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Laws of UX – Part One

January 25, 2018 - Alexandra Lofthouse

As a Senior UX Designer at Fifteen, it’s my job to keep on top of the latest trends in User Experience and Interface. But, like in most areas of design, there is a general set of principles that most will refer to. As documented in Laws of UX by Jon Yablonski, there are 10 rules that all UX designers should refer to and apply across their field. I’d like to run through these laws across a two-part blog.

1. Fitt’s Law

The time to acquire a target is a function of the distance to and size of the target.

Fitt’s Law was conceived by psychologist Paul Fitts in the 1950s. His law dictates that fast movements and small targets result in a greater rate of error. Therefore, the width of the target and relation of distance to the target will determine the time required to rapidly move to it. While this law was originally developed in relation to movement in the physical world, it can be applied to digital interactions too. To put Fitt’s law into very simple terms, clickable areas such as buttons should be bigger and the distance between related content should be minimal. This law is applied to UX and UI design and has influenced the design of interactive buttons. This is most notably on mobile devices. However, in the online world, we often see a disregard for this law within a lot of web applications. Where we see users having to place their cursor directly over an area of what we would expect to be the link, instead of linking a larger area.

2. Hick’s Law

The time it takes to make a decision increases with the number and complexity of choices.

Hick’s Law (also known as the Hick-Hyman Law) was created by William Edmund Hick and Ray Hyman in the 1950s. Their experiment examined the correlation between the number of stimuli present and a users reaction time to any given stimulus. They discovered that the more there was to choose from, the longer the decision time would be on which stimuli to react to. In relation to User Experience design, this means that when users are given a great deal of information to choose from, it will give them extra work they don’t need. Thus, they will take a longer amount of time to interpret this information and make a decision. In some cases where there is too much choice or options that are not visually prioritised, the user will abandon making a choice entirely. This can be curtains for your website. Web users typically make decisions within seconds, if you provide too many options at once then perhaps it’s time to think of restructuring that content.

3. Jakob’s Law

Users spend most of their time on other sites. This means that users prefer your site to work the same way as all the other sites they already know.

Jakob’s law was originally created by Jakob Nelson. He was the co-founder of the Nielsen Norman Group alongside Dr Donald A. Norman (former VP of research at Apple Computer). He found that users spend most of their time on other websites. Meaning that they prefer your website to work in a similar fashion to the sites they are already familiar with. It’s been a long time fact that the most successful websites standardise their design and work very similarly to the most commonly used websites out there. If you think about the last ten websites you used, I’m going to safely bet that the majority of them have the company logo in the top left corner and if you click it, it will take you to the homepage. This is one of the most common parts of a website, and users expect it to work the same way on Amazon, Youtube and Facebook as it will on yours. Unless you’ve really set out to reinvent the wheel, we’d suggest sticking to Jacob’s Law and standardising common elements throughout your website design.

4. Law of Prägnanz

People will perceive and interpret ambiguous or complex images as the simplest form possible because it is the interpretation that requires the least cognitive effort of us.

In the early 1900s, psychologist Max Wetheimer observed a set of flashing lights around a movie theatre marquee. He viewed this as a single light moving around the marquee, whereas really it was a series of bulbs turning off and on again, not moving at all. It was this that led him to a set of description principles about how people visually perceive objects. These principles are key in how we work as graphic designers, creating work that excites how our eye builds relationships between elements.

5. Law of Proximity

Objects that are near, or proximate to each other, tend to be grouped together.

The Law of Proximity dictates that objects that are near to each other tend to be grouped together. It is part of the Gestalt Laws and psychology founded by Max Wertheimer. Applied to UX and UI design, The Proximity Law allows us to use whitespace and grouping to nest elements of a design in categories or groups based on their proximity to each other. The human eye more closely associates objects that are close to each other than ones that are spaced far apart. While this may seem like common sense, the Law is often disregarded within web design, making the user’s journey more complicated.

These five principles just make up half of the Laws of UX, however, they all lend themselves to each other and work together to create a user-friendly digital experience. In the second half of this two-part blog, I’ll cover the remaining Laws and how they can work alongside each other within UX Design.

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