Episode 14 The UX Laws Understanding: How Psychology Influences User Behaviour

In this edition of Thoughtcast by Onething, we get two of our UX leads; Antara and Venky in conversation with Divanshu, regarding some of the conventional ‘Laws of UX’. The discussion revolves around how binding the laws actually are, and in the moments where flexibility is granted, what factors contribute to them being bent, or even broken. We also delve into the origin of these laws, their deep roots in psychology, and how they even end up making digital products more friendly. Lastly, the discussion ends on some of Venky and Antara’s real world applications of the UX laws, and how through their experience, they’ve learned to isolate situations in which not only to use them, but also drop them.
For the full discussion on the laws of UX, and their relevance, tune in to this episode of Thoughtcast by Onething.

Episode Transcript

DIVANSHU:

Hey guys, welcome to another episode of Thoughtcast. I’m Divanshu Thakral, your host. And today I have two people with me you’ve already met, Antara and Venky, as much we’ve kind of done podcasts earlier, which are slightly more business-oriented, project, or product-oriented. Today we’re becoming a little more technical, especially for our designers, designer friends, designer audience.

We are going to talk about principles of design that actually found from the foundation of the products that we build. They are here to kind of make sure that certain, tenants are followed, subjectivities reduced, I’d rather Pass the Baton to Venky and Antara and try to talk more about it because my limit, my knowledge to this domain is very limited.

So welcome guys again. Thank you for spending another weekend with me. I love spoiling them. 

VENKY:

Thank you so much for having us yet again, so Venky why don’t you. Yeah, so, I mean, firstly, this is going to be a lot of fun for the both of us. As you rightly said, maybe not for me, like, I didn’t want to say it out loud, but yeah.

But yeah, I mean, no, you’re right. Like this is, quite the technical subject and it’s surprisingly one that not a lot of designers currently, you don’t take too much into account while they’re designing. Like, so these laws are essentially psychology-based laws. These laws have existed as you know, well before user experience design has existed, as a field, right. And what they do, essentially, they, cover a wide variety of the different aspects of design. I mean, to start off, we can look at the bigger picture laws that are the examples, like aesthetic usability law, which as you know, is, you know, when a user perceives a design has more usable if it’s more aesthetically pleasing.

And then there’s obviously Jacobs law, which talks about, you know, how users spend their time on other platforms and they expect your platform to function in a manner that’s similar to the ones that they are used to. Right. And this has, like I said, now this might seem like a very broad-based, common-sense way of looking at the design, but believe it or not, that’s what design is all about.

It’s all about bringing in that common sense within the experience. I mean, wouldn’t you agree? That’s the case. 

ANTARA:

I, yeah, I absolutely agree. I think, we talk about these laws of UX, right? When we were learning them during college reading some articles on Medium. But a lot of it is based on real-life experiences.

So if I look at my washing machine, suppose I should be able to understand how it works right apart from clicking these hundred buttons and figuring that stuff out. So I absolutely agree with Venky I think, we look at these laws only when we are looking at the theory of it. All right. We don’t look at the real-life application of this stuff.

This is just based on psychology. This is how people deal with computers on a day-to-day basis, not just websites, not just applications. When I’m looking at how a microwave works or my kitchen appliances work, or even say for that matter how my car operates, everything is a computer. I should be able to simplify stuff for my user and say, okay, these are my tasks.

This is what I need to do. And give it to be really simple. You know, there was this principle, I don’t know if you remember it was called K-I-S-S. Keep it simple. I don’t know if it was silly or stupid. So it’s just talking about how can we minimize effort right. In a world where maybe we’re becoming lazier or maybe we’ve got really a lot more on our plates.

VENKY:

No. Yeah. I mean, you’re right. You know, I mean, you speak about these broad-based aspects of design and the psychology behind it. But, you’re absolutely right about these smaller things that do lead up to the bigger design itself. And there are the principles governing that as well. Right. You have Hick’s law, which talks about, you know, reducing, the number of choices and then reducing complexity within the design. You have Miller’s law that talks about, you know, keeping, information with chunking, keeping information within like a set of seven plus minus two. You know, and when you dig deeper into that, that is essentially just, you know, telling you as designers, these laws that are just telling you as a designer, that this is how you need to build up from the ground-up.

Right. Obviously, this actually ties back to the user research as well, which we’ll come to in a second. But the fact of the matter is that you need to have these smaller things in place, governed by these laws, which, you know, people have taken the time to actually build using actual experiments, for example, going back to the aesthetic usability effect, right?

Now, this was proven by the Hitachi design labs. They conducted a test where they took into account some 200, 300 users and they brought into play a very basic, UI, which is an ATM UI. What does ATM have to do? Like it has three basic functions, like one primary two secondary functions. Right. And people still preferred the nicer looking, ATM UI versus a the, you know, like even if it wasn’t too functional, they prefer that over the more functional one, you know, if it was uglier than the nicer looking one.

So you’re right. Like, you know, it has to come from like, you know, the ground up the design, the psychology behind the design. You know, there is a lot of work that has gone into play even before, the industry came into being. So of course, you know, we as designers look at this and we have to look at other, the laws themselves objectively, of course, but also keeping, keep it in line with the users and the user research that we have now.

So, what do you think about, you know, obviously you are someone who likes Apple products, I’m assuming, the aesthetic usability effect, you know, applies more to you than anyone else in this room. Right now, thoughts on this? 

DIVANSHU:

I think it, they follow that K-I-S-S thing pretty well, but you know what, I’m what I’m seeing lately, there’s a huge transition that is happening, especially in the car auto displays, right.

Liquid displays. I mean, you know, especially when Tesla, has launched. Their cars, I mean the central console is just a display, right? Every auto manufacturer is trying to do that right now. I don’t think so. They’re researching to an extent which is actually making the application of this whole thing user-friendly I actually have to take off my eyes from the road to operate or navigate through that system. I would have, I would love to go to analog, and then that’s like, that’s the reason I like that hybrid form where there is analog and digital, like for critical functions where I don’t need to take my eyes off the road I like analog. Maybe, maybe the digital is still not there for me. Right. What do you think? Like why, what should be the way to kind of understand or make it better. 

VENKY:

I mean, then it will just have to come back to plain old user research. Right? I mean, we don’t use these laws to sort of force our design onto the users in a psychological fashion.

That’s not what’s happening. Right. And I think you can agree with me on this when we start creating a product. We started with personas, right? So we’ve effectively chunked a bunch of users into one primary persona. That is the one that is going to use our product. But within that primary persona as well, there is going to be a certain amount of subjectivity.

What we are trying to do with these laws is that we are trying to make sure that a good bunch of the primary personas, right. Actually resonate with what we are building now that obviously applies to the overall, what do you call it product, but then, you know, when you go into practice with these smaller laws and, you know, especially if it’s something like the complexity-based laws that you’re doing to make their life easier.

Right. I mean, what can you say about like Hicks law specifically where, you know, when we are talking about complexities of choices, complexities of different, things that you have to do within the product, what, what would be your takeaway from that? 

ANTARA:

Most of these laws, like you saying, Venky is to just make life simpler for the user. Right? So take any law. Let’s take Hicks law. I have two forms. I have a form that I’ve got 25 questions and I’ve got them four pages of one-word answers, which, which would you prefer? Right. Even as static usability, it’s about making stuff more tolerant. It looks nice somewhere else. Works well also. It’s just introducing positive feelings in a user in a way that makes the experience better. Better, usable, easier.

These are all things that we use, but essentially we want to reach a particular goal. Right? We want to start. When I open a page, I need, I would like to see what I’m here for and find it as easy as possible. Get out of there, get done with my work. That’s the entire agenda. So all of these laws essentially are according to us.

When we work, right? It’s not outlining our work, but it’s like every time we go away from it, they bring us back together. They bring us back to the point that, you know what, you’re making things too cramped up. When a client comes up to us and says that, you know what? I have these five things that I want to do and Divanshu, I’m sure you can, you know, when you’ve been on our meetings, you can agree that I want most of this stuff to fit in a single viewport.

I want everything available, but it’s that point where we go to them and say that you know what? I am a human being. Don’t give me 20 things to look at. Tell me the one thing to do and I’ll do it really well. 

DIVANSHU:

I think, client expectations, business objectives that always be skewed towards, everything being available for the user in one go.

But you designers, I think you deal with something complex there because it’s something that you have to balance. I don’t know how you guys convince, but at the end of the day, obviously, the experience that we push out is something that the way it should be. But it is a tough challenge. And I think the rules and the laws that you’re talking about maybe really help convince the client that, Hey, you know?

VENKY:

Yeah. That’s, let’s work, work out our way through this. Yeah, no, absolutely. I mean, I think these laws, obviously, you know, when you’re talking to a client, it’s not like, when you talk to someone and, you know, try to lord over this information, it just kind of seems like you’re trying to be right. But these come into play really well when you are documenting a design.

You know, when you’re creating the document that says, Hey, this is your information architecture. This is the reason that we’ve created it in like five, six you know, sections and, you know, we have three to four subsections it’s because of these laws. Right. And obviously, you know, using these laws in tandem always works best.

As you said, it’s not just about it looking good or for that matter, when you’re satisfied just about it looking good. It has to work. Okay. What does that mean? What does looking good mean? What does working well mean? It, you know, it’s easy to sort of look at these laws and understand what that might mean objectively, but put that together with user research.

And now suddenly you have the subjective viewpoint of your primary persona and what they think working well with means or looking good means. Right? I mean, I mean, I want to throw this back to you again because, what, when you say that, you know, this works better, Or, this looks good to me. What is it that you’re thinking about?

DIVANSHU:

Doesn’t matter about me, honestly, what matters is what that product is and what users are we targeting rather? I think I would suggest why don’t you guys pick up some good examples that we designed, right. And you, you felt that okay. For this product, I’m really happy I could apply. The laws that I studied back in design school and all, I mean, maybe not a hundred percent, but a closer and the client was also in agreement to, to this.

VENKY:

I think that’s a very good question. Okay. So I’m going to pick up my favorite one in the last year and a half. My favorite project, because I really think that we. Which really use the laws well while creating Lokal, specifically the information architecture and what you said about the client or what you said about the client, wanting everything, in the same viewport or all the information present to the user, right?

That was exactly the case with Lokal, where they wanted, they had like some 15, 17 sub-navigation items in one of their pages and they wanted all of them there. So that’s, that’s where Miller’s law came into play for us. We were like, all right, you know what? We can do seven. We can reduce from 15 to seven.

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