What Is UI Design? Definition, Tips, Best Practices

Written by Coursera Staff • Updated on

Explore UI design principles and tips to create great UI with the following article.

[Featured image] Developers share UI design notes on a whiteboard.

What is UI?

UI stands for user interface and is the point of contact between humans and computers. Anything a user interacts with is a part of the user interface. For example, screens, sounds, overall style, and responsiveness are all elements of UI.  A user interface involves the following four components:

  1. Navigational elements: Navigational elements help users navigate an interface. Examples of navigational elements in UI include slide bars, search fields, and back arrows. 

  2. Input controls: On-page elements that enable users to input information are input controls. Buttons, checkboxes, and text fields are all examples of input controls. 

  3. Informational components: Informational components communicate information to the user. A progress bar beneath a video or tutorial is an example of an informational component. 

  4. Containers: Containers organise content into easily digestible sections. Rather than listing every subheading underneath a tab, a container element like an accordion menu may hide or show content. 

UI vs. UX

UI design and user experience (UX) design are often confused with each other and sometimes mistakenly used interchangeably. While UI and UX share some similarities, there are some important distinctions, as we've outlined below: 

Advantages of VMsDisadvantages of VMs
Portability. VMs allow users to move systems to other computing environments easily.Infected VMs. It can be risky to create VMs from weak host hardware. An improperly structured host system may spread its OS bugs to VMs.
Speed. Creating a VM is much faster than installing a new OS on a physical server. VMs can also be cloned, OS included.Server sprawl. The ability to create virtual machines can quickly lead to a crowded network. It’s best to monitor the creation of VMs to preserve computational resources.
Security. VMs help provide an extra layer of security because they can be scanned for malware. They also enable users to take snapshots of their current states. If an issue arises, users can review those snapshots to trace it and restore the VM to a previous version.Complexity. System failures can be challenging to pinpoint in infrastructure with multiple local area networks (LANs).

What is UI design?

User interface design is crafting a digital product's appearance, interactivity, and overall feel. UI designers are responsible for how an interface looks and behaves. UI design can determine whether a user has a positive experience with a product, so it’s essential for companies and creators to familiarise themselves with UI design best practices.  

3 main types of UI design

Many different types of UI design exist. The chart below compiles a few of the most popular and well-known. 

3 Main types of UI designDefinition

Graphical user interface (GUI)

A graphical user interface allows users to interact with a device through graphical icons. Typically, interactions are facilitated through a mouse, trackpad, or some other point-and-click tool. Your laptop’s desktop or home screen is an example of a GUI.

Voice user interface (VUI)

Words and syntax play the most crucial role in voice user interfaces. VUI uses speech recognition to understand voice commands. Notable examples of VUI include iPhone’s Siri, Google Home’s “hey google” feature, and Amazon’s Alexa.

Menu-driven interface

Menu-driven interfaces provide users with command options via a list or a menu. These commands can present themselves in full-screen or as a pop-up or drop-down. Common examples of menu-driven interfaces include ATMs and digital parking meters.

Additional types of UI design include touchscreen user interface and form-based user interface. Touchscreen user interfaces are GUIs that use touchscreen technology rather than a mouse or stylus. Form-based user interfaces use text boxes, checkboxes, and other informational components to enable users to fill out electronic forms. 

Tips for excellent UI design

Great UI design goes unnoticed. Simplicity, familiarity, and consistency are a few essential principles for a UI designer to keep in mind. Consider the following UI design tips from industry experts like Apple and Google.

  • Format content to fit the screen of the intended device. Users should not need to zoom or scroll horizontally to view the entirety of a page’s content. 

  • Ensure adequate contrast between the background and page elements like text to increase legibility. 

  • Alignment doesn’t just apply to text. Buttons and images must also align properly to demonstrate relevance and relativity to users. 

  • High image resolution is essential for all image assets. 

  • Make sure your UI design is responsive. Whether your user is viewing the UI on a large screen, small screen, portrait mode, or landscape mode, it should be easily readable and manoeuvrable. 

Key principles of UI design

An easy way to recall the fundamental principles of UI design is to learn the four c’s:

  • Control: The users should be in control of the interface. 

  • Consistency: Use common elements to make your UI predictable and easy to navigate, even for novice users.

  • Comfortability: Interacting with a product should be an effortless, comfortable experience. 

  • Cognitive load: It’s critical to be mindful of bombarding users with content. Be as clear and concise as possible.

UI accessibility

Accessibility is another crucial aspect of UI design. To accomplish the four c’s, each must be true for every user. Those with low vision or other disabilities should be able to navigate a UI without difficulty. For example, many people use screen readers and other accessibility tools to browse the web or use applications. 

Make sure adaptability features are presented to the user right away. Settings corresponding to these features should also be easy to find. For a comprehensive approach, consider collecting feedback from a wide range of users regarding your UI. This practice can help you examine a UI’s accessibility from several perspectives. 

UI design tools

It is essential to have the right tools and technology to support your UI design efforts. In the table below, we've outlined five UI design tools and listed the cost, features, and star rating on G2, a website where users review and discover new software programs.

UI design toolsCostFeaturesG2 score
FigmaStarts for freeAdvanced drawing tools, auto layout, styles, plugins and widgets, sketch import, interactive prototypes4.7/5
InDesign£19.97/monthAuto-styling, supports new graphics formats, task automation, duplicate pages and spreads4.6/5
Sketch£9/monthBuilt-in spell check, color support, symbols, styles, color variables, browser prototype testing, plugins, multi-scale exports4.5/5
Adobe XD£9.98/monthThird-party integrations, fast prototyping, collaboration capabilities, unlimited prototypes and design specs4.3/5
Balasmiq£9/month after free trialUI components and icons, drag and drop, export files to .PNG or .PDF, keyboard shortcuts, reusable symbols4.2/5

Build your UI design skills with Coursera

Expand your digital design knowledge with the Google UX Design Professional Certificate. This program is designed for UX designers, UI designers, and similar roles or for those seeking to enter these roles and have you job-ready within six months. Upon completion, gain exclusive access to career resouces like resume review, interview prep, and career support. 

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