The field of user interface (UI) design is based on a combination of visual and user-centered design. One of the early proponents of UI design is Jakob Nielsen, an engineer and computer scientist who developed a set of principles to guide designers toward more user-friendly websites and mobile applications.

What is UI Design?

UI design looks at how users interact with products and figures out how to make those interactions the most successful they can be. UI Designers focus on the aesthetics and function of the product. UI design is heavily visual and in terms of digital products, it is concerned with how a website or mobile app looks.

What Do UI Designers Do?

UI Designers create the overall experience of using a product. They focus primarily on the visual portion and how the user interacts with the product. UI Designers often have backgrounds in art or graphic design and part of their job is to create or uphold the language of the design. One example is the visual consistency within or across products. For instance, the different pages of a website should look similar and have buttons and drop-down menus of the same style and in the same locations.

Because UI design is so visual, designers are concerned with subjects like typography, colors, style and branding, spacing, boldness, the number of items on a screen, icons or images that are part of the design. Successful user interfaces are predictable, simple, forgiving, and obvious to use. 

The UI Design Process

While UX Designers work with people quite a bit, UI Designers are more on their own. UI Designers focus on the visual aspect of the app or website and test if it does what it is supposed to. The UX Designer hands off the plans for the product to the UI Designer who is responsible for the final outcome. They use software applications to bring the designs of websites and applications to life. UI Designers build different levels of prototypes and test them to see how successful they are. The UI Designer is ultimately responsible for upholding the company brand in the design and eventually handing off the final version to the web developers.

Jakob Nielsen and the 10 Usability Heuristics for User Interface Design

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Jakob Nielsen is one of the early pioneers of user interface design and a co-founder of the Nielsen Norman Group, one of the oldest and most respected design firms in the world. The New York Times called him the “guru of web page usability” and Internet Magazine dubbed him the “king of usability.” He started his career at Sun Microsystems where he established the practice of user-center design and in 1998, he partnered with Don Norman to start Nielsen Norman Group.

In 1993, Nielsen published Usability Engineering, which contained “10 Usability Heuristics for User Interface Design,” a checklist that is still in use almost thirty years later in the teaching of user-centered design. The original list was developed with Rolf Molich and revised in 1994 into the current form that is still a foundation for UI design. Nielsen calls his list heuristics rather than design principles because they are “broad rules of thumb and not specific guidelines,” but they have been the jumping-off point for many authors and designers over the last three decades.

Principles of User Interface Design

The following principles are based on Nielsen’s list along with the work of others. These are the ideas underlying websites and mobile applications that are easy and enjoyable to use.

Constant Feedback

Users need to feel like they are in control and one way to do that is to give them continual feedback. Let users know where they are in the process and that the actions they take have an effect. When a button is clicked, it should get bigger or change color to signal to users that something happened. If they need to wait, there should be a message or symbol informing them.

Logical and Natural Order

Lead users through the product in an order that makes logical, natural sense. Minimize the cognitive load by making the next step obvious. One way to do this is to group elements that relate to each other together and to follow a recognizable visual hierarchy with the most important information at the top of the page.


Choose a design style and stick to it across the entire product. Consistency of colors, fonts, and element styles helps users move through the product seamlessly. Inconsistency is visually jarring and makes users wonder if the elements actually relate to each other. Also, pay attention to standards set by other products. Using icons and elements that users are already familiar with helps them use your product more easily.

Prevent Mistakes

Nothing upsets users more than realizing they have done something wrong. They worry that what they are trying to do won’t work or that it will come out wrong. This is annoying enough if they are playing a game, but if they are using a banking app or trying to schedule an appointment it can be much more frustrating. Designing a product with an emphasis on preventing user errors goes a long way toward creating a good experience. Building constraints and defaults into the product helps guide users toward success.

Easy Fixes

Despite your best efforts, users will still make errors but you can save the experience by making fixes easy to find and accomplish. Create clear messages to let users know what went wrong. Get their attention with visuals like bold or red text and lead them to a solution.

Easy to Find Troubleshooting

Successful user-centered designs shouldn’t need troubleshooting documentation or help screens, but if they exist, they should be easy to find and written in clear and simple language. List out steps users should take to fix the problem and make the documentation accessible. Floating cursor messages are a good way to offer users extra help.


Users should see everything they need in order to accomplish their goals. Don’t expect them to remember information or write things down in order to use the product. If they do need to access information that is not on the screen, such as drop-down menus, make it very clear how they are to do that.


Offer users flexibility in the design so that experienced users can customize the product with keystroke shortcuts and other tools, but hide them from first-time and inexperienced users so they don’t get confused. Letting users choose how they want to use the product gives them a sense of control and makes the experience more efficient.

Uncluttered Space

A minimalist and uncluttered design that focuses on the most necessary information is less distracting and confusing for users. Include only the content and features users need to accomplish their goals. Too many choices can make users uncomfortable.

Plain Language

Avoid jargon, technical language, or numerical codes and, instead, use plain language for error messages and instructions. Don’t make users work to use the product; lead them through to their goals.

How to Learn UI Design

If you would like to learn how to use software like Adobe XD in order to switch to a career in UX or UI design, one of the best ways to do that is to sign up for classes. You can choose classes that meet in-person or online to learn XD, Photoshop, and Illustrator. Some people prefer to attend brick-and-mortar sessions when learning new information, but that isn’t always available. Live online classes have a similar set-up with a real-time, remote instructor who can answer questions and take control of your monitor—with permission—to show you how to do things. Training is part or full-time and available weekdays, weeknights, or weekends.

The best way to prepare for a career shift to a field like UX or UI design is to enroll in a bootcamp or certificate program. These are intensive training courses that run from a few weeks to a few months and another plus of training is that you will leave class with a professional-quality portfolio that you can show to prospective employers.


It’s easy to take UI design classes and start a new career. Choose between in-person sessions in NYC at Noble’s location or sign up for live online UI design courses and attend from anywhere. Find UI bootcamps in your area and get started in a new direction today.