I'm currently the sole programmer for a project. We are creating a handheld device that includes a screen to display live data and video feed, push buttons to control the program's functionalities, and some other electronic components. The user does not interact with the screen directly (operation is controlled through the push buttons, not a touch screen or keyboard/mouse), but the visuals on it are an essential part of using the device.

While not exactly the same, my device is similar in setup to an IR camera like this one, where there are buttons that do all the program control, and then a screen to display a variety of information essential to operating the device but that is not "clicked" directly. I'd like a name specifically for the part of the software that is displayed on the screen. I have thus far been calling this program a graphical user interface based on OmniSci's definition of a GUI:

a type of user interface through which users interact with electronic devices via visual indicator representations.

Is GUI the accurate term to describe that programme? I have a doubt bacause the user does not interact with the electronics through the graphical interface directly. But also, it's all one chunk of code that controls the screen display, the functionality of the push buttons, and all other electronic components, so maybe it is a GUI? I would appreciate some assistance putting a name to my program.

  • Are the functions of these physical buttons fixed or are they polymorphic like the buttons on old school ATM's that pointed at text that explained what they did? Feb 14, 2021 at 7:06
  • Here's an example that discuses the design. It calls it a UI. Feb 14, 2021 at 7:11
  • @candied_orange the functions of the physical buttons are fixed, generally. My understanding is that a GUI is a subset of a UI; is it that the screen portion of my device is a GUI, and the physical buttons are a UI?
    – Drake P
    Feb 14, 2021 at 7:41
  • Yes, in that case you have even less of a reason to mention the G in GUI. Your project isn't what people think of when they think of GUI. If your project also uses something less than a full blown operating system then I suspect the typical description of your project is an embedded system. Feb 14, 2021 at 7:46
  • @candied_orange it does use a raspberry pi, so there's a full operating system. If the main program and electronics is just a UI, is there a name for the monitor part of it? Would that be a dashboard maybe?
    – Drake P
    Feb 14, 2021 at 8:02

1 Answer 1


The term GUI is appropriate for a computing device as soon as you display more than text to influence the interactions with the user. The fact that the user doesn’t interact directly with the screen is not a showstopper: a classic GUI on a desktop computer is also operated with buttons that are in reality located on a mouse or a keyboard and not on the screen.

The kind of user interface of your IR camera example is without a doubt a graphical user interface. Here are some example use of the term GUI in conjunction with a handheld device: patent on a digital camera with graphical user interface, another patent for a barcode reader GUI, a product description of a GUI for camera, and an article on the use of GUI tools for developing embedded device UI. Moreover, the use of embedded OS like Windows 10 IoT is also based on a GUI when there is a display.

If you look for a more specific term for a touch-screen based interface, you may consider mobile UI. However, use it with care, because it's not only about the technical characteristics of that interface: mobile UI also refers to the design, in particular its usability on small screens.

If you look for a more general term you may think of User Interface which is completely neutral about the technical aspects and the design. You may generalise further with Human Computer Interface, if the human is not really a user of the system or does not realise that there is a system at all.

  • Thank you for the answer. I added a third paragraph with an example of a device similar in layout as mine; do you still feel GUI is an acceptable term? I just want to verify since my use case feels on the edge of my intuitive expectations of what a GUI would be.
    – Drake P
    Feb 14, 2021 at 17:30
  • 2
    @DrakeP thank you for your feedback. I've edited my answer to address your example. Hope this helps to confirm your terminological choice.
    – Christophe
    Feb 14, 2021 at 23:45

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