Interface 101 – Part One: Basic Interfaces

Welcome to Interface 101: The Basics!

Before we dive deep into which icons are most effective or best practices of interface development, let’s cover some basics, shall we? Interface 101 is a basic training on the terminology and theory of interface design. In the first two installment, we will discuss just what an interface actually is, and the differences between basic and advanced interfaces.

The word interface has many meanings and many different uses for unlimited contexts. For web designers, interface means something almost entirely different than for audio engineers. What, then, is an interface?

Definition of an Interface

Interface is defined as a “surface regarded as the common boundary of two bodies, spaces, or phases.” In other words, it is the communicator between a sender, a medium, and a receptor. The sender may be any object or person, or digital representation of an object or an action. The medium is some type of information, and the communicator allows this information from the sender to make sense to the receptor. The receptor may be any of the same things that the sender may be, and may become a sender to either the previous sender or a new receptor. (That’s a mouthful, isn’t it?) Here is a graphical representation of what an interface does, and what senders/receptors are.
So what are some different kinds of communicators? We will look at basic interfaces in this post, and advanced interfaces in the next Interface 101 post.

Basic Interfaces

Some of the most basic interfaces are also the most ancient. Perhaps the most important basic interfaces are writing and symbols. People have been communicating information to one another through glyphs and illustration for over 6,000 years. Writing can communicate information that would otherwise be spoken or shown through gestures between two people; however, when combined with other tools, such as the internet or mass production printing, written words of one person can be communicated to the whole world, becoming a very effective, yet still basic, interface.

Writing and Illustration

Writing and illustration have greatly advanced over their 6,000 year life-span. Now, there are thousands of languages and dialects, each with their own rules of writing. Beyond the different languages, there are hundreds of thousands of different typefaces and their varieties. Each of these communicates in a different way, and therefore changes the message, however slightly or heavily, of the interface.
Writing and symbols are two kinds of interfaces that act between information and the human mind. Another example of an interface that acts as the communicator between information from one person’s mind to another is speech.

Human Senses

Each of our senses also provide us with ways of gathering information; our brain interprets what we see, hear, smell, taste, and feel through the interface of our eyes, ears, nose, taste buds, and nerve ends.


These basic interfaces can give us very important insight into the design of more complicated interfaces, and therefore they are extremely important to remember in the process of developing an interface. What language are the users speaking? Not necessarily literal language (although that is quite important as well… obviously) – rather, what is the most effective way to communicate to the user of a certain interface? How can you as the designer make sure that the look, feel, or sound of your interface is compatible with your user? Is the design of your interface aesthetically productive to the message you are trying to get across? Is it standing in the way, somehow, because of the aesthetic aspects? These are questions that can be birthed and used to give users a better experience by examining the importance of these most basic interfaces.


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