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What is User Interface Design?


At Fresh Tilled Soil we get this question quite often from prospective clients: What is User Interface Design? What does it entail? What does it mean? So many people define it in so many ways. Our good friend LukeW author of MobileFirst and founder of Polar defines it the following way:

Luke Wroblewski

  • Information architecture defines the structure of information.
  • Interaction design lets people manipulate and contribute to that information.
  • Visual design communicates these possibilities to people.

The user interface is the sum of all these things.

Some might argue that the term “information” is a bit limiting in this set of definitions and I kind of agree. So anyone who needs a broader purvey for what they work with could simply substitute “information” with “stuff”.

Wikipedia (collection of many opinions edited down) defines it the following way:

User Interface Design is the design of websites, computers, appliances, machines, mobile communication devices, and software applications with the focus on the user’s experience and interaction. The goal of user interface design is to make the user’s interaction as simple and efficient as possible, in terms of accomplishing user goals—what is often called user-centered design.

We went ahead and posed this same question to folks on our team to put together a well rounded definition from different perspectives. Here is what we got back as answers:

User interface design is prettying the pixels up. It’s a component of user experience design. It’s no less important than any other part of the process, and a huge part of what constitutes a great user experience. Many people think this part of design is really the whole shebang, but they’re wrong. It makes the experience aesthetically pleasing, but good UI design on poor UX design is still poor design.

— Steve Hickey, User Interface Designer & Developer at Fresh Tilled Soil

User Interface Design is the process of crafting a visual language and hierarchy that allows someone to use and engage an application.

— Alex Fedorov, Co-Founder & Director of User Experience at Fresh Tilled Soil

User Interface Design is the multi-disciplinary practice of crafting usable human-device interfaces. Taking into account, among many things: user and organizational tasks, needs, and goals; ease and simplicity of use; clarity and beauty of execution; flexibility and scalability of the design across multiple devices.

— Michael Connors, User Experience Strategist at Fresh Tilled Soil

UI design is the process of taking the way a machine works and translating it into the way a person thinks.

— Strategist & Apprenticeship Program Manager at Fresh Tilled Soil

There is a great discussion thread on LinkedIn trying to narrow down the best definition of an “interaction designer” – a role that by definition is based on user interface design. Here is how the role is described by Gary Bodhoo in the thread:

I’ve met many people over the years who could be considered “interaction designers”. They were artists, engineers, producers, copywriters, art directors, etc. The term is the worst kind of oxymoron because it provides an illusion of understanding and control. Is there a fundamental difference between interface design, content strategy, information architecture, user experience, and so forth? According to formal sources, there certainly is, however in my experience, the overlap between these fields is hard to quantify and has as much to do with culture and politics as it does skill set.

I prefer the term “storyteller”

Need to improve your user interface design? Get started by running a design sprint.

Author Dmitry Dragilev

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