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Developing a Graphical User Interface (GUI)

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  • 0:05 Graphical User Interface
  • 2:27 Importance of Interface Design
  • 3:45 Interface Development
  • 5:06 Other Aspects of…
  • 5:55 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Paul Zandbergen

Paul has a PhD from the University of British Columbia and has taught Geographic Information Systems, statistics and computer programming for 15 years.

A computer system needs a user interface. Graphical user interfaces have become very popular due to their ease of use. Learn about the elements of user interfaces and how interfaces are developed to improve the usability of software applications.

Graphical User Interface

All computer systems need some form of user interface so that the computer and human being can communicate. The most widely used type of interface for today's computer systems is a graphical user interface, or GUI (pronounced as gooey).

A graphical user interface uses visual elements that present information stored in a computer in an easy-to-understand manner. These elements make it easy for people to work with and use computer software. A GUI uses windows, icons, and menus to carry out commands, such as opening files, deleting files and moving files. GUI software is much easier to use than command line software since there is no need to type in and memorize individual commands.

The most common graphical elements are represented by WIMP: window, icon, menu, and pointer. A window is an area on the screen that displays information. The contents of the window are displayed independently from the rest of the screen. As you probably guessed, the Windows operating system derives its name from the use of windows. An icon is a small picture that represents objects, such as a program or file. You can manipulate the icon in different ways. For example, double-clicking the icon opens up the program or file. A menu provides a list of choices to users. Options are selected using a mouse or other pointing device. Menus show what is possible within the software in terms of commands and functions. A pointer is an onscreen symbol that represents movement of a device that the user controls to select windows, icons, and menus.

These four elements have dominated user interface design since they were first introduced in the mid-1980s. Most recently, mobile devices, such as smartphones and tablets, have starting using these elements in new ways due to constraints in space and available input devices. Touchscreen technology has introduced new interactions such as pinching and rotating, which are not supported by traditional input devices.

Importance of Interface Design

Designing a good user interface is critical to the success of a system. A good user interface encourages an easy and natural interaction between a user and a system. Ideally, a user can forget that she is using a computer and get on with what she wants to do.

While a slick-looking interface may be really cool, the overriding concern when it comes to user interface design is usability. Usability is defined in an official ISO standard as 'the extent to which a product can be used by specified users to achieve specified goals with effectiveness, efficiency, and satisfaction in a specified context of use.' What that means in practical terms is that a well-designed interface should contribute to the following:

  • Learnability: How easy is it for users to accomplish basic tasks?
  • Efficiency: How quickly can they perform tasks?
  • Memorability: How easily can users establish proficiency?
  • Errors: How many errors do users make?
  • Satisfaction: How pleasant is it to use the design?

User interface design is critical to the success of a system, and it should be part of the original design concepts for the system.

Interface Development

User interface design requires a good understanding of user needs. A typical user interface design process follows these steps:

  • Collecting functionality requirements - What functionality is required to meet the needs of the users?
  • User analysis - Who are the potential users of the system, and what is their skill level?
  • Information architecture - How will the system be used in business processes?
  • Prototyping - This consists of a simple version of the interface with some of its key features.
  • Usability testing - This consists of having selected users try out the prototype.
  • Graphic interface design - Developing the actual look and feel of the final GUI.

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