Multimedia v Graphical User Interfaces

Historically multimedia interfaces were quite different to graphical user interfaces (GUI) and certainly required set of skills with some commonality and some differences. When the personal computer became widespread and GUI’s were first developed (e.g. Macintosh and Windows) these were new and different ways of interacting with the system, software and devices with many different uses which were largely based around navigation and control of software actions (e.g. navigating folders, starting applications, etc.), whereas computer-based multimedia, which appeared later in widespread use, was used to control the interaction between humans and a limited subset of data within the computers GUI. As Chapman & Chapman (2009, p477) explained that the “distinction between interacting with and though multimedia is not a precise one”, going on to include “media content of Web pages and time-based media” in the MUI.

In order to clarify this statement, we can take some real-life examples to demonstrate the differences between GUI and multimedia user interface (MUI). The popular web site YouTube is accessed through a browser, which has a GUI, however the user navigates and controls the media within the site using the internal MUI, which are represented by familiar controls that the user should recognise from using other devices and not require much time to learn how to use. As a result, even though both types of user interface rely on standards (in programming and display terms), the human-computer interaction aspect of a MUI is different in that not only to such standards apply, there is also a degree of consistency that is used. This consistency promotes accessibility and usability greatly, critical to success according to Nielsen (2003), and therefore, although navigation controls may seem based, a great deal of understanding of additional issues is required by the publisher.

Having been involved in both GUI and MUI interface design, my initial reaction was to state that designing an efficient GUI was much more complex than an MUI, however I see the boundaries blurring today. Designing a multimedia user interface is not more complex task than designing a graphical user interface at the basic level, however given industry moves towards multi-device and cross platform compatibility, such multimedia user interfaces are becoming much more complex and, in some instances are difficult to differentiate between traditional user interfaces.


Chapman. C. & Chapman. J. (2009) Digital Multimedia (3rd Edition). Wiley.

Nielsen, J (2003) “Usability 101: Introduction to Usability.” [Online]. Available at (Accessed 27 Mar 2011).