What Is a GUI?

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Explore what a GUI (graphical user interface) is, how it differs from CLI (command-line interface), and what elements make up a GUI.

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A GUI (graphical user interface) is an interface between a user and a computer or website that employs a series of visual elements such as windows, icons, menus, cursors, and buttons to make computing commands. GUIs are intuitive, allowing users to navigate an operating system (OS) or software without extensive technical knowledge. 

GUIs differ from command-line interfaces (CLI), which require users to type commands. A GUI allows users to interact with a computer without the programming knowledge that CLI requires. This makes GUIs accessible to a wide range of users, allowing users to easily navigate a program or website and customize certain elements like font size and color. An example of a CLI is MS-DOS, and an example of a GUI is Microsoft Windows. Let’s take a closer look at what makes up a GUI.

Elements that make up a GUI

When using a GUI to make commands, users rely on WIMPS (windows, icons, menus, pointers, and scroll bars). This is the user interface toolkit and allows for the creation of the GUI. GUIs have various elements, including input controls, navigational components, informational components, and containers. Here is a list of some elements that make up a GUI:

  • Button: A button shows an action that can occur when pressed through an icon or text.

  • Dropdown list: This gives a user a series of mutually exclusive options that drop down from one button.

  • Window: A window is a rectangular display of the current program being used.

  • Icon: An icon is a hyperlinked, intuitive symbol to allow easy user navigation through programs, videos, files, and more.

  • Search field: A search field gives users a place to type in a word or phrase that will give back useful results.

  • Toolbar: A toolbar contains buttons, widgets, icons, search fields, and more in a row, often found at the bottom or top of a GUI.

  • Date and time pickers: These input controls give users a pop-up or drop-down menu to select a specific date and time and input into the program or software they are using.

  • Breadcrumbs: Breadcrumbs show a user where they are in a system by showing a series of folders or pages they have navigated at the top of a page. 

  • Pop-up window: A pop-up or modal window forces a user to input information into the window’s text box before it allows them to access the rest of the GUI.

  • Accordion: An accordion is a container that vertically stacks items in a manner so that, when clicked on, they display more information underneath. Items become visible or hidden when the user clicks on the label of the stack. 

Related terms

Learn more about UX with Coursera

On Coursera, you can continue exploring the world of user experience with the Google UX Design Professional Certificate. This course provides you with the tools needed to understand UX research, apply foundational concepts, and create prototypes to test and improve upon. 

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