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What is UI? Understanding User Interface Design

Find out what UI is and get a comprehensive guide to user interface design. Enhance your knowledge with tips from Ramotion. Read now!

Written by RamotionJun 19, 202410 min read

Last updated: Jun 20, 2024

Defining UI

With 200 million active websites and apps worldwide, gaining traction in the market has become trickier. The good news is that a strategic UI design can increase your chances of success. By creating an appealing and innovative interface design, your website can drive brand awareness and brand recall. 

If you’re new to UI design or need a refresher, here’s your chance to improve your knowledge! Read on as we dive into UI design, its benefits, best practices, and real-world applications.

By maintaining a balance between aesthetic and functional elements in UI design, you create an intuitive and enjoyable user experience.

A good UI design has efficient key features and enticing content to engage users, like icons, imageries, colors, etc. It facilitates efficient interactions in the system, encouraging users to return and spread the word about your brand. A positive experience can improve your reputation and increase your brand value.

UI vs UX Design: What’s the Difference?

UI and UX often overlap in the digital product creation process. But, understanding how they function individually is key to their successful integration.

Differenation factor UI (User Interface) UX (User Experience)
Goals Design an attractive and functional interface that enhances user interaction Deliver a total experience that encompasses functionality, usability, and positive emotional and psychological impact on users
Scope of work Visual design, interface design, composition, and design iteration Market research, user research, information structure, and wireframing
Elements Color, typography, graphics, icons, UI layout, and navigation Strategy, scope, structure, skeleton, and surface
Focus Visual design of the user journey Map user journey

User experience (UX) design is about building an emotional and functional experience. This means it involves a deep understanding of user needs, expectations, and the overall feel it has to deliver. 

Say you run an e-commerce site for sports clothes. Questions that you may want to evaluate when designing your UX include:

  • How quickly did customers find the products they need?
  • Are the filtering options overwhelming?
  • How smooth was the checkout process?
  • Did the new features or process enhance the experience or make customers frustrated? 

While UI design focuses on the physical appearance of the digital product and its influence on user behavior, UX design has a broader scope, tackling all aspects of the user experience, like its functionality, usability, and psychological and emotional impact.

Four Key Elements of UI Design

So, what goes into an effective UI design?

1. Layout

Did you know that it takes users 50 milliseconds, or 0.05 seconds, to decide if they like a website? The layout of your interaction design is one factor in this decision. 

A UI layout is how your web components, like images, input controls, icons, etc., are formatted to create an easy-to-understand look. It should be intuitive enough that users can find the informational components and icons they need.

For instance, e-commerce consumers may want a convenient way to view products without scrolling through pages and pages of items. In this case, a grid layout is appropriate, organizing items neatly without overwhelming users. You can also add filters in the search fields for quicker navigation. 

A well-put UI design layout should fit customers' behavior and create a harmonious balance between functionality and design. Other UI design layouts include hierarchical, split screen, parallax, and catalog layout.

2. Color and Typography

The weight of your font and font type brings attention to texts in the order you want your users to read. Primary and secondary colors can harmonize and contrast UI elements to guide their attention and highlight information.

Typography and colors affect how users experience your website. Image via Graphic Design Forum

Together, they help people understand your message and convey emotions that affect human behavior or decisions. Color and typography also guide users as they explore your website or app.

3. Icons and Graphics

An icon is not just a decorative cute little button on your user interface. It represents an action or a command the user wants the application to perform.

Icons are an extension of your brand identity. Your icon designs should be cohesive with your overall brand look. When reaching a diverse audience, use universal symbols on your control panels. 

For example, most digital users know that clicking on an envelope icon directs them to the contact or email page. Universal icons facilitate an intuitive experience where users know what to expect.

Conversely, UI graphics add creative diversity to your content format. A study from MIT reveals that users identify and retain information in 13 milliseconds through visualization.

4. Navigation

One of the most critical elements of a UI design is its navigation. It has to be attractive yet simple enough that users of all levels can understand and follow.

It’s also important to consider a responsive design when scaling your website or application to different devices. And with over 7 billion mobile users, a mobile-first design takes priority.

Optimize your visual elements—texts, images, icons, and buttons—for higher visibility. Use formats that retain the quality of your media but are light enough to load quickly for a smooth performance.

Types of UI You Should Know

Next, you need to figure out which interface is best for you. Is it a GUI, a VUI, or a gesture-based UI design?

GUI or Graphical User Interface

The introduction of GUI or Graphical User Interface simplified complex commands into objects like menus, buttons, icons, etc.

You don’t have to enter a string of codes on text fields to execute actions. All the user has to do is use their mouse to scroll, hover, or click on GUI objects to activate a command. They can also explore a program by using keyboard shortcuts. Just look at fashion brand Frank and Oak’s website. It combines high-quality images and icons to give customers all the information they may need for decision-making. The GUI encourages customers to explore further and purchase.

A graphical user interface relies on images and icons so users can interact with the website. Image via Frank and Oak

3. VUI or Voice User Interface

The number of people relying on AI assistants has increased dramatically. Data from Statista shows more than 4 billion devices integrated with voice-controlled interfaces like Siri, Amazon’s Alexa, and Google Home. 

From asking voice assistants to play a song or a movie, consumers can now complete bank transactions, place orders, and implement home automation. Voice-controlled user interfaces (VUIs) have bridged users with disabilities and those wanting more convenience with its capabilities.

4. Gesture-Based User Interface

Next on our list is the gesture-based user interface, designed to allow users to interact with their devices through physical motions. For example, you can swipe on your phone screen to scroll through a page or pinch and expand to zoom in or out.

Gesture-based interfaces have also given rise to touchless interaction, which was handy during the COVID-19 pandemic. An example is the use of face scans to unlock phones. Contactless payment by scanning QR codes or tapping cards on terminals has also become a primary feature.

Your choice of UI type depends on your customer needs and brand goals. Just ensure to integrate the principles for effective UI design.

What Tools to Use For UI Design

You can have all the latest features and aesthetic elements in your UI, but without a solid foundation, it’s like interacting with a beautiful, unresponsive wall.

Integrate these principles in your UI design.


A consistent UI design has a uniform look and a reliable interface. Users know what to expect when they click on buttons, reducing the chance of a frustrating experience. The language, tone, and visual elements like color, font, and layout are also cohesive and adhere to the brand guidelines.

When designing for consistency, leverage usability guidelines and platform guidelines, too. You can create a positive and memorable experience with a familiar and user-friendly design.


Sometimes, a no-frills design can do so much for your brand. Please don’t confuse it with boring, basic design, though. You can integrate the necessary elements and features with some creativity to produce a seamless and memorable experience. 

A simple interface adopts a user-centered approach by understanding the core needs and preferences of its users. This results in a strategic and straightforward UI design.


A good UI design evolves as users' preferences and needs change. One way to keep your user interface up to date is through a feedback loop from internal and external sources.

The feedback you gain is a goldmine for information about pain points and flaws users encounter with the interface. It also reveals growth opportunities that you could take advantage of. Aside from aiding in the product life cycle, gathering feedback shows customers what they think matters to your business.

Many businesses now feature micro-interactions within their UI to gain real-time insights. As a result, you can lead a more collaborative design process and implement an efficient design iteration that further strengthens your bond with your customers or users.


Accessible design is a mandatory principle in creating humane digital products. It means designing an inclusive interface that considers everyone’s needs and limitations.

It could be something as simple as an adaptive design for different devices. It could also entail integrating features designed to allow people with disabilities to interact with your website. Some examples include alt-text, automatic captions for videos, and voice commands.

What Tools to Use For UI Design

Bringing your UI design to life requires finding the right tools for your tech stack. Below are the three most popular UI design tools: Figma, Sketch, and Adobe XD.

1. Figma 

Figma is a popular browser-based application that is convenient for designers who want to collaborate with others on the go. It features comprehensive vector design tools and a 2D WebGL rendering engine, lending flexible vector manipulation abilities that let UI designers produce high-quality output.

What makes Figma stand out are its real-time editing and cloud-based storage features. Developers can share feedback or comments, view the edit history, and share projects with others. 

2. Sketch

Sketch is a pioneering tool that UI designers love and trust. With its highly regarded vector-design capabilities, Sketch gives designers precise control over elements, allowing them to create extensive customization.

This all-in-one platform boasts flexible and innovative features like shared libraries, reusable design templates, prototyping, and smart layout.

3. Adobe XD

Adobe XD is a top choice for UX and UI designers because of its versatility. It can be used for various web and app design projects. It’s also the primary tool for designers looking to create prototypes and wireframing or the skeleton of your website and UI design.

If you are working with other Adobe software, then integration is easy with Adobe XD. Adobe also offers exclusive support to its members. The top features you can explore include animations and transition designs, repeat grids, and 3D transforms.

Designing a UI is a complex task. But done successfully, it can make an immense impact on your branding. Let’s look at how Duolingo designed one of the world’s most notable UI for its language app.

Decoding the UI Design of Duolingo 

The brand transformed what could be an arduous learning task into something challenging yet fun. Users are greeted by a fun-looking interface and its adorable mascot, Duo the Owl, which is already creating a warm and friendly welcome. The app also allows users to tailor their experience by adjusting notifications, learning goals, and time constraints.

Duolingo integrates its famous mascot, Duo, in its UI design. Image via Duolingo

Short language quizzes made easy. Image via Google Play

Duolingo uses voice recognition in its language exercises. Image via Google Play

Often, notifications are considered annoying, too pushy, and ignored by users. But what makes Duolingo iconic is its funny and sometimes passive-aggressive notification copy. Duolingo leveraged witty copy to keep its users engaged. Some notifications even became viral memes on social media.

Witty notifications keep users hooked. Image via Duolingo

With the help of a professional UI design agency, you can create a captivating UI design for your website or app. Take your first step today!