more people to access your SAP and navigate it with ease and enjoyment, you need to design it with user interface at the forefront of your mind.
It kind of goes back to that Golden Rule that so many of us have heard since kindergarten – treat others how you want to be treated. Design the kind of SAP experience for your users that you would want other designers to make for you.