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What is User Interface Design? - Examples & Definition

Instructor: David Delony

David is a freelance writer specializing in technology. He holds a BA in communication.

If it weren't for the field of user interface design, you might be having a very tough time using your computer. In this lesson, you'll learn about user interface design and some of the techniques designers use to ensure hardware and software is easy to use. You'll also get a brief overview of user requirements analysis, information architecture and usability testing.

User Interface Design Definition and History

User interface design is the process of designing user interfaces for computing devices and hardware so that they're easy for people to use. It's an interdisciplinary field that involves graphic designers, artists, programmers, psychologists and even anthropologists.

In the days of mainframe computers, machines were run in batch mode, where users submitted tasks and they ran automatically. With the shift toward interactive computing, designing good user interfaces became more important. In the 70s and early 80s, computers had command line interfaces where users would type commands. While technical users still find them very useful, the disadvantage of a command line for ordinary users is that you have to know which commands you want to use and the proper syntax.

When the Apple Macintosh debuted in 1984, it stunned the computer world with its well-thought-out graphical interface. While it wasn't the first computer to have a GUI (and not even Apple's first GUI computer), it won praise for how easy it was to use. You didn't have to know what you wanted to do. Instead, you chose options from icons and using pull-down menus. From here on out, it was the user that computing systems would be built around, using common elements that everyone was familiar with.

There are several major techniques that user interface designers use to build easy-to-use software.

User Analysis

User interface design is all about creating software for its users. Designers have to know more about their users in order to create effective interfaces. That's where user and task analysis comes in. Researchers will interview potential users about their requirements for software.

Everyone is different, so the software will have to accommodate different people. A video editing program like Adobe Premiere, aimed at professional editors, can be more complicated, simply because professional editors are more technical and need to be able to manipulate footage in complicated ways.

A video editing program aimed at ordinary users like iMovie will need to be much simpler, cutting out advanced features that nontechnical people wouldn't understand.

Information Architecture

A lot of people tend to concentrate on the visual aspects when they think of user interface design, but a lot of interface design involves how information is organized and presented to users, or the information architecture. Information architecture, or IA, is most often seen as part of website design, particularly in navigation. The user-centered part comes from the IA technique of a card sort, where users group titles into topics.

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