What is user interface design? The complete guide to getting started with UI

13 minutes to read • Published 14 December 2020 • App development, Responsive web design, UX design

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All websites and apps should have one core goal – to attract visitors and to keep them engaged. Any conversions that may be sought are a natural consequence of this. This means that websites and apps need an aesthetically pleasing, user-friendly design. This why user interface design is important. 

A great user interface design will make life easy for visitors to a website or app users. It helps them know exactly where to click, what they need to read and why they should stick around. You only get one opportunity to make a first impression. The purpose of user interface design is to ensure that this initial reaction is positive.

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Contents

What is user interface design?

User interface design involves anticipating the wants, needs and preferences of a target audience and ensuring that users feel compelled to stick around rather than bounce and investigate what the competition has to offer.

Is user interface design the same as user experience design?

Not quite, though some people erroneously conflate these two terms. As discussed, user interface design is about appearance. User experience design, meanwhile, is more than skin deep.

What user interface design tools are the best?

Multiple external tools are utilised by professional user interface designers. Popular products include Adobe XD, Axure, Figma, InVision, and Sketch.

How do you design a user interface?

Effective user interface design in a five-step process. Let’s talk through these stages in turn.

What are great user interface design examples?

Medium, Airbnb and Pitch are three examples of good UI design.

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What is user interface design?

The internet has come a long way since the early days of Tripod and GeoCities. in the 21st Century, design is hugely important to users. Life is too short to waste on sites with unappealing, confusing layouts, while apps that are not intuitive will rapidly be uninstalled. Users want an easy opportunity to conclude their business and to enjoy themselves while doing so. A superior user interface design makes this possible.

Superior user interface design makes it easy for users to understand and interact with features. The user interface of your website or app should pique curiosity, capture imagination and convince users to complete a call to action – whether that’s making a purchase, signing up for a newsletter or anything else that will benefit a business.

This description may be giving the misleading impression that user interface design is as simple as applying a fresh lick of paint to a homepage and applying a few eye-catching images. The reality is much more complex. User interface design involves anticipating the wants, needs and preferences of a target audience and ensuring that users feel compelled to stick around rather than bounce and investigate what the competition has to offer. 

What’s more, the user interface design must maximise accessibility and response time on a website. Elegant visuals cannot slow down the loading speed of a website. 46% of consumers immediately abandon slow-loading sites, never to return. Google also penalises slowpokes with a lower page ranking and is threatening to name and shame such unacceptable practice. 

User interface design is also linked to the information architecture of a site or app. Efficient and effective user interface design ensures that every page and action is clearly labelled and organised, in addition to being accessible.

Is user interface design the same as user experience design?

Not quite, though some people erroneously conflate these two terms. As discussed, user interface design is about appearance. User experience design, meanwhile, is more than skin deep. User experience design is concerned with nuts and bolts of how your website or app works, while also connecting to your marketing strategy

User experience is ultimately concerned with making a website or app intuitive and welcoming. In this regard, it’s similar to user interface design. Just as interface designers do not want a site to look clunky or outdated, user experience designers are concerned with ensuring it feels as logical and efficient as possible.

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Typically, user interface designers and user experience designers work hand in hand. All the aesthetic splendour in the world means little if a website or app cannot be navigated easily. That’s like having a Ferrari with no engine. Equally though, a great user experience with ugly design is like placing a Ferrari engine under the bonnet of a Fiat Multipla

So, while these two disciplines are related – and should be interconnected as much as possible – they are different skill sets. One is not more important than the other, which means that neither should be ignored. We will further touch upon the relationship between user interface design and user experience shortly.

What user interface design tools are the best?

We have established that bringing a skilled user interface designer into your business, whether as a permanent staff member or as a contractor, is a must. 

Even the most talented designer will not be able to do everything by themselves, though. Multiple external tools are utilised by professional user interface designers. Here are ten of our personal favourites:

You’ll notice at the top of this list that we referred to these as our personal favourites. That’s because, like all software, it all comes down to the chemistry between the designer and the tool. 

See also →  How to choose an app developer: checklist for finding an app development company

Each of these tools has different pros and cons, meaning they are more compatible with some types of hardware and working style than others. Have a chat with your designer and let them have input into which tools they like to use. Foisting unsuitable technology on somebody helps nobody.

How do you design a user interface? A step-by-step introduction

So, we have discussed why user interface design is important and recommended bringing in professional help. You may still want to know how to tackle this task though, whether to understand what a user interface designer does or to have a go yourself. 

Effective user interface design in a five-step process. Let’s talk through these stages in turn.

How to design a user interface

  1. Create a brief

    All design tasks begin with the creation of a brief.

  2. Think like a user

    Effective user interface development relies upon pre-empting what a user wants.

    See also →  Are you utilising your content to improve your user experience?
  3. Create the wireframe

    Wireframing is creating a blueprint for the user interface of your website or app.

  4. Check user experience with a prototype

    Once the wireframe is complete, you can build a user experience prototype.

  5. Design the interface

    Once the prototype is approved, colour and typography will be added, enabling the website or app to truly come to life. 

1. Create a brief

All design tasks begin with the creation of a brief. Firstly, assess exactly what you are asking the user interface designer to achieve. Is it building a new website or app from scratch, or giving an existing project a facelift? Neither are quick and easy, but they will require different approaches.

This brief also the opportunity to capture all the pertinent points that you hope to achieve through user interface design. Things to note include:

  • Purpose of the website or app (sales, information, etc)
  • Target audience of the website or app
  • Corporate identity and colour scheme
  • Features that must be included
  • Design ideas (colour schemes, 3D, images, embedded video, animation, etc)
  • If building an app, should it be engineered for iOS, Android or both
  • Information on competitors – what they do well, what your site or app can do better 

Do not even consider starting work on user interface design until this brief is watertight. This will become the bible for the project going forward.

2. Think like a user

As discussed previously, effective user interface development relies upon pre-empting what a user wants. This means thinking like a member of your target audience. Market research is important here, as this will provide insights into how users behave. Again, there are a series of questions to ask yourself here.

  • Why would a user visit your website or download your app?
  • What problem is your site or app looking to solve for a user?
  • What designs and colour schemes attract users?
  • How will you supersede the offering of your competitors?

Arming a user interface designer with this information enables them to move onto step 3, which is arguably the most critical of all.

3. Create the wireframe

Wireframing is creating a blueprint for the user interface of your website or app. This wireframe will showcase the layout of the site or app, explaining functionality. A successful wireframe will effortlessly explain what reaction accompanies any use action – for example, clicking button A sends the user to page B.

Wireframing is a basic process. This is not the time to concern yourself with colour schemes or designs. This is what happens behind the scenes on your website or app. This, in turn, means that it is closely connected to user experience development.

4. Check user experience with a prototype

As promised, it’s time to check back in with user experience, and the connection to user interface design. Once the wireframe is complete, you can build a user experience prototype. Consider this the alpha testing stage of your user interface development. 

This prototype will imitate the experience of visiting your site or using your app. This means you get a working example of how your site or app feels for a user. This enables you to iron out any kinks before actively designing the aesthetics.

5. Design your user interface

Once steps 1 to 4 are complete, the fun really starts. This is the user interface designer’s time to shine. Once the prototype is approved, colour and typography will be added, enabling the website or app to truly come to life. 

Refer back to the brief for this and ensure you have been thorough in explaining your wishes. Collaborate closely with the designer to ensure that nobody goes off-piste. If you did not ask for a blue triangle, you cannot be upset if you are presented with a green circle.

Once design is completed and approved, the moment of truth arrives. It’s time to unleash your website or app into the wild. Be sure to analyse the results and investigate how users are responding. If the impact is not what you expected in terms of traffic, downloads and conversions, you may need to return to drawing board and devise a new user interface design.

Great user interface design examples

We have described how a great user interface design should look, but we like to show rather than tell. With that in mind, let’s review three examples of universally used websites with impressive user interface design.

Medium

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For copywriters and bloggers all over the world, Medium is the message. This site, which for the uninitiated allows writers to post evergreen content to share their wisdom and attract a wider audience, enjoys some 17 million regular readers.

Immediately, the user interface design of the Medium home page stands out. A splash of yellow at the top (which, for those that know their colour psychology, is a shade associated with energy, enthusiasm and empathy) is tempered by a classic, elegant black and white colour scheme throughout the rest of the page.

Recommended content is well-spaced and presented in the clear and readable Noe font, ensuring that users have plenty of time to digest headlines before committing to a click. If users are interested in contributing rather than simply consuming, the options are obvious at the top of the page. Tabs like, “write” and “get started” will attract the interest of a wordsmith that is keen to set the world to rights.

Everything about Medium’s user interface design is simple and unfussy. That is exactly what a site like this, where the content is more important than any bells and whistles, should offer. If you are looking to make the negotiation of a site easy, and want users to read your copy, take a leaf out of Medium’s user interaction design book.

Airbnb

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On paper, Airbnb is a tough sell for users. This site essentially asks users to allow strangers into their home, or for visitors to station themselves in an unfamiliar house. That sounds like the embodiment of risk. Thanks to smart user interface design, however, Airbnb manages to calm these nerves.

For a start, users can make a booking from the homepage. There is no sales funnel here to speak of – if a user is familiar with Airbnb, they can go ahead and complete their transaction from the get-go. That is appealing for anybody that does not want to waste time clicking through multiple instructional pages. 

Where Airbnb excels, however, is in the use of UX microcopy. The tone throughout the site is welcoming and conversational while remaining short and to the point. This encourages users to take the next step and complete a conversion. Coupled with the clean layout and images, this site is a masterclass in design.

Additional fees are also displayed clearly on the page, which eliminates the risk of nasty shocks. Additionally, before asking for any financial information, the site invites users to communicate with the homeowner. This design approach builds trust and concludes a wholly satisfying user interface design that offers constant guidance without feeling bossy or cluttered.

Pitch

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MS PowerPoint may be the bane of the life of countless executives across the world, but it has long been the gold standard for presentation software. Would-be competitors like Prezi have never managed to gain a stranglehold on the market, despite arguably offering more. It will take something special to knock Bill Gates’ baby off its perch.

If the user interface design of Pitch is anything to go by, this may be the business to do so. The clear image and catchy headline on an otherwise white background immediately catch the eye, as does a dynamic design that is playful but professional. All the same, most potential users will remain suspicious. They have been using PowerPoint for years, and sometimes it’s better the devil you know.

The user interface design of Pitch anticipates this, explaining the process of using the software without pushing for a sale. This assuages any nerves of dubious users. Launching straight into sales videos and offers of trials would raise eyebrows. To be blunt, it would look a little desperate. The user interface design of Pitch is thorough without being frilly. Best of all, it suggests that using Pitch will make writing presentations fun, which is no mean feat.

For more assistance with user interface design, just reach out to us. Our friendly and experienced team are on-hand to talk you through our offering and explain how we can ensure that your website or app are perfectly positioned to delight anybody fortunate enough to use them.

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