The Importance of U and I

September 15, 2014 by Patrick Harris, originally for Six Degrees
What is UI?

User interface design – it is everywhere. We use it every day to navigate, research and formulate opinions … and most of the time we don’t even realize it.

User interface, or UI, is essentially the interaction between the user and the parts of an application. From a website to a mobile app to a software program, everything in our computers and devices possesses an interface, allowing us to access the information we want. As the end user, we shape the framework for what constitutes a successful interface design.

What can it do?

Often the first thing a user sees is an organization or company’s website or app. If the user finds the website or app too hard to navigate or too complicated to figure out, even the best product or business in the world may go unnoticed. On the flip side, an outstanding interface will tell the user that the company cares about its product or business enough to really put thought into the user’s experience and impressions.

The goal

Optimal UI design allows the user a smooth and pleasant experience in navigation without ever having to question how to get back to a previous place or how to navigate to another. A truly perfect user interface will interact with the user throughout the experience. The ideal UI is a balance between ultra-attractive visual appearance and interactivity while remaining easy to use and navigate.

How it is changing and what we need to do

In recent years, the thought of designing interfaces solely for computers has changed. Not only do we have to consider multiple OS platforms and browsers, but also the growing popularity of other devices. It has forced us to think about things like mobile devices, tablets and even gaming consoles.

For a modern interface to cover all of these bases successfully and still present the same great experience – regardless of the device – some things need to be considered:
• Visual hierarchy
• Modular design
• Responsive design
• Visualization of the site in multiple device windows
• Consistency of common UI elements (e.g., buttons, navigation, icons, etc.)
• Strategic use of type and color

User interface is not user experience

Seriously, it isn’t.

Far too often, UI and user experience, or UX, are lumped into the same category. In reality, UI is a small component of what makes up the complete experience.

Think of UX as a bowl of cereal and all its contents – bowl, spoon, milk and cereal.

Think of UI as the spoon.

You could have a bowl of the most delicious cereal and the freshest milk, but it won’t do much good if your spoon has a big hole in it – which is why we need to make sure we eliminate the hole in the spoon to make the overall interaction work!

For a more technical, less breakfast-related breakdown, check out this link.

Keep them coming back

The key to all of this is keeping the user engaged and happy throughout their time within the interface. A user will most likely remember great sensory content, but the ease of use and simplicity of good user interface will guarantee that they come back.

UI design is a quiet but important player in the UX arena. Without great UI design, our views of the Web and other applications would be much different, and the digital world would be one big, confusing, ugly mess.