In 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.
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
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.
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.
Ben’s global design and technology firm specializes in software design and development for the Web, mobile, and ecommerce. The company serves clients ranging from small startups to some of the largest companies in the world, including General Electric, Rio Tinto, and Fidelity. His career in User Experience began in the late 1990s. Ben has held diverse roles, including UX management at a global B2B firm, full-time and part-time academia, and executive roles. He enjoys solving complex business problems and coaching talent to be competitive UX design professionals. Ben earned his MS in Information Architecture and Knowledge Management at Kent State University and is a graduate of the Executive MBA program at Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Management. He has presented long-format talks, speed presentations, and posters at many conferences and events and has conducted training and workshops for organizations throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia. Read More