The challenge: make UX compatible with human nature

Exploring the immutable laws of nature that shape user experience.
Written by Joe McKendrick, Contributing Writer on

With any technology rollout, one needs to always pay attention to the human side of the equation. User resistance, organizational inertia, and confusion are often orders of the day. The challenge becomes making the user experience compatible with human nature, which often runs at odds with the best-laid technical plans.   

Photo: Joe McKendrick

That's why this year's "Project of the Year" announced by the UX Collective is so eye-catching. That honor went to Jon Yablonski, a product designer who compiled an incredible online resource of the immutable laws governing user experience (UX), Some effects are well known to managers and professionals who have spent time in the trenches, others are truly a-ha worthy. 

Here are some of the UX laws identified in Yablonski's compilation:

Aesthetic Usability Effect: It may seem like a no-brainer that a pretty interface makes users happier, but it needs to be applied more. "Users often perceive aesthetically pleasing design as design that's more usable," Yablonski points out. "Aesthetically pleasing design can make users more tolerant of minor usability issues." The only drawback, of course, is that the pretty interface can hide underlying design issues. 

Serial Position Effect. "Users have a propensity to best remember the first and last items in a series."

Doherty Threshold: "Productivity soars when a computer and its users interact at a pace that ensures that neither has to wait on the other." Systems should take no longer than 400 milliseconds to respond, the law states. (Named for Walter J. Doherty, co-author of a 1982 article in the IBM Systems Journal that set the 400 millisecond response-time requirement for computers.)

Hick's Law: "The time it takes to make a decision increases with the number and complexity of choices." Yablonski recommends simplifying choices for the user "to ensure by breaking complex tasks into smaller steps," and to "avoid overwhelming users by highlighting recommended options." (Named for is named after William Edmund Hick, a psychologist who, with Ray Hyman, studied "the relationship between the number of stimuli present and an individual's reaction time to any given stimulus.")

Tesler's Law: "For any system there is a certain amount of complexity which cannot be reduced." (Named for Larry Tesler, an engineer at Xerox PARC, who argued that "an engineer should spend an extra week reducing the complexity of an application versus making millions of users spend an extra minute using the program because of the extra complexity " However, "when an application is simplified, users begin attempting more complex tasks.")

Zeigarnik Effect: "People remember uncompleted or interrupted tasks better than completed tasks," Yablonski relates."Use progress bars for complex tasks to visually indicate when a task is incomplete, and thus increase the likelihood it will be completed." (Named for Bluma Wulfovna Zeigarnik, a psychologist and psychiatrist who studied human memory patterns.)

For the complete list of UX laws, check out Yablonski's beautifully designed site.      

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