UX laws are valuable tools for web designers and provide an excellent foundation with recommendations for improving user experience. These laws mean designers and web developers have an excellent guide and don’t have to develop new components and styles.
While UX laws are beneficial and useful, they were originally written by scientists and psychologists. These are people who are quite comfortable with academic language. However, the language must be filtered and made easier for designers and web developers who work with the tools every day. For this reason, the UX laws may become over-simplified over time. The ideas and concepts in the UX laws become misunderstood, and it’s easy to misinterpret the laws when using them in the real world.
We’ve put together a list of UX laws that are commonly cited rules of UX design that many designers get wrong. Let’s get started.
The Goal Gradient Hypothesis
The goal gradient hypothesis says that the closer a user gets to the goal, the more likely they are to complete it. This is a helpful theory that’s especially useful for e-commerce sites. This UX law is used to justify simplifying the initial purchase process and postponing complexity to help the user move along the funnel. For instance, shipping charges may be added in the final step of their purchase.
However, cart abandonment is a huge problem for ecommerce sites. There are several reasons for this, including:
- Some shoppers may use the shopping cart as a bookmark.
- Some may change their minds at the last minute.
- Shoppers may be unpleasantly surprised by the shipping charges.
Some designers tend to use the goal gradient hypothesis as a means to indicate the shopper’s progress. While this is helpful, it’s also artificially showing their proximity to completing their goal. This can lead to shoppers not completing their purchases and more.
The aesthetic-usability effect says that users expect designs to be aesthetically pleasing in order to make a site more usable.
This law can wreak havoc with designers who use it to create a polished, modern aesthetic on sites they build. However, the problem is that while a designer may create a beautiful site, the site users may not find the site to be stunning or even usable.
When site users’ expectations are not met, expect they will leave the site pretty fast.
Paul Fitts created this law; it demonstrates that the distance to and size of a target affect the error rate of selecting that target. In other words, it’s much harder to click on a small button and even more challenging to click a small button that’s farther away.
Designers use this UX law when considering mobile breakpoints due to a relatively small viewport. However, mobile viewports are usually not large enough for any distance to make a tap less accurate.
On the other hand, Fitts’ law is best applied to desktop breakpoints. The monitor screen is large enough to have a direct impact on taps. However, most of these viewports use a mouse which makes it easier to correct the position of the cursor before tapping.
Tappable targets need to be large enough for a user to easily select them. The targets also need to be spaced sufficiently and tab-selection should be enabled. However, distance doesn’t have much effect on web design.
Jakob’s law is named after the UX researcher Jakob Nielsen. The law states that users spend most of their time on sites, and as a result, they prefer sites that work the same way as the sites they already know.
This law is often used to limit experimentation and encourage the use of common design patterns to make sites more usable.
However, the word “prefer” is not always correctly understood. It’s true that users do find it easier to understand a familiar design pattern. However, they don’t always prefer to have familiar experiences.
Studies have shown that new experiences can boost our mood and improve our memory. So, if a designer wants to create a memorable site that leaves a positive impression on users, novelty can be the right decision.
Miller’s law is one of the most misunderstood UX laws. The law states that the average person can only hold seven (plus or minus two) items in their working memory. The law is usually applied to restrict UI navigation to no more than five items.
However, Miller’s Law does not apply to items being displayed. It’s true that too many options can overwhelm site users; however, humans have the ability to consider more than nine different items.
Miller’s law only applies to UI elements such as carousels, which are not recommended for a number of reasons.
The Peak-end rule states that users judge an experience based on how they felt at the peak and the end, rather than an average of their experience.
However, designers commonly use the law to focus design elements on the primary goal of each experience and closing the experience. For instance, a designer may apply the Peak-end rule to adding an item to a cart and paying for the item.
The law is valid; however, it can’t be applied to open experiences such as websites when it’s impossible to identify the user’s start or end point.
In addition, some designers view every interaction on a site as a peak. They also make assumptions about which peak is the most important. While designing peaks is essential, it’s even more imperative to design for exceptions.
Occam’s razor is another misapplied UX law. The law states that given any choice (not always the easiest), the option with the least assumptions is the correct choice.
Today, designers have many methods to test, measure, and analyse user interfaces. For this reason, a designer should not make assumptions. And when it’s not necessary to use UX testing, designers can make choices based on the findings of other designers.
Occam’s razor has become a design trap. To avoid falling victim to this trap, designers need to recognize it’s not their assumptions that matter. The ones that matter are the users’ assumptions. Occam’s razor only applies to the user’s experience, not the design process.
UX laws are useful and beneficial to use as general design guidelines. However, for the laws to work effectively, it’s necessary to have a deep understanding of the context of each law. It’s also necessary to understand that UX laws do work for some situations but not for others. Correct understanding and use of UX laws are necessary for them to be effective.