Ten Design Laws

An article written by Ross Johnson from 3.7 Designs explains the ten proven laws that can guide designers to improving their work. According to Johnson, “using clear and effective design laws we can use proven formulas for design. These laws both assist in the usability/experience of our design as well as the aesthetic values.” Also, by using these laws, designers are able to explain their decisions and choices during the design process.

  1. Hick’s Law

Hick’s law, or the Hick–Hyman Law, named after British and American psychologists William Edmund Hick and Ray Hyman, describes the time it takes for a person to make a decision as a result of the possible choices he or she has: increasing the number of choices will increase the decision time. This law really speaks the importance of simplicity. For designers, this means that we should minimize the amount of any choices a user has to select from.

2. The Pareto Principle, or the 80/20 rule

The Pareto principle (also known as the 80–20 rule, the law of the vital few, and the principle of factor sparsity) states that, for many events, roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes. In design, this means that a high percentage of users will perform a low percentage of actions. In terms of web design, the removal of extra content and features could actually improve how users use a certain site. This principle can also relate to Hick’s Law.

3. The Rule of Thirds

The rule of thirds is a “rule of thumb” or guideline which applies to the process of composing visual images such as designs, films, paintings, and photographs. The guideline proposes that an image should be imagined as divided into nine equal parts by two equally spaced horizontal lines and two equally spaced vertical lines, and that important compositional elements should be placed along these lines or their intersections. Proponents of the technique claim that aligning a subject with these points creates more tension, energy and interest in the composition than simply centering the subject

4. The Law of Proximity

The Law of Proximity states objects that are near or ‘proximate’ to each other tend to be grouped together. It is part of the GestaltLaws of Perceptual Organization and Gestalt psychology, which was founded by Max Wertheimer. Disregarding this law is often an issue with web applications, where buttons or controls are grouped together yet have unrelated functionality. The result is that users get confused when trying to use and understand the application. The law of proximity is often neglected, even by experienced designers.

5. The Law of Feedback and Critique

The user will feel more confident if you provide clear and constant feedback. Feedback is giving a user clear indication that something has happened, is happening or could happen. This communication is essential in the design of many products, consider a coffee maker that didn’t have a light indicating it was on. Furthermore, feedback makes people feel in control and makes them confident to use the product again.

6. Fitt’s Law

Fitts’s law (often cited as Fitts’ law) is a descriptive model of human movement primarily used in human–computer interaction and ergonomics. This scientific law predicts that the time required to rapidly move to a target area is a function of the ratio between the distance to the target and the width of the target. Fitts’s law is used to model the act of pointing, either by physically touching an object with a hand or finger, or virtually, by pointing to an object on a computer monitor using a pointing device. This is why you often see forms or actions that have large “save” buttons but text based “delete” or “cancel” links. WordPress uses this law extremely well.

7. The Golden Ratio

In mathematics, two quantities are in the golden ratio if their ratio is the same as the ratio of their sum to the larger of the two quantities. The rule of thirds however deals with a whole different design theory. The rule of thirds instead is a way to place elements with in a design as a way to control where a viewers eyes will travel and what they will see. Both the golden ratio and the Rule of Thirds are more likely to produce visually pleasing compositions.

8. Occam’s Razor

Occam’s razor (also written as Ockham’s razor, and lex parsimoniae in Latin, which means law of parsimony) is a problem-solving principle attributed to William of Ockham, who was an English Franciscan friar and scholastic philosopher and theologian. The principle can be interpreted as stating Among competing hypotheses, the one with the fewest assumptions should be selected, or the simplest solution is almost always the best. This rule speaks to the old saying that “A design isn’t finished when there is nothing more to add, but when there is nothing left to take away.”

9. Fibonacci Sequence

The Fibonacci Sequence is the series of numbers: 0, 1, 1, 2, 3, 5, 8, 13, 21, 34, … The next number is found by adding up the two numbers before it. The 2 is found by adding the two numbers before it (1+1). This sequence can be used to create visual patterns, create shapes, organic figures, build grids or dictate sizing and ratios. The Fibonacci sequence is considered to be one of the most influential patterns in both mathematics as well as design.

10. Mental Models

A mental model is an explanation of someone’s thought process about how something works in the real world. It is a representation of the surrounding world, the relationships between its various parts and a person’s intuitive perception about his or her own acts and their consequences. Mental models can help shape behavior and set an approach to solving problems and doing tasks. This is why the concept of tabs works so well and why operating systems are modeled off of real world office situations (folders, files, desktop, etc…)

For more information on principles and laws in design, click on these sites:

Ten Laws to Design By

7 unbreakable laws of user interface design

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