Does anyone know a good synonym for 'GUI' that non-technical people will understand? Or a simple sentence explaining it that still won't scare them off?

I mean this in the context of, for example, letting the user choose between an "Simple GUI" and "Advanced GUI" setting.

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    Maybe just drop the abbreviation and call it the interface? Commented Apr 29, 2013 at 11:55
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    I still think the answer I gave applies. Just call it "simple" and "advanced", or simple and advanced mode. No need to mention GUI or interface.
    – user31143
    Commented Apr 29, 2013 at 14:56
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    I'd call this "advanced view" or perhaps "advanced mode" - that is, assuming your users didn't get it when you just use "simple" and "advanced" without a noun, which might work. Commented Apr 29, 2013 at 15:48
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    "The buttons and icons and thingamabobs that you click and tap on and stuff"
    – DA01
    Commented Apr 29, 2013 at 15:48
  • "Visual interface between human and computer"
    – ilmiacs
    Commented Apr 29, 2013 at 16:27

7 Answers 7


What about "the visual part of the application, i.e. its buttons, text boxes and other visual elements"?

In a more detailed form, you would also include that it handles:

  • The process of displaying the elements to the user through a screen,

  • The interaction of the user with those elements (most commonly known as events, but it's not limited to events).

Note that non-technical people understand quite well what interface is. This makes it pretty easy to understand what is user interface. The most difficult part is the "G": most non-technical would assume that GUI is the only user interface which exists, and console-style interface is not an interface at all.

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    "Note that non-technical people understand quite well what interface is" So 'Interface'. Yeah, I guess that will work. Thanks :-)
    – jobukkit
    Commented Apr 29, 2013 at 15:46
  • "Interface" is a reasonably technical word in and of itself. It's better to lie to children/grandparents and just call the GUI the "program" as per Dan's answer.
    – Nick T
    Commented Apr 29, 2013 at 22:15
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    @NickT, I don't think it even counts as a lie to children. It's not an oversimplification, just communicating the information that is relevant in context. For example, if I said "this car is powerful", it would be an accurate statement, even though technically it is the engine that is powerful.
    – user31143
    Commented Apr 30, 2013 at 9:41

There is little need even to explain the idea of interface to users of the program. To them, the program is the interface.

Don't say "the GUI of the program does X". Just say "the program does X".

Don't say "the GUI has a red self-destruct button". Say "the program has a red self-destruct button".

To you, the programmer, it is very important to think about what is part of the GUI and what is not. However, the user couldn't care less about that. The interface, by definition, is the only part they see. The rest is hidden by design.

The only case when the idea of "GUI" might matter to the user is if you have more than one interface. For example, if you have both a command-line and a graphical interface, you may have to distinguish the two in some contexts.

Still, unless your program is closely tied to the command line, you should probably still not say anything about interfaces in any general documentation or information: just talk about the GUI as "the program" in any generic setting, and put the command line options in the documentation (users who want that will know how to find it--and in that part of the documentation you can probably talk about GUIs without fear of people not knowing what it is).

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    +1. I actually missed the fact that to the users, interface is the actual program. Commented Apr 29, 2013 at 13:15
  • Most users are only exposed to graphical interfaces, so there's no need to differentiate it from commandline or text based.
    – JeffO
    Commented Apr 29, 2013 at 13:53
  • @JeffO, thanks, that is what I meant, basically, but I realized that part wasn't completely clear. Edited.
    – dan1111
    Commented Apr 29, 2013 at 14:18
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    @MainMa: I would hesitate to paint "the users" with such a broad brush as that. There are many kinds of users. But I would agree that, to most users, the behavior of the interface is what matters, and it's irrelevant how the implementation of that behavior is distributed between various components of the program.
    – LarsH
    Commented Apr 29, 2013 at 18:34
  • I know. But in some circumstances you can't get around it and need to say it.
    – jobukkit
    Commented Apr 30, 2013 at 9:38

I've always just used the term "screen" instead of GUI, as in: "Would you like the program to show you the simple screen, or the advanced screen?"

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    This is the best answer. In particular, the GUI of a non-windowed embedded system is its "screens". If it's a windowed interface, we can call them windows: the program's collection of windows constitute its user interface.
    – Kaz
    Commented Apr 29, 2013 at 17:47
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    Or view, Simple View, advanced View, Customize View etc.. Its simple and everyone understands it. Commented Apr 30, 2013 at 0:56
  • When I saw, " synonym for 'GUI' that non-technical people will understand", I thought of Screen and my sister, the epitome of non-technical. This gets my vote.
    – dbasnett
    Commented May 6, 2013 at 13:52

You could use "screen layout" as the synonym for Graphical User Interface (GUI). This is easier to understand than the acronym GUI for non technical people. Another alternative would be to spell out the acronym in full wording, and you wouldn´t need a synonym.

  • Welcome to UX.SE! Please check out the faq and about pages to learn more about best practices when answering questions. Your answer is a little hard to understand. Providing context (i.e. "A good synonym would be" instead of "it") will help people know what you're trying to say.
    – elemjay19
    Commented Apr 29, 2013 at 16:42
  • This does not provide an answer to the question. To critique or request clarification from an author, leave a comment below their post - you can always comment on your own posts, and once you have sufficient reputation you will be able to comment on any post.
    – rk.
    Commented Apr 29, 2013 at 17:52
  • I took the liberty of editing your answer, and upvote your answer at the same time. Welcome to UX.SE ;-) Commented Apr 29, 2013 at 20:07
  • @rk. Why does this not provide an answer? I'm asking for a synonym and he/she gives one. Upvoted.
    – jobukkit
    Commented Apr 30, 2013 at 9:40
  • @com.BOY, this was before the edit by Benny. I upvoted the post after the edit.
    – rk.
    Commented Apr 30, 2013 at 12:07

If you want to separate the program from the GUI, then you can use 'Basic interface' vs 'Advanced interface'.

If you merge the concerns (program & interface) then you can do what the calculator application on mac and windows does, have multiple views, 'basic', 'advanced' and more if need be. You can also link it with functionality and say, 'basic functionality' or 'advanced functionality'

  • It's not about separating the program from the GUI. For any program to be useful to humans it must have an interface; that interface may be graphical or it may not.
    – Chris Calo
    Commented May 17, 2013 at 1:59

When Microsoft bolted a GUI on top of DOS, it's possible that someone on the team point proposed calling it "Microsoft GUI for DOS", but in the end they came up with "Microsoft Windows".

A program's GUI in a windowed environment is exactly that: it consists of the set of its windows. (A generality, with possible exceptions like background programs that have a graphical presence in the form of some icon with a context menu.)

Embedded systems which have graphical (or textual) interfaces without windows, where the pages of the UI occupies a full screen, have screens. For example: This rackmount synthesizer's screens are quite intuitive, making it easy to program. Or: Press the Fax button on the copier's main screen to bring up the Fax screen.

The explanatory help text for newbies that you are looking for might be something like:

GUI stands for Graphical User Interface. It is a visual way of interacting with a computer program by manipulating controls which are represented as diagrams on the screen, and by entering any necessary numbers or text into designated boxes, in any order.

GUIs can be complicated, showing many controls at the same time, including rare features used by experts. A complex GUI overwhelms casual users of a program, or beginners. This program accommodates such users by supporting a mode of operation whereby it presents a simplified form of its GUI that is easier to understand and use for common operations. You can switch to the advanced GUI at any time if you aren't able to find a way to do something using the simple GUI.


"The application's face that you interact with, you can see it, you can transmit informations to it, but it's just the part you see, not the clever part of it, not its brain".

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