I don't mean to come across as glib, but I feel that the clearest way I can communicate what I want to know is through some analogies:

  • CPython, gcc, javac, ... -> compilers
  • MS Windows, OS X, Ubuntu, ... -> operating systems
  • PCRE, re2, ... -> regular languages and FSM
  • Android Layouts, iOS xib files, HTML/CSS, -> ????

The things on the right are good theoretical basis for helping you get started on implementing the stuff on the left. Note, it's not so helpful on how to use it.

Question: I'd like to know what should go in that ???? above.

EDIT: Sorry about the confusion, hopefully I can clarify a bit.

I am not talking about UX.

Whereas UI/UX is about how human beings interact with the final apps that are created, in this question, I am interested more in the mechanics of how GUI frameworks are designed, not so much the resulting app itself.

You could claim compiler design is also a UX problem because you have to think about how real human beings will interact with the programming language. And that is true. But there's also a "mathematical" part of compiler design that isn't so preoccupied with end-users, but more with how to implement the design.

I don't care so much about what layouts look good to people per se, but about how layout engines/frameworks are designed.

To say that this question is about UX is like saying that compilers is about how to use programming languages.

  • 1
    I think you are looking for term "User Experience" for which there is SE site : ux.stackexchange.com It covers both theory and practice of designing and implementing human-machine interaction.
    – Euphoric
    Apr 12, 2018 at 6:33
  • @Euphoric I thought UX involved some psychological aspect of how people interact with computers. I was thinking more purely technical, like the language of how views can be laid out. Like there's a UX aspect to designing programming languages and compilers, but there's also theoretical part of it that doesn't really care about psychology. Similarly, here I'm purely interested in the mechanics of how it's done.
    – math4tots
    Apr 12, 2018 at 14:30
  • 4
    There are at least two areas with theoretical work of different kind. One is e.g. constraint solvers to lay out UI elements described declaratively (like CSS). Another is applied psychology work, dealing with attention, short-term memory, eye-hand coordination, perception of colors, shapes, contrasts, hierarchies, etc. Both have plenty of research.
    – 9000
    Apr 12, 2018 at 15:48
  • @9000 ooh I think constraint solver is really close to what I'm looking for!!! I'll look into it when I get a chance later today, thanks!!
    – math4tots
    Apr 12, 2018 at 15:52
  • IMHO you are expecting too much. GUI layout is based simply on 2D computer graphics, and most GUI frameworks also incorporate events. Everything else is a lot of hard work in design and experience over decades on how to use these tools to generate UX.
    – Doc Brown
    Apr 12, 2018 at 19:31

1 Answer 1


I think the analogous word or phrase you're looking for is something like "UI layout format". If you want to understand the concepts involved in, say, iOS app layout, you might find Apple's Human Interface Guidelines helpful. (I believe that Google has one for their Material design as well.)

If you're looking for information on the theoretical background of interface design, the go to book I often see cited is Don Norman's The Design of Everyday Things. I've also heard good things about Don't Make Me Think.

If you're looking for programming advice on how to achieve a certain goal, that's probably a better fit over at Stack Overflow.

  • +1 for DOET, it doesn't give you much practical advice on UI design, but it changes the way you look at user interfaces (in the broad sense, I'll never look at door handles the same way again) Apr 12, 2018 at 6:39
  • 1
    Thanks for answering the question, but I am not talking about UX. I literally mean, the "technical mechanics" of how these GUI frameworks are designed. I've added an edit to the question that hopefully clarifies what I mean
    – math4tots
    Apr 12, 2018 at 14:40
  • Also, for what it's worth, I have read DOET a while ago after hearing about it in a Vox video a while back. I also liked it :)
    – math4tots
    Apr 12, 2018 at 14:50

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