We hear a lot these days about User Experience (UX) design and how UX designers are making the world a better place with techniques such as wireframing and prototyping. But that’s not the full story for app and web design – the other part is User Interface (UI) design.
What is UI design?
The UI designer’s role is to create the finished user interface of an app or a website – the actual pixels that you see on screen. They build on solid UX foundations to create the look and feel that sits on top, the part that the user interacts with and how it reacts visually to what they do.
This process involves using their knowledge of typography, layout and colour theory in addition to their creativity and technical knowledge, to design interfaces that are engaging and useful, while being ‘on-brand’ and consistent with other brand channels.
How to become a better UI designer
As a designer, you may be drawn to specialise in either UX or UI design. Extra-talented people can do both effectively, often referred to as UX/UI designers. But what is a UI designer, and how do you know if that’s the right career path for you? Here are 9 tips to point you in the right direction.
1. Develop an in-depth knowledge of UX design
You may prefer to focus on UI, but you’ll be working with UX designers and using their designs as a starting point for yours. So, you need to understand what they’ve done and why. Most importantly, you’ll need to ensure your designs improve the good UX work done before and don’t undo any of it.
2. Plan it out
Knowing up front how much you have to do, what order you’re going to approach it in and how much time you have for each bit really helps to focus your mind on each task. A little planning at the beginning will help you manage your workload and keep things from taking a lot longer than they should.
3. Know your platforms and tools
Make sure you can use your design software quickly and efficiently – this comes with time spent using it. Research the platforms you design for and get to know their design patterns inside-out.
Knowing when to use a certain element on iOS and Android – and when not to – shows you understand the peculiarities of each. Learn the keyboard shortcuts too – they’ll save you hours over the life of a project.
4. Befriend developers
Talk to the developers on your project and get their input on your designs early on. Minor changes to your design could avoid adding weeks to the required development time. For instance, learn when to use standard controls and when you should create something completely new.
5. Nurture your creativity
Most successful creative people don’t just express their creativity through a single medium. They might design apps for a living, but they might play an instrument, paint or design comic books in their spare time. Find your own interest and use it to keep the creative parts of your brain in shape.
Talk to other creative people through online communities, or in-person at meet-ups or other networking events. Learn about how other people get creative – not just visual UI designers, but film-makers, artists, musicians and game designers.
6. Keep yourself informed
Read constantly. Learn about design principles and methods, such as The Principles Of Gestalt. Read about how people go about their work and how famous products were created. Learn about the failures as well as the successes.
Be aware of the latest developments in tech, such as voice assistance, augmented reality and virtual reality. UI design evolves constantly along with the technology and what you’re doing now will likely be nothing like what you’ll be doing in a few years’ time.
7. Make things move
You’re not designing for a static interface – you need to consider interaction, gestures and dynamic content. So, you’ll need to embrace the same prototyping tools that UX designers use, such as Marvel, Invision or Origami Studio.
Use these tools to communicate how the UI should react to the user’s touch and the transitions between different screens or states. Consider using an animation tool such as After Effects, Flinto or Principle to demonstrate how you see things moving around on screen, to help developers bring your vision to life.
8. Sweat the little things
Define your own design rules and stick to them. The minute details of your UI design matter, so be consistent and develop a keen eye for detail.
Look out for any inconsistencies between your designs and fix them before anyone else points them out – small things can distract people from the great design you’ve created.
9. Get feedback
Learn how to take constructive criticism and use it to make yourself a better designer. Show your designs to all kinds of people, not just designers and really listen to what they think. You may disagree with their opinions, but you may also improve your design based on their insights.
But stand up for your designs too; you’ll have put a lot of thought into each element on the screen and someone might have looked at it for a few seconds, so be prepared to justify why you made certain decisions.
Keep designing, whether or not you have a real brief to work on. You can learn so much by redesigning your favourite website, designing your own app or creating a new logo for a local business.
Remember: the more you do it, the better you’ll get.