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What Is a Graphical User Interface?


A graphical user interface (GUI) is a system that allows users to visually interact with electronic devices. Through icons, buttons, widgets, mouse clicks and other indicators, GUIs let anyone command a machine to perform specific actions.

Imagine accomplishing a task like creating a website without a GUI system in place. Rather than opening a web browser and clicking a few buttons to build a website, we’d need to type in intricate demands to a blank screen without any visual representation of our commands.

GUIs replaced more complex and archaic ways of early computing, such as text-based or command-based interactions. These time-consuming methods limited computing to those with in-depth technical knowledge, and even they would have to refer to hefty user manuals full of different commands.

History of graphical user interface

In 1981, an engineering group at the Xerox company developed the first graphical user interface system. The system included different icons, buttons and arrows simplifying computer interactions for the average user and paving the way for personal computers’ ubiquity.

In 1983, Apple introduced the Lisa computer, which used a GUI. The following year, Apple introduced the first Apple Macintosh computer with an updated GUI. Around the same time, Microsoft released its first GUI-based device that ran Windows 1.0.

GUI’s transformed the way we communicate with machines. To this day, engineers improve computers so that the average user intuitively interacts with the device. Additionally, these systems standardized device interactions, from a tap on a smartphone screen to a mouse click on a desktop icon.


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Benefits of graphical user interface (GUI)

Graphical user interface systems come with a number of invaluable benefits, including:

1. Intuitive

Usability is one of the most noticeable benefits for GUIs. With data visually represented by icons, buttons or other types of symbols, users can easily navigate and perform actions. With a GUI, users can accomplish tasks in a couple of clicks with a GUI, whereas it would take a lot more time and effort to complete the same task using a clunkier command-based interface.

2. Visually appealing

A user likely finds GUI’s buttons and symbols more attractive than text or command-based interfaces. Additionally, most GUIs use familiar visual icons, like arrows, to depict their functions.

3. For all ages

Think of how young children can easily use a tablet or smartphone without any technical skills. And once you learn one type of GUI, you can easily learn another. For example, Windows users can easily navigate a Mac operating system and vice versa.

4. Multitasking-friendly

With GUI systems, users can view more than one program at a time. For instance, a user might have Adobe Photoshop open while also using a web browser.

5. Options for shortcuts

Shortcuts have simplified GUI systems. Users can create their own clickable fields with it, minimizing the number of clicks required to complete a task.

For example, a user can create a shortcut on their desktop that leads to a specific website. Engineers and designers have created shortcuts for mobile devices, such as a swipe-up feature to close a screen or navigate between them, that eliminates the need for additional buttons.

GUI examples

GUIs come in different forms, but users have interacted with these familiar types:

Microsoft Windows

Microsoft Windows’s unique GUI allows users to click on certain icons, buttons, or shortcuts to accomplish tasks. Clicking the start button to see the menu or right-clicking to save an image both exemplify Windows’ GUI at work.


Linux is a popular computer operating system that sits on an open-source platform. Linux has its own GUI that allows users to navigate a computer alongside few others, such as GNOME, Mate and Cinnamon.


Apple devices come with their own operation system (OS) with a built-in GUI. The unique and sleek design, layout and themes have been solidified throughout different versions of Mac’s OS systems.


Android is a popular mobile OS system that runs on smartphones and tablets used by Microsoft, Samsung, LG, Sony Ericssons and others. By running Android, users can download applications, browse online, take photos, and more.

Apple iOS

Apple released its own operating system for its products called iOS. With this system, users can do almost anything on a handheld device. The company has visually and technically upgraded iOS many times since it first launched, remaining highly relevant for its customer base.


Related Term


Related Term

Business-to-Business (B2B)

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