UI elements are visual and interactive components that provide navigational support to users; they help them better control the system they are using. UI elements do this by providing an interface with a clear visual language, enabling messaging and navigation to be consistent and logical.
The most commonly-recognized UI elements include buttons, menus, and tabs. However, there are many more besides those! In this article, we’re going to run through forty essential UI design elements that, as a UX designer, you’ll need to be familiar with to provide the best user experiences to visitors of your website or app.
Let’s dive in!
An accordion is a design element that enables users to collapse and expand content panels, helping to conserve space on the screen and reduce the user’s cognitive load by only revealing the information they need at any one time.
An accordion might be used on a website’s FAQ page, for example, revealing each answer only when the user clicks on the question, and collapsing other answers:
UI designers use badges as visual indicators within an interface to convey to the user the status of an item or specific information about it. Usually used in conjunction with an app icon, a badge on a messaging app icon, for example, is there to tell the user how many unread messages they have. This badge typically appears as a number within a red circle in one corner of the icon:
A menu element that seeks to be as compact as it is organized, the bento menu typically displays a set of actions or options within a structure similar to that of a Japanese bento box.
For UI designers, the benefit of using this element is that it presents the user with an array of options — both on mobile or desktop — while saving on screen space. A popular use case for bento menus is within a photo editing app, whereby users are given easy and fast access to a range of cropping, filter, or text tools arranged in a small grid in one corner of the screen:
A useful navigation aid, a breadcrumb shows the user the route they’ve taken through the website’s hierarchy to reach their current location. It does this by displaying a trail of clickable links to the previously visited pages at the top of the page.
The benefit for users of this so-called “helper element” is that they can easily retrace their steps to the site’s main pages. On an ecommerce website, for example, a trail of breadcrumbs might look like this: Home > Category > Subcategory > Product. with each word linked to its respective page:
Buttons fall under the “input” category of elements used by UI designers and are interactive, visually recognizable design elements that can be clicked on or tapped by a user to initiate a specific action. A common example of a button is the Submit button at the end of a form which, once clicked on, triggers the processing of the form:
Used to display all sorts of related content such as text, images, and buttons, a card is a modular container that presents a visually coherent yet distinct item on a digital interface. On a social media platform, for example, you might use a card to display a user’s profile picture and messaging buttons, presenting others with a cohesive picture of all of a user’s information in one place.
Cards are often laid out side by side on an interface, with each one presenting the user with a snapshot of what they’ll encounter should they pick one card or another:
A carousel is a popular dynamic element because it enables users to browse a range of images or cards quickly and easily. On a mobile or tablet device, this is done by swiping horizontally, while on a desktop the same result is achieved by clicking on an arrow.
These cards might tell a story or link to more resources, always moving in a cyclical motion. Carousels are a great way for UI designers to optimize the space they have available to them and showcase multiple ideas in one area:
Charts represent data visually. For users looking to understand or analyze a complex set of numbers, trends, statistics, or facts, charts can communicate this information in an easy-to-digest way through the use of compelling visual cues such as colored lines, pie slices, or bars, which represent different groups.
A finance app might publish a line chart that illustrates a company’s performance on the stock market over time, for example, communicating the status of that organization’s performance quickly and effectively to users. Or you might visualize the population this way:
A checkbox is an element that most of us are very familiar with: a simple square box that a user can check or uncheck when clicked or tapped. You can signal this on the interface by the display of a small tick.
This design element can be used to allow users to toggle back and forth between two different states. For example, the checkbox next to the “Dark Mode” option on a device enables users to toggle between dark and light mode by checking or unchecking the box:
We’re all pretty familiar with comments on interfaces these days. Whether they’re on a writing software like Google Docs, a social media platform like Instagram, or within a design app like Figma, comments display user-generated content that can refer to a specific element or section of the interface being viewed. Or, in the case of social media, they can display a user’s response to an entire post.
Comments are posted in chronological order and can usually be replied or responded to by other users viewing the page:
Confirmation dialogues are another input element consisting of pop-up messages or modal boxes that require user verification or consent before proceeding with an action. These UI elements usually appear before potentially irreversible actions, such as deleting a file on your desktop or confirming a purchase on an ecommerce site:
If you’ve ever booked a train, flight, or hotel, you’ll be familiar with the date picker design element. This graphical input element allows users to select a date from a calendar image or input a date manually that is then submitted to the system:
The dropdown allows users to select an item from a list of options that appear when the dropdown is clicked on. When selecting your country of residence, for example, it is common to see this UI element.
When clicked or tapped, the dropdown list displays a long list of countries and the user selects the one that is relevant to them:
Combining the features of both a dropdown list and a text box, a combobox (short for combination box), enables users to either select an option from a list or enter a specific value if the option they are looking for is not immediately visible or available:
A multiselect is a design element that allows users to select multiple items from a list of options at the same time, in doing so providing a streamlined process for communicating preferences and boosting user flexibility.
An example of a multiselect would be when users are asked to express their preferred method of transportation; the multiselect dropdown allows the selection of both “train” and “bus,” not just one or the other. You can also multiselect categories:
A feed is a continuously updated stream of user-generated content, typically presented in chronological order, that appears on a platform’s interface in the form of text, images, videos, memes, and more.
A social media timeline is a good example of a feed, whereby posts, updates, and activity from individuals or companies who the user follows are published dynamically and in an ongoing flow:
To collect user data in one place, a form consists of an arrangement of input fields, checkboxes, buttons, and other interactive elements. Commonly, we use forms for tasks such as user registration or data submission, with fields including name, email address, password, and so on.
At the end of a form, the user is usually required to click or tap a “Submit” button to confirm that they are happy for their data to be processed:
A hamburger menu is another element that helps UI designers conserve space on the page and present a less cluttered interface to users. The hamburger menu is represented by three horizontal lines which resemble a hamburger. When clicked or tapped, the element reveals a list of navigation options that were previously not visible:
We use the word “icon” a lot in design, and this term generally refers to the visual representation of an object, idea, or action that is used to quickly communicate a message to users. Icons assist in making interfaces more intuitive and familiar, which speeds up interactions, reduces cognitive load, and makes for a more pleasant user experience.
An example of an icon would be an envelope, which is the universally-recognized image for a message or email:
Search bars, text boxes, and dropdowns are all input fields; interactive areas of an interface where users can enter or edit data. This design element is usually used to gather information such as login details, numbers, or dates, but can also be used for color selection, ratings, URLs, and much more.
Sometimes known as an overflow menu, the kebab menu is a set of three dots, usually arranged vertically that, when clicked, reveal more options or actions for the user to choose from in a dropdown list.
Similar to the hamburger menu, kebab menus are used to keep an interface uncluttered and are typically employed to house less frequently used functions:
A list of links is a navigational element that hosts exactly what it describes: a list of links. These can be internal links to content within the site or external links to other resources. A list of links might be displayed in a sidebar, the header, or the footer, or simply integrated into the main content area:
We’ve all experienced the loader UI element at some time or another. This is the (often fun) visual element that indicates that the backend is completing an action or processing data.
UI designers sometimes use animations or progress bars when a webpage is loading to communicate to users that the content they are asking for is being collected. The loader prevents the user from giving up or perceiving the short delay as a lack of responsiveness on the side of the system:
Similar to the kebab menu, the meatballs menu is another tool UI designers use to keep an interface uncluttered while still offering users a range of options, settings, or actions. The meatballs menu appears as three dots, but unlike the kebab menu which appears vertically, the meatballs menu appears horizontally:
The modal is a small window or unit that overlays the main content on a webpage, with a message prompting users to take an action before they can get back to the main workflow.
While it is sometimes used as a marketing technique, with the box appearing just before a user tries to leave a site, it is also used as a preventative measure — when a user wants to delete a file, a modal box will appear to check they are sure about the action they are taking:
A notification is an alert that appears on an interface to communicate that something is new, has changed, or has gone wrong. Common uses for notifications include alerting users when a new message has arrived or letting a user know that a process they were trying to complete has failed.
Typically, notifications are displayed as red dots on an interface to immediately draw the user’s eye to them:
A key navigation tool, pagination is when content is divided into separate pages, supporting the navigation of large amounts of information and helping users find where they are within that data. An example of pagination is the numbered links found at the bottom of search engine results pages:
Another input design element, a password field is the place where users are asked to type in their chosen password. This element is designed to securely capture the password information and conceal the characters entered by a user.
Password fields are most commonly found on login screens, where users are required to select secure passwords, with the characters hidden (usually with stars or dots) to prevent onlookers from seeing the password that has been entered:
Most commonly seen in the context of choosing dates and times, a picker is a UI design element that allows users to choose a specific value from a set of predefined options. The picker ensures that the format of all data entered is consistent across a platform which makes it easier to categorize or analyze:
We’ve probably all encountered a progress bar at some time or another: it’s the horizontal line that gives users a visual clue as to the status of a task or process. It’s commonly seen when downloading files, installing software, or submitting forms:
Similar to, but not to be confused with, checkboxes, radio buttons are a type of input element that enables users to select a single option from a list of many mutually exclusive items. The key difference between radio buttons and checkboxes is that while checkboxes allow a user to select as many items as they wish, radio buttons only allow the user to select one item.
A good example of radio buttons is when a user is asked to select their gender on a form. In this instance, users can only select one of the available options, indicated by a filled-in circle that sits next to the selected gender identity. You’ll find radio buttons frequently in surveys:
The search field element is a tool for assisting users in searching for specific data within an interface or system. One example of a search field is the one found on search engine homepages that enable users to search the internet, but you’ll also find them in pretty much every type of program to help users search for specific information within that system:
A sidebar in UI design is a panel that contains navigational tools, links, and information for users that helps them navigate to different areas of a website or use different functionalities. The sidebar is found at the side of the page, but it can be vertical or horizontal.
Gmail provides a good example of a sidebar, with users able to access different mail folders at all times along the lefthand side of the page:
Commonly used for adjusting brightness or volume, slider controls are a popular UI element that support users in adjusting a value. Visually, slider controls usually have a knob or handle that the user drags using a finger or mouse to adjust settings, choose preferences, or select values:
A stepper is not dissimilar to a slider, but this UI element differs from the latter in that rather than offering a continuous range of values for a user to choose from, users can increment or decrement a value within a specific range.
The benefit of using a stepper is they can make very precise adjustments, while for interfaces the tool enables them to offer limited sets of values:
A tag is a UI design element that is used to mark, label, and categorize content that helps users find the information they need swiftly. For managing large amounts of data, tags are invaluable as they offer a fast way of creating topics and adding data to particular topics.
On social media and blogs, tags are particularly common as brands can make their posts more findable to users searching for specific keywords related to their industry:
Typically consisting of a row or column of tabs, the tab bar is a navigational UI element found on mobile apps that we use to organize content and enable users to quickly switch between different key functions or parts of an application:
Providing a succinct communication function between an interface and a user, the toast UI element gives users feedback or information unobtrusively. Without interrupting the user’s workflow, we normally see the toast element as notifications, alerts, or confirmations that appear at the top or bottom of the screen and disappear after a short period:
A toggle enables users to switch between two distinct states, usually by representing an on/off switch or an active/inactive option. This control setting allows users to quickly enable or disable certain features within the settings of an application, website, or interface to customize their experience to their preferences:
A widget is a UI element that provides a quick glimpse of an app’s most valuable information and functions. Usually embedded in an application or interface, they’re a useful tool for developers and designers who wish to add specific types of content or features to an interface, while for the user they serve to support more compact and modular interactions:
In this article, we’ve run through forty of the most commonly used UI elements found on the interfaces of websites, apps, and digital systems.
For a UX designer, these elements are essential tools for enabling more seamless, intuitive, and familiar interactions that work together to optimize the user’s overall experience with a brand and help them reach their goals.
Header image source: IconScout
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