I usually start by saying that I’ve been a designer for the last 15 years, UI designer. “What’s UI?” I get that question a lot, can’t help but smile.
“User Interface,” I respond, trying to answer the question in a few words, “is the visual part of an app. You see, the engineers will write the code, but most people can’t read and understand the code, so the user interface displays all that information in a way anyone can understand. Or at least that’s what good UI does, or tries to do.”
We say app, although UI extends to the OS itself, and nowadays to anything with a screen. We say anyone, but what we really mean is anyone with a certain background — which might be really broad or really specific. We say user interface, when we actually mean graphical user interface; we lost the graphical in the rush of our daily lives.
“So you make apps look nice?” It’s pleasant when people are interested in what you do.
UI is entangled with UX, user experience. Which is how people interact with a tool, the feedback they receive, and the mental model: the way the human thinks the machine operates, to name a few. UI is what you see, UX is everything that happens around it. The interface must be clear and beautiful, the experience direct and pleasant.
Through the years I’ve come to realize that I was always meant to do this for a living. Or perhaps I’m so deep in this shit that it has changed who I am. I love visual arts, I enjoy enigmas and puzzles, and I strive to be as rational and objective as possible.
You’ll recognize a UX/UI designer because when faced with a complication in real life, they will stop to think about it for a second, ask a clarifying question about the usage, and then proceed to recommend something that could solve the problem. The solutions might include getting rid of something that’s not useful, changing the location of certain things, or even wondering if the complication could be completely replaced with a simpler, more adequate thing.
I was at a house party once — I’ve been to more parties, but they’re not as relevant.
The hosts had an ample living room, but all the guests were hanging out in the kitchen (happens at all parties). So the room with the music was empty, and the kitchen was crowded, making it hard get a drink. They had an L-shaped couch in the middle of the living room, dividing the space in two, which is useful for watching movies and creating two spaces in one room. I mentioned to Theo that if we moved the couch, it would create more space, allowing people to stand there — and even have room to dance. We moved it 90 degrees and pushed it against the corner — a change in the user interface. The amount of seating didn’t change, so we added a feature without losing another one in the process. Great!
Then I turned my attention to the dinner table, that was still blocking part of the living room. I should’ve suggested beer pong at the time — let’s call that v2 — but instead I suggested the same operation: turn it 90 degrees and put it against the wall. We also brought the spirits from the kitchen counter to that table, so those drinks were easier to access, freeing up the kitchen, and allowing beers to remain cold and accessible in the fridge. We changed the way you grab a drink (the user experience, that is), divided the most common actions (beers and cocktails) into two main categories with two different flows.
After this, the party was the same: the same conversations, same music, and same people. The contents remained unchanged, but it was more user friendly.
A party, an app, a pedestrian crossing… In the startup world we might consider user interfaces just a part of the many in software, but simplifying and adjusting to our needs the way we interact with tools — and other people — , can always be positive. Next time you’re faced with a complication think:Do I need it? Is it the best solution? Can it be simplified?
A staple can’t get simpler, but you might not need it at all: a paper clip does a similar function and it’s reusable. Or maybe you didn’t even need to print that at all. And as I finish my drink and this paragraph, I wonder if I’ve explained what UX/UI design is effectively. What do you think?