Nowadays, UX cannot exist without its close “relative” - UI. User Interface is everything that users can interact with, in order to use a digital product or service. To understand the nature of UI, it’s worth getting to know a little more about its history and how it evolved into a necessary part of User Experience.
A short history of UI
UI started to be an object of real focus in the 70’s. It was then that operating a computer meant using a Command-Line Interface, which in and of itself was somewhat primitive. The more refined graphical interfaces of today did not exist back then. The first computers had to be operated using programming languages, which meant using complicated lines of code to perform even simple tasks.
In the 80’s, the first Graphical User Interface (GUI) was developed by IT experts at Xerox PARC. Thanks to it, the users could interact with their personal computers through visual commands by using icons, buttons, menus and check boxes. It was a significant simplification and the first step towards fully adapting computers to everyday use by laypeople.
However, the biggest breakthrough came by means of the Macintosh computer developed by Apple. Their Personal Computer (which also brought with itself the “PC” abbreviation) had innovative solutions like a “point & click” mouse. The Apple machine was the first commercially successful personal computer which used such an interface.
What do UI specialists design?
There are a few important elements designed by UI specialists.
- Planning the visual hierarchy of the interface elements
- Choosing colors
- Designing forms (e.g. the landing page’s contact form)
- Choosing fonts and their sizes
- Creating images and photos
- Animating elements
- Designing a menu
- Designing buttons
- Designing a table of contents
Most important features of UI
Many people do not realize that UX is something completely different from UI, while being its integral component at the same time. The basic feature of UI is, first and foremost, a focus on the outer layer of a product when it comes to its appearance and functionality.
Without the proper attention given to UI one couldn’t really use any digital product. It can be described as a tool for consumption, and UX as the remaining aspects of using digital products.
UI is also a means of solving specific issues with a product’s functionalities, in contrast with the more conceptual and general approach of UX. This can be seen e.g. through the duties of programmers working in both fields.
UX designers have deep skills in relation to strategy, research, information architecture and designing interactions. A UI designer on the other hand, also can design interactions. Their attention however, is focused on other aspects as well, like designing information, traffic and brand.
Additionally, UI is focused on single aspects of the product, because such is its role. Through their designs, a UI designer is a part of the process of achieving the best possible outcomes related to every user interaction. For this reason, a close cooperation of these specialists is crucial, and both are equally important in the process of designing a comprehensive digital product.
What does a UI designer’s job look like?
It is difficult to succinctly define such a broad topic as UI. However, each professional designer has to possess certain skills with which they can design effective solutions in the User Interface.
The most important tasks and skills of a UI specialist include:
- Design thinking (also key for a UX designer)
- Listening to the users’ needs (also key for a UX designer)
- Understanding the processes behind designing UX and the research involved in it
- Carrying out client analyses (how they can behave when using the interface)
- Doing design research
- Branding and graphical work on the interfaces
- Understanding the users’ decisions and their “history”
- Building prototype interfaces
- Designing interactivity and animations
- Adapting designs to each device’s resolution
- The ability to implement a finished design with developers
The above reflect two main aims of a User Interface. They are: solving real issues with the interface’s design and, consequently, creating a product that wows the users and allows them to use it freely.
Most common challenges UI designers face
Having to know many graphical tools
It is becoming increasingly demanded of digital specialists that they know more and more commercial solutions that will allow them to achieve the best effects. It is no different for UI designers. In order to be competitive, such a specialist should combine many different solutions that work in synergy.
Combining skills from many different areas
UI Designers should possess soft skills (great communication skills, an open mind, empathy, adaptability and problem solving through creativity). These are reflected by hard skills and allow to achieve the best results for the product and the team creating it.
Just like in the case of experts in other fields connected with digital marketing, a UI designer should constantly broaden their horizons and acquire new knowledge from the realm of User Interface. Combining this with learning about User Experience as well, is a good practice. This is why finding reliable knowledge on the internet or in books or magazines should be an integral part of every UI specialists’ work.