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Aaron Dalton

Laws of UX

Bird's eye view of laptop on left, desktop computer in middle with smartphone plugged in, and tablet with coffee on the right.
Bird's eye view of laptop on left, desktop computer in middle with smartphone plugged in, and tablet with coffee on the right.
Mats-Peter Forss ©

UX stands for “user experience.” It’s the discipline that looks at how users navigate (usually digital) interfaces and tries to maximize fluency.

In-house editors will often find themselves wearing many hats, especially in smaller organizations. I know I’ve often been asked to edit not just web copy but also text in various IT systems (for example, reports in Tableau or “help” text in a map viewer). In my role as advocate for the reader, I try to look at the entire environment the text is being presented in and not just the text itself.

Most professional editors have neither the time nor the inclination to become expert user experience designers, but here are a few basic principles (drawn from front-end designer Jon Yablonski’s Laws of UX), that could make your review of such text even more valuable.

Fitts’s Law

“The time to acquire a target is a function of the distance to and size of the target.”

This means that items (such as buttons) that you want users to click on should be large and close to the user. If a user needs to click a series of buttons, the buttons should be close to each other to decrease the mouse movement.

Hick’s Law

“The time it takes to make a decision increases with the number and complexity of choices.”

At the design level, minimize the number of choices overall. If the process is complex, consider breaking it into smaller steps. For example, a decision-tree approach lets the user make one simple choice at a time, which culminates in a final result. Make it easy to select recommended options, or put rarely needed options on a separate page.

Jakob’s Law

“Users spend most of their time on other sites. This means that users prefer your site to work the same way as all the other sites they already know.”

Even if you’re not a professional UX designer, you’re probably a professional-level consumer of computer systems. Trust your gut. If in your review you come across workflows or patterns that seem to be contrary to how others do things, query it.

Laws of Common Region, Proximity and Uniform Connectedness

These three laws are closely correlated:

  • “Elements tend to be perceived [as] groups if they are sharing an area with a clearly defined boundary.”
  • “Objects that are near … to each other tend to be grouped together.”
  • “Elements that are visually connected are perceived as more related than elements with no connection.”

When looking at a user interface, be aware of what your eye — or the user’s eye — automatically groups together.

Law of Similarity

“The human eye tends to perceive similar elements in a design as a complete picture, shape or group, even if those elements are separated.”

The most common examples of this are hyperlinks and navigation systems. They should be visually differentiated from normal text elements and be consistently styled so the user can recognize them anywhere.

Von Restorff Effect

Also known as the “isolation effect,” this law “predicts that when multiple similar objects are present, the one that differs from the rest is most likely to be remembered.”

Use visual distinctiveness to guide users and make it clear what you think is important.

These “laws” are based on well-established ideas from psychology (such as Gestalt), and Yablonski’s site is but the tip of the iceberg. There is no shortage of decent primers out there if you search for terms like “ux primer” or “ux for beginners.”

Do you have any UX lessons or resources you’d like to share?


Previous post from Aaron Dalton: Empirical Editors: Fluency

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