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shutterstock_168161747User interfaces are an incredible test of any designer’s abilities. Not only does a user interface need to look great, it also needs to perform well and allow users to achieve their goals without confusion or error.

Great UI design can separate great apps and websites from the merely good. It’s the key to success, or in the case of a bad UI, the cause of failure. From iOS apps to new websites, any piece of technology that requires user input benefits from a great UI.

In this UI design tutorial, we share 11 great UI techniques to design amazing interfaces for your latest app, website, software, or more. Combine these tips with our JQuery UI Design Training and master the art of designing fantastic user interfaces.

Design with one end goal in mind

Every user interface should be built to achieve one goal. The iPhone photo camera, for example, is designed to make it as easy as possible to take photos. Facebook, on the other hand, is designed to make it as easy as possible to chat and share.

From navigation to web forms, every aspect of your user interface should be built to make achieving your app’s goal – whether it’s carrying out a function or discovering something new – as simple as possible for users to achieve.

Keep everything as simple as possible

When it comes to UI design, simplicity is the key to success. Complicated interfaces belong in enterprise software and technical utilities, not apps and software aimed at a general, non-technical audience.

Try and reduce your design down to its core features, leaving any advanced features hidden in tabs that remain out of the way. This makes it easier to focus on your main goals and design a streamlined, simple, and user-friendly interface.

Our course, iPhone App Interface Design for Beginners, will help you understand the strategy behind using minimalism and simplicity to design effective user interfaces.

Design for average users, not ideal ones

Make sure you don’t fall into the habit of assuming your users known as much about your application as you do. They don’t, and thinking they do is a great way to design an interface that ordinary users struggle to interact with.

Design for the users you have, not the ones you want. This means building a UI that’s intuitive and easy to understand, even if it means sacrificing features. Put yourself in the shoes of an ordinary user and ask yourself what you want to see in an interface.

Think in terms of flow, focus, and direction

Great user interfaces need flow. Every element, from a pop-up content box to a web form, should flow naturally into the next. This is especially important for interfaces with check-outs and other systems that require users to make a purchase.

Think of your user interface as a course that connects two points: A and B. The goal of your UI is to help users travel from A to B in the smoothest, most natural method that you can achieve. Strip down and streamline your UI for the shortest journey.

Use high quality, professional design software

Many online UI apps simplify the process of UI design but compromise the result. If you’re designing a user interface for mass market software or an app that you think could become popular, you need to use high quality, professional design software.

Would you like to learn more about using professional design software? Enroll in our Foundations of Photoshop course to learn the fundamentals of using industry standard visual editing software to create stunning images and user interfaces.

Sketch your ideas before you start designing

Every great interface is sketched out on paper before it’s built in Photoshop. Even Twitter, one of the web’s most popular social networks, was designed on a sketch pad years before it became a popular application.

When you sketch on paper, you’re freed from the limitations of traditional design software. As such, you can explore ideas and create a concept that easily makes its way onto your computer screen once you’ve refined and streamlined it.

Use other user interfaces as inspiration

From Facebook to MailChimp, the Internet is filled with examples of stunning user interface design. If you need some inspiration, sign up to new social networks and B2B applications to see what other leading UI designers are doing right.

One of the best ways to quickly learn the fundamentals of UI design is break down an existing UI and try to understand what it helps users do. Break your most used apps and utilities down and try to work out how their UI helps them function.

Learn more about the goals and philosophy behind great UI design by enrolling in our User Experience Design Fundamentals course. Remember, you’re designing an experience for your users, not just an interface for them to interact with.

Developing an application? Use keyboard shortcuts

Most applications attract both beginner and power users. While beginner users will generally use the mouse and keyboard to operate your application, power users like using keyboard shortcuts to quickly access important features.

When you’re designing your application, make sure you bind useful features to keys on the keyboard. This can make a huge different to your application’s ease of use for end users and increase its popularity.

Designing for the web? Make sure it’s responsive

Responsive design is no longer an option – today, it’s a necessity. Since users access the Internet from their phones, their tablets, and their computers, your website and app needs to be accessible and great looking at any screen resolution.

Enroll in our course, Creating Responsive Web Design, to learn how you can design a user interface that scales to users’ screen resolutions and looks fantastic at any size.

Use color to signify status, value, or importance

Color plays an incredibly important role in design, helping us separate elements and stay focused on a single task. Think about the way color is used in text links on blogs and websites; based on a link’s color, we can check if it has or hasn’t been clicked.

Effective use of color separates great user interfaces from good ones. From lists and forms to tabs on your interface, use color to convey status, importance, type, region, value, and other important characteristics about aspects of your application.

Test your interface before you start using it

You’ve sketched, designed, and optimized your interface. Now it’s time to finish your application and publish it for the world to use. Not quite. Before any user interface is ready for the general public to use, it needs to be tested, critiqued, and optimized.

Since you’re familiar with the interface you’ve designed, it’s possible you’ve missed some of its defects. From unintuitive design to spelling errors, poor code, and other issues, some of the smallest errors can often ruin otherwise excellent UI designs.

Before you publish your application, make sure it’s thoroughly tested for usability and to fix common glitches. Enroll in our Usability Testing Boot Camp to learn the techniques and strategies behind effective user interface testing and optimization.

Would you like to learn more about UI design?

UI design is an interesting topic, especially for today’s app-obsessed generation of web designers. Learn more about UI design in our blog post, 9 UI Design Patterns You Should Know, and start designing stylish and user-friendly interfaces today.

Page Last Updated: March 2014

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