6 min read

Laws of UX

Every human action includes an interaction. Whether this involves calling someone over the phone or cooking a meal in your kitchen, every activity has been designed by a human being for the rest of the race. All these interactions have been designed keeping in mind the visual aesthetics, ease of use, and general utility. Similarly, when we design digital products, we have to keep in mind some general tendencies of user behavior, needs, and preferences. Celebrated UX designer Jon Yablonski has carefully curated laws of UX rooted in human behavior that must be considered while building an intuitive, friendly experience.

1. Fitt’s Law

Law of UX: Fitt's-law

‘The time required to rapidly move to a target area is a function of the ratio between the distance to the target and the width of the target’ says the fitt’s law of UX.

Fitts’s Law is relevant in the sphere of interactive interface design. We can observe this law in use while sizing and spacing objects in a graphical display. The time taken to select an object decreases as the size of the object increases and vice versa. And as the distance between the user’s starting point and the object decreases the time taken to make the selection decreases as well. This is why small objects on any interface that are placed far away from the user’s starting position take longer time to access and hence, to get selected. These guidelines with respect to space and size are important parameters to consider while designing interactive elements on screen, ie, as large as sensibly possible without disturbing the aesthetics. 

2. Hick’s Law

Law of UX: Hick's-Law

‘The time taken to complete a certain task depends on the number and complexity of choices’ describes Hick’s law of UX

Think back to a visit to an ice-cream store. It’s easier to pick a flavor if the store offers only 3 choices, versus making a choice among 20 different flavors. Similarly, while designing the experience for a user online, you can use hick’s law to reduce the options on the screen so that the user can accomplish the goal without being confused or giving up.  

Always attempt to simplify the choices offered to help the user make decisions faster. If these choices cannot be reduced, try to bucket similar options together. This will reduce the cognitive load on the user. Or use this to simplify complex information, for example, by asking them to do one thing a time, like the purchase process. E-commerce sites or the information consuming sites, generally use this principle at large. 

3. Jakob’s Law

Law of UX: 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.’

A very famous saying by Carl Sagan goes,‘if you wish to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.’ In the digital universe as well, you do not need to reinvent the wheel. Use the existing mental models to let users focus on their goals. Let the user be comfortable with familiar principles such as gestures, visual cues,  scrolling, etc. Hence, it helps if generic elements like icons, gestures and call-to-action language is consistent with what they already know. And this is well explained in Jakob’s law of UX

4. Miller’s Law

Law of UX: Miller's-Law

‘The average person can keep only 7+-2 elements in their working memory.’

Memory is a limited resource.The structure and flow of information on a webpage or app should be designed keeping this crucial law in mind. If we flood the screen with more than 9 elements, it leads to a cognitive overload causing the user to lose interest. Overloading pieces of information beyond the average memory capacity is an example of bad user experience design.

As a rule, the human mind can keep track of five to nine elements, depending on an individual’s memories,  pieces of information whether they are words in a list or names of people they have just met! This cognitive ability is further compromised by our constant multi-tasking and juggling between tasks for the better part of our days. According to Miller, our mind performs an activity called ‘chunking’ which joins together all the pieces of information that we know into a cohesive gestalt. Example: ‘ f i n g e r is one cohesive gestalt and r e g n i f is another, which is why the sequence of information presented is also of crucial importance.

5. Occam’s Razor

‘The simplest problem-solving solution is the right one’

While designing the user experience for a website or application, always work towards simplifying the steps by removing as many assumptions as possible. Always eliminate unnecessary or cumbersome elements of the user experience that may cause distraction or confusion to the end-user. Some design approaches may seem more embellished and designers will often fall prey to employing these tricks in the user experience. However, users rarely like to be hoodwinked and will always strive to take a shortcut and find a simpler way to do things, else they will pick another product that enables this. 

6. Parkinson’s Law

‘Any task will inflate until all the available time is over’

Procrastination is a bane of mankind as a whole; it’s not reserved for the college going teenagers alone! Parkinson’s law, also known as the law of productivity, states that we delay a task that does not have any defined deadlines. Hence, when this rule is applied to user design, we see that certain tasks are best accomplished with the ticking clock icon. This is especially true for ‘one-time passwords’ that are shared while net banking or booking airline tickets. The sense of urgency helps in prompting the user to take action. The illusion of the clock running out is actually proved to improve the odds of conversion and speed up the sale in general.

7. Tesler’s Law

‘For any system, there is a certain amount of complexity that cannot be reduced’

A big mandate of the UX design process is simplicity and reducing steps of the process. Conversely, there is a logical number of steps required to get the job done which cannot be reduced by any number of permutations and combinations. Hence, in order to preserve the utility of the product or service, a certain number of actions or decisions must be taken by the end-user to efficiently meet his/her needs.

8. Von Restorff Effect

Law of UX:: Von-Restorff-Effect

‘When multiple similar objects are present, the one that differs the most is likely to be remembered’

The advertising industry has used this rule to the ‘T”. Von Restorff Effect is also known as the isolation effect since it allows for the visual categorization of similar elements. Whenever there is a change of style or a color that pops out it draws attention and stays memorable in the eyes of the user. For example, in a classroom full of uniformed kids, the one dressed differently catched the eye first. Similarly, in UX design, the user’s attention will be drawn to a change in colour, font, layout, visual effects et cetera.

9. Doherty Threshold

‘Productivity soars when the interaction between the computer and the user takes paces at the pace of <400ms that ensures that neither has to wait on the other.

The app should data and present new information to the user once every 400 seconds. If the website processes and paces information at this pace the user experience turns into an addictive one. This speed provides the most productive pace of working for the majority of users and preserves the attention span for longer.

Designing a user experience is an endeavour to improve the human experience for the person using the product or service. The Laws of UX are a set of guidelines deeply rooted in human psychology that can reveal the outcome of certain design decisions so that we make better choices at the strategy stage itself. There is a science behind the colour of the clickable elements on any interface or the number of images displayed in a grid in a social networking app. The Laws of UX can be looked upon as a series of cause and effect scenarios where one one design decision (the cause) causes the user to take a particular action (the effect).Using the Laws of UX in your design journey and reviewing your work against can be wise practise to adopt in the long-run; they form the cornerstones of effective design. Let’s read about the principles of UX & principles of UI to further strengthen your core understanding about the design process.

Published by Antara Bhargava

Sr. UX Designer

Antara Bhargava Sr. UX Designer