What Is a User Interface?

What Is a User Interface?

Whenever we connect to the internet and click on a link to access a website, we are interacting with the user interface (UI).

The UI is the design that humans use to navigate a digital product, such as a website or app.

Without a UI, a computer cannot use our directions to take us where we would like to go.

Today we mostly associate UI with computer devices, but it refers to a wider range of devices. A smartphone, laptop, satnav and even a printer rely upon UI technology to compute our decisions.

Because it is programmed into a piece of hardware or software, it has links with almost every area of developed technology.

If we are to use technology easily and efficiently, we need a strong UI.

This article will discuss the main types of UI and where they are mostly applied, and also outline why UI matters so much in our lives. We will then look at why and how it can be used.

The Main Types of UI With Examples

There are four main types of UI, all with different functions.

1. Command Line Interface

Command line interface (CLI) is primarily a text-based UI technology. It is based on the user giving specific commands to allow a direction to be carried out.

It is considered one of the older forms of technology. However, it is still used today in basic functioning devices that have limited commands and options that a person interacts with.

Basic programming languages, like Python and Forth, use CLI technology as they are reliant upon a user giving specific commands.

However, CLI is limited in its scope due to its text specificities. It does not offer a great range of uses, but it is good at what it does.

If you are developing a technology based upon specific prompts, CLI may be a viable UI.

2. Menu-Driven Interface

For menu-driven technologies, the user will be presented with a list of options from a simple menu.

This type of UI is commonly used in administrative programs and banking. When you interact with an ATM machine, you will be interacting with a menu-driven interface.

Like the CLI technology, a menu-driven interface is restricted in its use as it is reliant upon a certain set of options.

However, this type of UI is more user-friendly due to its ease of use. It does not force the user to remember a set of commands or a particular pattern.

3. Graphical User Interface

Graphical icons and interaction with them are common in video games and computer systems.

When you click on a picture or a symbol on a screen, you are interacting with a graphical user interface.

This type of technology is popular because of its flexibility in use and how it can be systematized over various devices.

It is also favored over CLI due to the quick interaction. The user does not have to remember a text command and instead only needs to be reminded of an icon.

4. Touchscreen Graphical User Interface

Today, the touchscreen graphical user interface is the most popular form of UI in everyday use.

This technology combines a graphical user interface with the personal element of touchscreen. If you have any form of smartphone or tablet, you will interact with this type of UI every day.

It is also becoming more prominent in medical fields and financial analysis. Technology is becoming more adaptable to sensory interactions, so touchscreen interfaces are only the beginning of this technological development.

The likes of Siri and Amazon’s Alexa use voice interface, and we are learning how to integrate these UIs with more complex devices.

The use of a fingerprint to identify a user is an example of touchscreen UI at its finest.

It may not be long before technological corporations begin to integrate other sensory recognition into their UI systems.

Do not be surprised if, in the future, a UI technology recognizes a distinct scent or smell.

Why It Matters and How It Impacts User Experience

Imagine having developed software without the most up-to-date UI technology.

Not only will it be hard for users to interact with your technology, but it will also be of no use to other companies.

Using the right UI technology is essential for your developed product. It can also enhance an experience, making it easier for you to interact with a user through a particular piece of software.

Integrating a good UI system also allows users or customers to quickly become familiar with the software.

Prioritizing a user-friendly UI will mean more people will be inclined to use your technology over others.

A good design means strong recognition and repetitive use. In contrast, if you have a UI that is considered difficult and unfamiliar, it is less likely people will stick around.

Having a strong UI system in place means that you can also focus on other software adaptations. As a developer, if you are spending the majority of time dealing with UI issues, other areas may be neglected.

A strong UI helps your own technology too. It is not just third parties that need good interface interaction.

How you collect data, upload new material and advertise any changes to your content is dependent upon the commands you have to hand.

For example, if you have CLI technology in place and need to change something icon-related, this could be particularly difficult if the option isn't easy to find.

The continuing development of your product over time is reliant upon how easily you can interact with it.

What Is a User Interface?
What Is a User Interface?

Key Points About User Interface

When choosing or programming UI technology, there are some key points that you and the third party user need to consider.

If you fail to consider any of these elements, an application you have may still be used. However, it is unlikely it will be used for long.

Consistent usage, familiarity and ease will help you develop a more user-friendly application

Marrying these with the appropriate UI technology will lead to greater use.

1. Ease of Use

If you are designing a UI technology, ease of use needs to be your number one priority.

A UI that is difficult to use and has too many functions will not be taken up by many users.

Further, the directions and how a user navigates to a command should be self-explanatory ('intuitive').

Attempt to prioritize icons or clear textual commands so that a user knows exactly where they are going.

Further, if you are using touchscreen of sensory-based UI technology, ensure that it is well developed and precise.

Problems occur with UI technology when it does not recognize who is using it. Ensure that it is well adapted to specific touch functions and actions.

The easier a piece of UI technology is to use, the quicker a user can learn to use and navigate the application or software.

2. Functions and Inputs

Keeping functions clear is one way of ensuring UI technology is accessible, but one must also be aware of a variety of inputs.

With each UI technology explained above, there is a different way for a user to find what they are looking for.

It is best to try and create a mixture of functions and inputs so that a user has options. Restricting the UI to one type will limit the types of functions available to the user.

One can be creative in UI design and add functions like sliders, drop-down options, hyperlinks and differences between single and double-click interactions.

However, bear in mind that it is best to keep the basic functions simple. Over-complicating the inputs will confuse users, and they will be less likely to use a UI system.

Moreover, do not over clutter a screen or a device with a myriad of functions. It is essential to localize functions well with icons or textboxes.

If you could access a function in every space on a device, it becomes hard to navigate.

3. Adaptability

As technology develops, the UI technology must also match the developments.

UI technology that enables users to access new commands and new features is an essential part of their experience.

Further, ensure that the UI you use is scalable. Having in place basic and advanced functions is a great way of achieving this.

If you have either one or the other, it becomes difficult for a user to have a personalized interaction with a device.

Be sure that you can also make any necessary changes to the UI. If it is fixed and cannot be revised, then the functions may lose their purpose as software develops.

4. Memorability

If we were asked to think of Google’s icon or how to save a document from Word, we would be able to think of the general pattern.

Having UI functions that are easy to remember means they will be used more often. More shared functions means greater accessibility.

Although you should create an adaptable interface, ensure that you keep some of the basic functions the same.

Do not constantly change the graphics or the basic text commands.

Similarly, do not swap functions around. If an icon leads to one command, ensure it is always associated with the given command.

The best UI technologies are the ones that can be remembered. We all have technological preferences for phones, laptops, television and games consoles.

The reason behind this is because of our associated usage and memory with the given technology.

If a Samsung device was to one day completely drop its Android system to prioritize a new interface technology, the likely result would be a decrease in use.

5. Control

No matter how technologically advanced your UI system is, it must always prioritize the user.

Optimizing a UI technology that puts the user first means they have a good experience. If you have restrictive UI in place, the user may not be able to get the commands they desire, ultimately turning them away from using a device.

A user must be able to navigate but also change anything they desire. Having a UI in place through which they have a degree of control over the functions is a good way to ensure continuous use.

Video games are a great example of this. Most popular games offer the option for players to customize controls to fit with their personal preferences.

It is good to have a default in place, but allowing adaptation ensures personal control.

Steer away from implementing UI controls that are unspecific. For a user to have control, they must learn and understand what functions suit them.

Further, giving users a good degree of control over the UI system will allow them to identify any issues.

Final Thoughts

UI technology is developing to suit more of our personal preferences and tastes. Today, we can use our voice and fingerprints to interact with a device.

As this technology develops, it is important to remember the basic functions of an interface and why it is essential to maintain.

All good UI technology has a composite of options that suit varying levels of experience with an application. It is through this lens that we must develop UI technologies.

If you are developing a piece of UI technology or want to use one that prioritizes the user, ensure that you think of how it will be used, and how the user can adapt their personal preferences to it.

Read This Next

You might also be interested in these other WikiJob articles:

Or explore the Industry / IT & Technology sections.