Principles & Laws of UX

UX is a term that has caused a massive revolution for design but especially digital focused design. It has fundamentally changed how the world perceives design and the benefit that it brings to an organization. Now that the world has an understanding of UX, I find that they have a hard time defining it without repeating the two key words that make up “UX” - user & experience. They will say things like 'it is how users experience our website or digital product'. While that may be true, there are underlying principles and laws that truly make that happen.

The fundamental aspect that is still misunderstood by a number of companies, agencies and start ups is that UX is one job. In reality, it is a collaboration of numerous job functions and responsibilities. To make truly great experiences it is a whole team effort. The second thing that most companies get wrong about UX is that it is either Strategy or Design. Great UX is a beautiful balance of both. Combining a complex blend of Science, Data, Psychology and Art allows the best UX designers to bridge gaps across all disciplines in an organization and create compelling experiences. These principles are what I believe to be the foundation of separating good UX from great UX.

Aesthetic Usability Affect

This principle states that users will often perceive aesthetically pleasing design as design that’s more usable. I have noticed two things by applying this to my designs.

1) Aesthetically pleasing design can make users more tolerant of minor usability issues.
2) Aesthetically pleasing design can mask usability problems and prevent issues from being discovered during usability testing.

This means that even UX designers need to ensure that they are delivering designs at a high quality all throughout the design process.

Doherty Threshold

Before getting to the definition it is good to understand an example. Think about the last time you went to a website, tried clicking on something, then the website took what felt like a million years to load. We as humans will immediately start to complain. We expect things to work instantaneously when using digital products and websites. So the Doherty Threshold is the speed at which humans find websites and products most useful. That speed is under 400 milliseconds. To get to this number in 1982 Walter J. Doherty and Ahrvind J. Thadani published, in the IBM Systems Journal, a research paper that set the requirement for computer response time to be 400 milliseconds, not 2,000 (2 seconds) which had been the previous standard. When a human being’s command was executed and returned an answer In under 400 milliseconds, it was deemed to exceed the Doherty threshold, and use of such applications were deemed to be “addicting” to users.

Serial Position Effect

When trying to remember a list of anything. You can probably remember the first thing on it and the last thing on that list. For example, step one buy groceries and step ten make dinner. However all of those ingredients in the middle can be very tricky to remember. This is because people have a propensity to best remember the first and last items in a series. So UXers can take advantage of this by placing the least important items in the middle of lists can be helpful because these items tend to be stored less frequently in long-term and working memory. As well as positioning key actions on the far left and right within elements such as navigation can increase memorization.

The Isolation Effect

This principle predicts that when multiple similar objects are present, the one that differs from the rest is most likely to be remembered. So make the most important information and actions stand out from the rest of the noise on your product or website. This will make that information remembered or will drive the user to use the product in the way that it was intended.
Isolated Tree

Fitt's Law

This is the first true law in the list. It is defined as ‘The time to acquire a target is a function of the distance to and size of the target’. This law especially applies to buttons, which the purpose of these elements is to be easy to find and select. So make elements you wish to be easily selectable or actionable large and in a position that is discoverable to users.

Hick’s Law

Complexity is something that is almost unavoidable when creating a truly compelling experience. Hick’s law embraces that stating, ‘that the time it takes to make a decision increases with the number and complexity of choices’. This to me is really the crux of great UX architects. Great ones know that more choices results in users taking longer to think about these choices and make a decision. To overcome this UXers simplify choices for the user by breaking complex tasks into smaller steps. They also avoid overwhelming users by highlighting recommended options.
Menu Options

Laws of Grouping

For as smart as humans are much of our innate desire is to be lazy. We constantly are looking for ways to make things easier and more simple to understand or complete. To do this 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. The human eye likes to find simplicity and order in complex shapes because it prevents us from becoming overwhelmed with information.

To do this humans group items by using 4 visual cues:
Borders. Proximity. Similarity. Connectedness.

Starting with borders. Elements tend to be perceived into groups if they are sharing an area with a clearly defined boundary.

Our second way of grouping is proximity. This grouping happens when these objects are near to each other, tend to be grouped together.

By using the cue of similarity, the human eye will tend to perceive related elements in a design as a complete picture, shape, or group, even if those elements are separated.

When humans see objects that are connected they are perceived as more related than elements with no connection.