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Book Review: Laws of UX

November 23, 2020

Cover: Laws of UXIn the early part of the 21st century, a strange and unexpected phenomenon has taken hold of the world. While, in the past, scientific methods, hypotheses, and falsifiable observations have led to theories upon which new knowledge could grow, we now see the opinions of individual people gaining currency as objective facts. Of course, relying on subjective opinion is absolutely fine and completely appropriate when we’re describing our own highly personal experiences or preferences —for example, a favorite cuisine or the color of a shirt.

Plus, people’s personal opinions can certainly play a role in driving fashion, the adoption of new consumer goods, and to some extent—as I observed early in my career as a Web designer—the visual appearance of our digital tools. But one of the biggest differences between traditional design disciplines such as graphic design, fashion, and interior design and the design of user experiences is that UX design is highly reliant on process and methods. Plus, we have a body of knowledge that is based on research from which we can work. Rather than debating the superiority of anyone’s personal taste with a client, the UX designer facilitates the application of methods and theory to deliver optimal results.

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It was with these thoughts in mind that I read Jon Yablonski’s new book, Laws of UX: Using Psychology to Design Better Products & Services.

Book Specifications

Title: Laws of UX: Using Psychology to Design Better Products & Services

Author: Jon Yablonski

Formats: Paperback, Kindle

Publisher: O’Reilly Media

Published: April 21, 2020

Pages: 190

ISBN-10: 149205531X

ISBN-13: 978-1492055310

Table of Contents

Yablonski’s book comprises twelve chapters, as follows:

Chapter 1, Jakob’s Law

Chapter 2, Fitts’s Law

Chapter 3, Hick’s Law

Chapter 4, Miller’s Law

Chapter 5, Postel’s Law

Chapter 6, Peak–End Rule

Chapter 7, Aesthetic–Usability Effect

Chapter 8, von Restorff Effect

Chapter 9, Tesler’s Law

Chapter 10, Doherty Threshold

Chapter 11, With Power Comes Responsibility

Chapter 12, Applying Psychological Principles in Design

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A Foundational Book

Throughout his book, Yablonski presents and explains a variety of theories that are largely informed by human psychology and applicable to the design of effective user experiences.

Many of you might be familiar with Jakob Nielsen’s statement—or some variation of it—that users spend much more time on Web sites other than your company’s. Jakob’s law of the Internet user experience is a well-known heuristic and conveys the notion that most users of a product prefer an adherence to convention rather than valuing novelty. Anyone who has struggled with a rental car’s sound system—or worse, its manual transmission—can appreciate the necessity and utility of conventional user interfaces. While styling and aesthetics are certainly a matter of personal preference that can be unique to an individual person, a user interface that many people would use really ought to follow common standards and guidelines and, thus, be easily accessible.

An expansion of Jakob’s law might apply to skeuomorphic user interfaces. When Apple first introduced the iPad, its operating system and apps relied heavily on skeuomorphic user interfaces—especially its Notes app, which has since migrated to a cleaner, more modern, and less metaphorical user interface. But even the controls in online forms borrow heavily from their real-world analogues, and product designers have, for the most part, maintained this approach. By emulating a user interface with which people are already familiar, product designers can reduce the friction of users’ adoption of new products. Yablonski describes in detail the value of adhering to design conventions within an app, as the case of Snapchat illustrates. In 2018, Snapchat introduced a redesigned user interface, which led to an exodus of users and wiped out some billion dollars of value in their share price.

Yablonski describes Fitts’s law and Hick’s law, which were both familiar to me—although it is always helpful to be reminded of them. He also covers Miller’s Law—even though subsequent research has suggested the magical number of items that people can hold in their working memory is actually four, plus or minus one. (See the newly published third edition of Jeff Johnson’s book Designing with the Mind in Mind for more about this topic.)

One useful theory I’ve recently encountered is the Peak–End Rule, which Yablonski eloquently describes in Laws of UX. This theory, originally put forward by Daniel Kahneman, essentially describes the fallibility of our memories and explains the concept of memory bias. Rather than averaging our experiences, our evaluation of an experience is based on the most intense part of that experience. Although the end of the experience may have a greater influence.

As described in a 1993 paper documenting their experiments, Kahneman and his team subjected one cohort of participants to the discomfort of cold water for 60 seconds. They subjected a second cohort to cold water for 60 seconds, then to warmer water for 30 seconds. Despite its longer duration, participants reported a preference for the second experience. They conducted a similar experiment involving colonoscopy patients several years later and discovered that a longer session during which they reduced discomfort at the conclusion of the session was preferable to just getting it over with. Particularly useful is the way Yablonski describes the application of this rule in digital settings. MailChimp’s user experience builds anticipation, managing the peak and end of the experience.

Conclusion

I’ve recently read several books that focus more on process and strategy—that is, the application of UX design principles—rather than considering design principles as the basis for our UX design practices. Therefore, I found reviewing this book especially helpful—both to refresh my understanding of critical design theory and to learn a bit more about some laws with which I was less familiar.

In fact, this is one my favorite books I’ve read recently. Plus, I certainly want to take advantage of this opportunity to refer students and other learners to this foundational and very valuable resource. 

Vice President, User Experience at Metisentry

Owner of TheoremCX

Kent, Ohio, USA

D. Ben WoodsBen began his career in 1999, when businesses were just beginning to recognize the World Wide Web as a valuable tool. Prior to his appointment at Kent State, he held positions as a UX designer and UX manager. He has worked with global teams and a variety of consulting firms to deliver research and design that improved digital experiences for customers. He has also developed his organizations’ analytics discipline to track the performance of digital properties and identify opportunities for improvement. Ben’s company TheoremCX is an innovation firm that provides customer-focused solutions. He has developed solutions and corporate workshops for a variety of organizations around the world, including Eaton, General Electric, Knoch Corporation, and Orange S.A. Ben is the chairperson of UX Akron, a nonprofit professional network serving Summit and Portage Counties, as well as all of Northeast Ohio.  Read More

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