Why All UX Designers Need to Check Out the Laws of UX
Inspired by his work in the automotive industry, UX designer Jon Yablonski has creatively compiled a growing list of design laws rooted in psychology that he believes are key to designing more intuitive and user-friendly interfaces.
Tesler’s Law, one of the Laws of UX, states that in any system, there’s a certain amount of complexity that cannot be reduced.
by Sheena Lyonnais
posted on 04-17-2018
He may refer to them as the “Laws of UX,” but Detroit-based designer Jon Yablonski doesn’t want UX designers to take the principles he’s curated as steadfast rules.
“The whole title can be slightly misleading, ‘Laws of UX,’ when, in reality, there is no law in UX,” Jon, who serves as a design lead at a company called Vectorform, said over the phone. He recently released an ongoing collection of design principles rooted in psychology on lawsofux.com. He wants to encourage designers to be influenced by fields outside of design, and created “Laws of UX” as a resource for other designers to take into consideration when building user interfaces.
“Nothing will actually replace user research, testing, and data that’s specific to whatever project you’re on, but I do think these cognitive principles can serve as universal rules of thumb that can help make an experience more intuitive and user-friendly,” Yablonski said.
Creatively, the design of the project is inspired by the simplicity of vintage Penguin psychology books, one of Jon’s artistic interests. It explores concepts such as Miller’s Law, which states that “the average person can only keep seven (plus or minus two) items in their working memory.” Each law has a corresponding downloadable poster that Jon designed.
We talked to Jon to learn more about the Laws of UX, why side projects can be so crucial for designers, and how UX designers can adapt the principles into their own work. Find his answers below.
What inspired you to put these laws together and create lawsofux.com?
I was working on an automotive-related project at the time. I was doing a lot of work with their HMI department and their internal product design office, really just finding myself having to do a lot of validation and research for a design decision. When you’re changing anything in a vehicle interface, it has a lot of implications.
I found myself doing a lot of research around these cognitive principles that happen to have a lot of overlap with UX design. The more research I did about these cognitive principles, I realized that there really wasn’t many designer-friendly resources out there that were available. What this really did was motivate me to create a resource that collected all these principles and present them in a visual way that demonstrates the general concept of what each one was, but also makes it a little more memorable.
Aside from that, I have a slight obsession with side projects. I’m a big believer in them. I think that they provide a lot of opportunity to just really dive into something new or further explore an idea that really inspires you. I took on Laws of UX in order to not only be more familiar with these principles that I was researching and then document them, but also to enforce some different development tools and have fun with the design in general.
When you initially got this project started, did you use any of these laws to help support your case at work?
Absolutely. I think that’s kind of where it started. I was really looking at reasons to simplify complex interfaces — specifically in regards to auto design, you’ll see a lot of complexity in these vehicle interfaces. Then, you have something that comes a long like Apple CarPlay that just simplifies everything. There’s something so refreshing about that.
I was really advocating for something similar, and finding myself trying to justify that decision. I came across a principle called Hick’s Law, which did exactly that. Paraphrasing what that principle’s about, it’s the more complexity, the more options that are available for the user, the longer it’ll take for them to find what they’re looking for in making decisions.
Did you have an interest in psychology beforehand, or was this kind of how it all began for you?
I’m interested, generally speaking, in psychology. I took some courses at college, but it’s becoming more and more of an interest to me because I see how relevant it is to my work as a UX designer.
As a UX designer, there’s obviously some overlap. I’m always researching, exploring approaches to the work I do that will really just optimize user experience. The consideration of cognitive psychology made a lot of sense and really set me down that path of trying to learn more. Outside of that, there was always this kind of inspiration from vintage book cover designs, like the Penguin psychology series, that had these really cool designs. There was just a couple of things that were all kind of dancing around in my head and intersecting at the right time that just made me converge on this idea of Laws of UX.
Do you wish you had come across these principles a little bit sooner in your career?
Absolutely. You know what’s funny is I think that designers, at least designers that have been doing client work for a while, they have this intuitive sense of what a lot of these principles are all about. They just don’t have a formal understanding of what they are. Maybe they understand a principle, or they’ve heard of it before, but they can’t articulate it, or recite it, or fight for it in a client presentation.
I actually went to an art school. The design program there was kind of traditional, like graphic design. I think that there wasn’t enough cross-pollination between design and these other disciplines, like psychology. I think that there’s a connection there that, maybe, isn’t talked about enough.
When I first came across your site, I think there were 10 laws. I’ve noticed you’ve since expanded to 15 laws. Is this an ongoing thing that you’re working on?
I launched, probably, like mid-January with 10 laws. Then, gradually, it added over one every week or so. I’m going to continue to add on to the content, augment the content that’s already there, and keep going until I’ve covered everything that I want to cover. I don’t have any plans for stopping any time soon.
In your studies, did you have a favorite law to research, or were there any standout laws that you want to draw attention to?
I use “laws” loosely. With that being said, I think that there is definitely principles or heuristics, whatever you want to call them, that are more familiar to people than others. Fitts’s Law is an obvious one. You hear a lot of people recite that one, the time to acquire a target is equivalent to the size and distance to the target, those kinds of things.
Then, there are some that aren’t as obvious. Hick’s Law is probably one of my favorites. It predicts that the time it takes to make a decision increases with the number of complexities and choices. I think that even seasoned designers have a tendency to overcomplicate things and add a lot of decorative elements in their design. These things have a tendency to just confuse users a lot of times. I think that that’s probably an overlooked principle because we’re designing sometimes for design’s sake, and not just considering the reduction of content.
The other one is Tesler’s Law. Tesler’s Law states that in any system, there’s a certain amount of complexity that cannot be reduced. It’s kind of the flip side of Hick’s Law. I think sometimes designers try to oversimplify to the point where they make things more abstract and more difficult for users. It’s like the opposite problem. It’s one thing that, talking with designers, they’re just not familiar with.
Why do you think a UX designer should become familiar with these universal ideas?
I mentioned earlier that a lot of designers might be informally aware of these principles, but that acute awareness of them, I think it’ll make our work more usercentric and intuitive. Not only that, but it will give us the knowledge to articulate specific design decisions and base them on a general scientific understanding of how the mind works.
How do you think understanding these laws has made you a better designer?
Being able to articulate the concepts, the principles that are part of cognitive psychology, I think it helped me. Like I said, designers understand a lot of these principles already in their work, almost intuitively, but being able to verbalize it, to point specifically, to know, “That’s Miller’s Law. George Miller came up with that in 1957, and here’s what it predicts.” It’s that kind of validation and knowledge that just makes you a better designer. It strengthens your design decision-making process.
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