Definition

user interface (UI)

Also see human-computer interaction.

In information technology, the user interface (UI) is everything designed into an information device with which a human being may interact -- including display screen, keyboard, mouse, light pen, the appearance of a desktop, illuminated characters, help messages, and how an application program or a Web site invites interaction and responds to it. In early computers, there was very little user interface except for a few buttons at an operator's console. The user interface was largely in the form of punched card input and report output.

Later, a user was provided the ability to interact with a computer online and the user interface was a nearly blank display screen with a command line, a keyboard, and a set of commands and computer responses that were exchanged. This command line interface led to one in which menus (list of choices written in text) predominated. And, finally, the graphical user interface (GUI) arrived, originating mainly in Xerox's Palo Alto Research Center, adopted and enhanced by Apple Computer, and finally effectively standardized by Microsoft in its Windows operating systems.

The user interface can arguably include the total "user experience," which may include the aesthetic appearance of the device, response time, and the content that is presented to the user within the context of the user interface.

Contributor(s): Mike Dang
This was last updated in April 2005
Posted by: Margaret Rouse

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