user interface

David Kusserow

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The user interface or the user interface forms the interface between the human being and a software. It allows the user to control a program, enter commands and receive feedback from the computer.

Definition

The user interface is the element of a program that allows the user to control the software or hardware.

Ideally, these user interfaces are designed in such a way that the user – or the user – can intuitively overview and use them. Such a user interface often uses self-explanatory controls that are graphically designed to be clearly structured, especially in the computer domain. Thus, a good user interface results in a good user experience.

user interface

The development of the user interface

The evolution of user interfaces reflects the evolution of computers and their processing power. In the early years of PCs, computing power was not even close to being sufficient to display a modern, graphical user interface.

That’s why you used to have to enter tasks for your computer in a Command Line Interface (CLI). Today, most computer users only know this CLI from movies of the 90s. But the black window with the bulky white font still exists today – even on Windows 10, the cmd.exe or command prompt still looks the same as it did on old MS-DOS machines.

The next development step was the Text User Interface (TUI). Here, the input of commands and the navigation is still mainly done via the keyboard and not via a mouse. In contrast to a pure CLI, such a TUI already supports buttons and menus. Many users will be familiar with this design of a user interface from the installation interface of an operating system such as Microsoft’s Windows.

Today, graphical user interfaces (GUI) are the most widely used. In principle, a window in a current operating system with the control elements it contains is such a user interface. As a user, you interact with your operating system, software, or hardware using your mouse and keyboard. Typical elements are drop-down menus, tabs or tool bars.

Intuitively designed user interfaces

Today, the providers of operating systems and programs try to orientate themselves on elements of everyday life when designing their user interfaces. That’s why Microsoft has long used self-explanatory icons like a folder, the recycle bin, or the floppy disk icon. Even if such devices as floppy disks are no longer used, you still recognize – either from the past or the long work with these symbols – what Microsoft wants to say with the floppy disk.

The advantage of these graphically designed, intuitive user interfaces is that commands are easily recognized and no longer need to be memorized. In the past, to use a computer using CLI, the user actually had to know the commands by heart in order to type them into the computer.

The design of a good user interface is subject to basic rules. An interaction with the software should always use the same label or icon for a command and always place the associated button in the same location. In order for the user to be able to use the system without problems, it must provide him with constant feedback – such as in the form of a mouse pointer that turns into an hourglass when the computer needs a little time to execute a command.

The latest developments in user interfaces

Just as user interfaces have evolved over the past 30 years from mysterious-looking CLIs that are not very accessible to laypeople to the modern intuitive GUI, the tech industry is working indispensably to make the human-machine interface even simpler and more effortless. In recent years, Natural User Interfaces (NUI) have spread rapidly – for example as touch screens on smart phones. Another example is consoles like the Nintendo Wii, where the user’s movement of a controller is transmitted to the screen.

The voice user interface, in which a terminal device is controlled by means of voice input, is also spreading, for example in the voice control of a smartphone, a navigation device in the car or voice assistants such as the Amazon Echo.

What could user interfaces look like in the future?

Currently, several companies are researching systems that would allow users to interact with their devices using gestures, called Perceptual User Interfaces, which would be an extension of VUI or NUI. Another field of research is the Brain Computer Interface, where you as a user could control your computer using your thoughts. What sounds like science fiction is actually already based on valid research results today. Brain waves measured by electrons are converted by an algorithm. Particularly in the field of robotics, this could help many people if, for example, they could control prostheses in the same way as their own body parts.

What is the importance of user interfaces for search engine optimization?

When designing a website, it is worthwhile for the website owner to pay attention to the basic rules of user interface design. Just as an operating system should be logical and well laid out, a website must have a clearly recognizable and straightforward page architecture that allows both the user and the crawler to navigate the site with ease.

When designing icons and symbols, it is even more important to pay attention to a quick recognition value than with software. You use a computer program like an operating system much longer than you visit a website. Therefore, users can adjust and get used to the software sooner than with a website. Therefore, you need to make sure that your symbols make it just as clear what they are saying.

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