What is the Graphical User Interface: Complete Explanation

A graphical user interface (GUI) is a type of interface that allows users to interact with a computer and its various features. It simplifies computer interaction for the average person, thus allowing even the most beginner users to easily navigate a computer’s various functions. Prior to the advent of a graphical user interface, individuals needed at least a rudimentary knowledge of computer programming in order to interact with a computer and navigate a network.

There are many parts of a graphical user interface that individuals have grown accustomed to. These include:

  • Pointers that are controlled by a mouse, touchscreen, or another input device.
  • Menus and icons that can be used to easily access certain features.
  • Windows that can be toggled between and are used to delineate the difference between active programs. 

Common examples of a GUI include Windows, which greatly increased the commercial popularity of graphical user interfaces in general. However, there are many other types of graphical user interfaces, with Apple actually having helped to develop the first version of one. These types of programs were once considered a luxury, but as programming has changed, so has their availability. Indeed, the idea of having a computer without an active GUI is now not even considered possible in order for the computer to be commercially successful. 

Graphical User Interface Advantages and Disadvantages

Like all computer programs, a GUI has many types of advantages and disadvantages. On one hand, the various parts of graphical user interfaces can simplify computer use and make computers highly accessible for all. The features of a GUI are often very attractive and intuitive, and if designed right, can make a computer user extremely efficient. Furthermore, if designed appropriately, it can be exceptionally easy to find files and access the programs that a user wants to use.

However, the features of GUIs do come with some disadvantages. For one thing, the various parts of these interfaces can actually be limiting based on the design. Design choices can limit what a user explores to whatever the designer decides. As such, they can unintentionally limit someone, or at least bend the direction in which they make choices. Systems can often not be easily customized, thus further limiting an individual’s overall user experience. Furthermore, graphical user interfaces can often be cumbersome and take up extensive space within a computer. 

Graphical User Interface mobile devices
A close-up view of the graphical user interface of mobile apps. GUI simplifies computer interaction for the average person, thus allowing even the most beginner users to easily navigate a computer’s various functions easily.

Graphical User Interface: An Exact Definition

A graphical user interface is an interface by which people can interact with the various aspects of a computer or internet network. It consists of a variety of visual elements, including texts, icons, links, and other representations. 

How does the Graphical User Interface work?

From a user perspective, a graphical user interface is a relatively simple program. Icons are used to essentially represent programming functions. Using the mouse to control a pointer, users will navigate the mouse over an icon or menu. They will then click on that icon in order to execute a command. This, in turn, will start a program, which will open in a new window. 

You can imagine the use of a graphical user interface as a diagram. In that diagram, a user will control an input device. The diagram flows downward from there, with the input device’s inputs being visible on some sort of monitor and the commands that are inputted being used to execute certain commands that then become visible on the output device. 

Once a program has been opened – such as a word processor – the menus within that program allow for easy interaction. For example, menus can be used to open documents, save documents, or print documents. Users can use the mouse to navigate these menus and execute commands from them. 

A well-designed graphical user interface should also be highly customizable. This means that users can use the mouse and keyboard in order to potentially alter the system’s menus, thus allowing them to create icons and menus that best suit their needs. 

How do you create a Graphical User Interface?

Graphical User Interface wireframe
UI UX designers team working on new website wireframe. This is the first step in designing the GUI for websites.

The creation of a graphical user interface can be very complicated or very simple. On one hand, creating your own version of an existing graphical user interface is relatively simple: Typically, all that is required is knowledge of the system that you are already using. From there, you can customize the system by following the built-in commands that allow you to alter the GUI you are using accordingly.

If you are looking to create a graphical user interface from scratch, more advanced programming knowledge is typically required. Creating your own graphical user interface can be boiled down to the following steps:

  • Determine what programming language you want to use.
  • Select the visual elements that you want to utilize and determine how those elements will be accessed.
  • Select menu and window options.
  • Determine what widgets you want to use.
  • Follow the appropriate programming steps that align with your choices above.

Where did the Graphical User Interface originate from?

The GUI was first invented in the Xerox Palo Alto Research laboratory in the 1970s, although work had started on it a decade prior. The mouse was invented in the 1960s, although it looked very different than it does today: It was a large device, connected to the computer by a thick wire, and contained a trackball that controlled the pointer. Windows were available in these early versions, but they were controlled by hypertext. 

The four men who are typically given credit for the invention of the graphical user interface that we know today are Alan Kay, Clarence Ellis, David Smith, and Larry Tesler. The first graphical user interface had many of the features we know today, including:

  • Windows, icons, and menus.
  • The ability to use all of these features to switch between programs, open programs, move files, and delete files.

There were many graphical user interfaces that were used before the popularity of Apple’s various graphical user interfaces. These early examples include Agat, MEX, Visi On, GEM, and DeskMate. None of these programs ever achieved the popularity of some of their successors. 

What are the applications of the Graphical User Interface?

The applications of a GUI have virtually no limit in the area of computing. The success of these devices has had huge significance and meaning for computers, as they essentially allowed people with no knowledge of computer programming to navigate a computer and its various features. 

It is something that is difficult for most people who weren’t alive then to understand, but computers were once very difficult clunky devices. Programs and features were not easy to navigate: You had to understand what programming commands to type in if you were looking to start a program, and that is to say nothing about how to actually use a program. 

GUIs changed that: They made it easy to navigate between programs and ensured that those programs could be smoothly and simply operated. The various features of a graphical user interface that we take for granted today were considered revolutionary for their time, as they allowed anyone to use a computer. This dramatically expanded the accessibility of various computer programs and operating systems. 

Examples of the Graphical User Interface in the real world?

Graphical User Interface game
GUI’s are typically used in computer games, like this game of Atlantis illustrates.

Python

Python is a commonly used computer language that is used for a variety of computer programs and websites. Unlike some other specialty languages, Python can be used for any purpose. As such, some developers have created a GUI using the Python language that can be used for a variety of Python programs.

Vibrance

VibranceGUI is a GUI that has been created specifically for NVIDA and AMD. Both are used for graphics control. As such, the VibranceGUI makes it easy for users to automatically control and configure the graphics on their computer. For intense users of graphics programs – or people who regularly play computer games – this program can be extremely helpful at optimizing their experience. 

Vibrance is also a great example of how GUIs can be created for more niche functions. Many people think of large operating systems when they think of graphical user interfaces, but Vibrance shows how a GUI can be used to control smaller programs and take something that may be highly technical – such as the operation of a graphics card – and make it easy to operate and customize. 

Roblox

Roblox is more commonly known as a kids game, but a broader conception of the program is to understand all of it as a GUI. 

On one hand, Roblox contains a number of graphical user interfaces that cannot be modified. This includes a variety of Leaderboards, chat functions, and the ability to enter certain games. At the same time, there are many modifiable GUIs that can be used, modified, and added. These include a slew of menus, icons, and text options.

Furthermore, given that Roblox allows users to create their own games, many of the entire functions of the program can be understood to operate as a graphical user interface. 

The Complete Guide to Graphical User Interface FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions) 

What is meant by a graphical user interface GUI?

A graphical user interface is a system of visual representations that allow users to engage a computer in a variety of tasks.

What is a GUI example? 

Perhaps the most well-known version of a graphical user interface is Microsoft Windows, which was somewhat revolutionary when it first became a major commercial success. Windows organized computer functions in the highly useful and accessible “start bar,” which allowed users to easily switch between different programs and access different portions of their computers.

How does a graphical user interface GUI work?

A graphical user interface requires a computer mouse, touchscreen, or some other device that enables the user to input commands, like clicking on a button or icon. The computer will then do different actions, depending on the input received. For example, using a double-click of the left mouse button will often allow a user to execute a command that opens a program, whereas a right mouse click will typically open up a menu that allows a user to input more commands.

What are the 4 features of a graphical user interface GUI?

There are four features of a graphical user interface that interact with each other, and the meaning of these four parts ensures that a graphical user interface can smoothly operate.

Windows: Windows are another way of talking about different programs that are running. They divide computer screens and can be toggled back and forth.
Icons: Icons are small pictures that a user can click on to execute a command, like starting a program or accessing a web browser.
Menu: Menus, like icons, can be used to access different programs. For example, the Start Bar on windows computers would be considered a menu.
Pointer: A pointer is a symbol that is controlled by the mouse. It enables users to figure out what they are about to click on.

What is the function of the GUI?

The function of the GUI is to allow a computer user to easily be able to navigate a computer and its various functions.

What GUI element is usually on the right side of the taskbar and displays open services?

The System Tray. The meaning of the System Tray is that it is used to show what programs are open, even if the user is not aware that these programs are running. Examples including active print jobs, internet connections, Bluetooth connections, and more. These programs can be accessed from the systems tray.

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