What is user interface design?
In the past 30 years, the ways in which we interact with content have changed significantly. No longer do we simply pick up a piece of paper and read from left to right — we click, we surf, we roll over, and we search. As these systems have become more complicated it has become increasingly important to make them seem easy. This is the purpose of user interface design.
User interface design, or user experience design, is the process of designing how a user interacts with a given system, whether that system be a website, an application, or a piece of software. It has a hand in all aspects of interaction — how a user perceives a system, how they learn it, and how they use it. While user interface design is primarily associated with digital products, the philosophy behind the field is much older than websites and software. As soon as humans started building machines that required people to operate, someone had to think about how this operation could be carried out as smoothly as possible.
Why is it important?
The goal of user interface design is to make the user’s interaction as simple and efficient as possible. Improving the usability and appeal of a system increases the likelihood that it will be accepted by its audience and positively impacts the overall experience a person has with a system’s provider. That’s right — user interface design is still very much a factor in branding a company. If a user has a poor experience interacting with a company’s website or product, they will automatically transfer that feeling to the company itself.
User interface design doesn’t only consider how someone will interact with a system, but how we want them to interact with it. This is why websites and software are such powerful communication tools — user interface design allows designers to incorporate business and marketing goals into the system and guide users towards pre-determined actions.
How is it done?
Great user interface design often goes unnoticed. If you notice how you’re interacting with a system, you are having to think about it, and this is precisely what user interface design is trying to avoid (preferring that your attention is focused on the content and not the vehicle). However, while the end result may look easy, the process for arriving there is quite a bit more complicated. Many disciplines fall under the umbrella of user interface design, but these are the ones that we typically focus on at Johnny Lightning Strikes Again:
- Goal Setting (Determining what the business should want the user to do)
- User Analysis (Determining who the desired user is and what will satisfy/appeal to them)
- Information Architecture Design (Determining the informational flow of the system, often resulting in a navigation map)
- Prototyping (Determining the functional layout of the interface, often resulting in wireframes or a “blueprint” of the system)
- Usability Testing (Determining, through human testing, whether the user experience is a positive one)
- Graphic Interface Design (Determining the “look and feel” of the system)
Every decision that is made in user interface design influences the emotional response of the user, and how positive a user’s experience is with the system is critical to the success of the website or product. For that reason, every decision must be made in an attempt to create a sense of positive interactivity and feedback, whether it be through icons, animations, sound, color, or images.
Where can I see examples of it?
Everywhere. When done right, almost every aspect of a website interface or piece of software has been carefully considered in order to influence the emotional response of the user. The user having a positive experience, after all, is critical to the success of the website or product. As you’re interacting with a system, pay attention to what is being done to create a sense of positive interactivity and feedback. Are icons, animations, or sounds teaching you how to use it and where to find information? Is the look and feel of the interface appealing to you and communicating something about the system’s provider? Is the layout of the interface guiding you towards a particular goal? If the answer to these questions is yes, you’re likely enjoying the handiwork of a great user interface designer.
For examples of user interface design in our work, please click here.