UI/UX terminology

The Ultimate Guide to UI/UX Terminology: Everything You Need to Know to Speak the Design Language

14 min
Mar 19, 2024

As technology and design have advanced, so too has the language we use to talk about them. User interface (UI) and user experience (UX) terminology allows designers, developers, and stakeholders to communicate ideas and specifications clearly and efficiently. Understanding this shared vocabulary is essential for effective collaboration.

This article covers the fundamental UI/UX terminology every designer should know, touching on user needs, interface elements, visual design, the design process, and more. With the right terminology, teams can transform vague notions into concrete solutions users will love.

Key Concepts: Core UI/UX Terms

Digital design brings together many concepts and specialties. Building shared comprehension of the terminology involved lets teams collaborate smoothly to serve user goals.

While terminology can sometimes turn complex, clear communication removes obstacles. Consistent use of precise design terms, tailored to audience understanding, benefits any organization aiming to create outstanding experiences. UI design work different technical usability screen

Let’s start with the core UI/UX terminology. Particularly, with actual definitions of UI and UX.
Core UI/UX Terms - 1
Core UI/UX Terms - 2

  • UI is what allows a person to interact with a product or technology. It includes all the visual parts, like buttons, menus, icons, and colors that a user sees, touches, hears, or responds to. For example, the UI design of a website includes elements like the navigation menu, clickable images, scroll bar, and other parts that let you use the site.
  • UX encompasses how a user engages with and perceives a product. It goes beyond just how it looks to include the person’s entire journey, including finding the product, understanding how to use it, how they feel while using it, and what they take away. A good UX means people can use the product smoothly without getting confused or frustrated.
  • Information architecture (IA) refers to how all the content and features of a website or app are organized behind the scenes. For example, it covers things like grouping related topics, labeling sections clearly, displaying information in a logical order, and making search and filters work well. Good IA helps people find information and complete tasks.
  • Interaction design (IxD) focuses on how users interact with products, usually digital interfaces. It aims to create interactions that enable users to achieve their objectives smoothly and efficiently. Smooth IxD lets users easily and quickly find information or operate controls to reach their goals using the product.
  • System design refers to planning and architecting the overall framework of complex products that have many different components and moving parts that interconnect. It looks at the product holistically to coordinate technical capabilities and user needs into one consistent, functional ecosystem. Key considerations include relationships between modules, infrastructure, interfaces, data, and end-to-end processes.
  • Usability indicates how easy and efficient a product is to use for its target users. High usability means interactions, terminology, information design and capabilities are streamlined to effectively support users in completing intended tasks smoothly. Friction, confusion, and manual burden should be minimized. When products have high usability, users can accomplish goals quickly with minimal mental effort and few errors.
  • Accessibility denotes how effectively a product can be used and accessed by people regardless of disabilities, impairments, environmental constraints, or other limiting factors. This necessitates design considerations like screen reader support, keyboard shortcuts, captioning, color contrast, clear status messages, and conformance to standards. Accessibility enables broader segments of the population to successfully engage products according to their needs and capabilities.
  • Responsive design means creating website, app, and other digital product experiences optimized for seamless adaptability across a range of devices and screens. Using flexible grids, images, and components, responsive products detect screen sizes and automatically adjust the layout, sizing, text, navigation, and other elements to customize to optimal presentation on anything from mobile phones to large desktops. This saves difficult pinching, scrolling, or squinting when trying to view undersized or overwhelming interfaces.

With UI/UX terms covered, we can build up a flexible lexicon suited for every specialty to cooperatively articulate pain points and solutions.

Basic UI Elements

Understanding interface elements creates a shared language to discuss visual details. Some common examples include:

  • Buttons are interactive interface elements, often rectangular or circular, users can click or tap to initiate an action. Their visual design, like shape, size, color, and prominent labels, indicates what they do clearly to the user without the need for guesswork. Common button actions include selecting options, navigation, submitting forms, confirming choices, and more.
  • Menus contain lists of text links or other options that navigate users to different pages, interfaces, or actions. Menus are often accessed by tapping a “hamburger” menu icon. They allow users easy movement between sections of an app or website, surface available actions, and display destinations hierarchically as needed. Sub-menus can extend access.
  • Forms provide containers to collect user input, whether text, selections, or multimedia files. They allow users to submit data like contact information, preferences, payment details, and more to systems for functionality like registrations, purchases, queries and sharing feedback. The design focuses on clear labeling, expected field types, and intuitive submission flows.
  • Icons are graphical images that symbolize messages, types of content, or actions available in an interface. They convey meaning at a glance for quick user comprehension and decision-making. Icons come in styles like representational, abstract, or metaphorical. System icons also display statuses like warnings, confirmations, or errors to users.
  • Navigation bars are linear UI elements spanning horizontally across the tops or sides of pages or screens. They present section or page links, enabling users to quickly jump between different areas of apps and websites. Positioning remains consistent as users move between sections, enabling persistent access. Common patterns show hierarchical relationships in expanding mega menus.
  • Search boxes are text entry fields that allow users to type in keywords or phrases to find relevant content or filter lists on a website, app, etc. They provide an easy way for people to locate specific information out of larger volumes of data.
  • Alerts are pop-up messages that communicate short pieces of information to users. They serve functions like providing confirmation that an action was completed successfully, warning about errors like unsuccessful form submissions, reminding about notifications, and more. Different types include modals, banners, toast notifications, etc.
  • Loaders are graphical animations that indicate to users that the system is processing or waiting for a task to be completed. Common examples are spinning wheels or progress bars that signify loading new content or submitting data. They provide status updates when tasks take time.
  • Tooltips are contextual help or descriptions that appear when a user hovers over, taps, or clicks on an interface element like an icon button. They give users extra information about the functionality or purpose of that element without taking up permanent screen space. Tooltips are helpful for clarifying things that may be ambiguous from visuals alone.

Interface elements form the building blocks that enable users to perceive and interact with digital products on screens.

With UI elements covered, applying visual design principles brings attractive appeal and heightened ease of use. Read on as we explore the core visual glossary for framing discussions around site presentation and emotional impact.

Visual Design Vocabulary

Just like interface elements, visual design has an associated lexicon covering concepts like:

  • Typography refers to how text is styled and displayed. This includes choices like font types (e.g., Arial, Times New Roman), font sizes, bold or regular, the space between lines, and alignment of paragraphs. Good typography makes copy easy to read at a glance while also setting the tone.
  • Color theory gives guidance on selecting colors and using them together for visual impact or emotional effect. It provides principles for which hues pair well, how to create color schemes, ideal contrast between fore and back colors, and palettes that serve cohesive themes.
  • Page layout involves the positioning and spacing of sections, images, paragraphs, menus, and other elements. Layout includes where items are placed vertically and how the site grid organizes content. A good layout makes navigation intuitive through alignment patterns that fit user expectations.
  • Visual hierarchy is the way design indicates importance and directs attention through elements sized and styled to stand out. Bigger, bolder items draw the eye first. Supporting content fades back. Differences in scale, color, space, and font create relationships.
  • Affordance means that the visual design of an element, like a button, immediately indicates its functionality without labels, such as realistic graphics, meaningful icons, or conspicuous controls that invite clicking. Affordance reduces confusion by signaling what can be done through appearance.

Coming next, we define primary UX considerations to equip creatives, executives, and technologists for constructive conversations on feeling, function, and value.

Basic UX Elements

While UI handles screen real estate, UX encompasses the broader relationship people form with products. Some UX design terms are:

basic UX terminology

  • Microinteractions are tiny animations that happen in response to user actions, often taking just seconds. Examples include loaders displaying until new content appears or error symbols briefly notifying submission issues. These small responses patch transitions, adding energy. They also reassure users about status updates.
  • Delight involves unexpectedly pleasing users with small touches like humor or carefully considered details in moments of interaction. By sparking joy where only dry function may seem necessary, brands gain lasting favor.
  • Onboarding covers introducing users to products, starting from signup through the first effective use. Early guidance sets habits for success by gently explaining the purpose, capabilities, terms for features, and how to get value, all using friendly and patient language.
  • Calls-to-action (CTAs), normally buttons or text links clearly marked, invite visitors to convert from site visitors to subscribers, buyers, donors, or other commits favored for business or nonprofit goals. Self-explanatory appearance signals the next steps, whether downloading materials, adding products to the cart, scheduling appointments, signing petitions, or sharing personal details in return for promised favorable updates or resources.
  • Feedback supplies users with immediate confirmation or error alerts upon form submissions, transactions, comment postings, or other flows prone to processing issues. Color schemes plus concise personalized language cut frustration by setting expectations around system capabilities, policies, volume demands, or technical realities that influence acceptances. Prompt and polite notices guide users to correct inputs for goal completion.

So far, we’ve covered vocabulary around both visual interfaces and UX design. With that foundation set, we now shift to terminology essential for discussing the practical process of designing products.

Design Process Terminology

Achieving high-quality UX requires meticulous methodology. Familiarity with these terms is vital for collaborative teams:

  • User research involves studying real people similar to target users through interviews, watching behaviors, distributing surveys, and more techniques. The goal of user research is to understand customer priorities, pain points, reasons behind actions, preferences, and sentiment.
  • Personas create detailed, imaginary individuals combining patterns noticed across user research. Representing customer segments, illustrated profiles display demographics like age, gender, location, role and attitudes, challenges, values, and priorities commonly shared by subgroups. Personas humanize targets, guiding design compassionately.
  • Wireframing starts interface diagramming by roughly sketching potential screen layouts and flows with gray boxes/lines. Rapid experiments shuffle contents and navigation to find the best information architecture before spending time on real visuals and text. Wireframes concentrate on planning space allotments, hierarchy, and relationships.
  • Prototyping crafts realistic interactive interface approximations, allowing concept trial before final development. Clickable models refine flows while enabling user tests to pinpoint improvement areas. Prototyping is cost-effective for revisions compared to rebuilding finished products that miss the markers.
  • Usability testing recruits representative users to accomplish sets of tasks on working interfaces while observers take notes. Tests reveal obstacles like confusing language or hidden options by documenting problems happening in real time from video and think-aloud commentary.
  • Iteration means continually adjusting designs based on feedback, then testing again until requirements are met. Cycles of small improvements target any weaknesses revealed in concepts without over-investing prematurely. The goal of iteration is reaching flawless experiences matching needs.

Familiarity with the full product creation journey enables efficient collaboration. Consistent terminology removes obstacles team members must otherwise take time to overcome.


This guide just skims the vast expanse of UI vocabulary and UX terms. However, proficiency with even core design terms enables teams to ideate and articulate challenges and solutions quickly. Ongoing learning allows people across departments to cooperate seamlessly, accelerating development so products deliver outstanding user experiences.

With so many specialties collaborating to serve user needs, shared vocabulary reduces friction and frustration. Just make sure to tailor terminology to audience comprehension levels as needed.

Together, carefully chosen words unite interdisciplinary teams around the universal purpose — serving others through design.

by Ivan Klyzhenko
UX Startup Advisor, Uitop

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