When you’re driving, you’re pretty used to seeing the red octagon used universally in America for the stop sign. This is an agreed-upon color and shape combination, indicating a driver needs to stop before passing through the intersection. You know to stop without even having to read the sign itself. Now imagine you’re driving through a small town. They have decided their stop sign is going to be a yellow circle since they feel the yellow is easier to see. 

Image of a stop sign on a street pole | Jakob's Law

Someone who is a part of their city council voted yes on this motion and is aware the new stop sign is a yellow circle since they had input in making that decision. However, when you have outside drivers enter the town, they are going to be quite confused and may not even take notice of the stop signs at all since they are so conditioned to look for the red octagon. This only causes difficulty and confusion for anyone outside that community to try and decipher the signage around them. 

Jakob’s Law

The above scenario is an example of Jakob’s Law. Users spend most of their time interacting with other sites, and your site should function largely the same. This isn’t to say your site can’t be unique – the town can still put in beautiful roadside shrubberies to spruce up the area, but that improvement becomes confusing when they start to change the universally agreed-upon signage. 

This principle is very important when it comes to site design. You have a set of standard icons and flows people are very used to. For instance, the save icon has been a floppy disk for years. It is based on a saving device used at the dawn of the computing age to store data. It has long ago been phased out and replaced with things, like cloud storage and USB drives. However, the floppy disk remains the seemingly ubiquitous symbol for saving around the web. Some kids now might not be able to recognize a physical floppy disk, but they know what the save icon looks like. 

Since the floppy disk icon is so ingrained in our minds as save, if you were creating a new word processor software and decided you were going to have a circle with a checkmark inside it as the new save icon, many people wouldn’t be able to use it without getting some type of tutorial or walkthrough of the software. Even then, their subconscious mind will still search for that floppy disk icon to save the document.

For Web Design

Like the above examples, there are many things in web design that are standard. There’s no sense in reinventing the wheel if people won’t know how to use it anyway. More often than not, people aren’t going to want to really learn it either, and they will find a site with a similar service and use that since it’s more comfortable. 

This can be used to your advantage as well. Consider how you can make your users more apt to adapt to your site if you do want to diverge from the norm or keep along common guidelines of general iconography and layout to maximize your usability. This creates more trust in the users since they will feel confident in using your site. Again, this isn’t to say you still can’t break the boundaries of your standard web design. Like with the shrubbery installations in the town, these elements can help to beautify without mitigating the usability. 

A man with his hands on his head, staring at a computer | Image of a stop sign on a street pole | Jakob's Law

Focus on maintaining core processes, for instance in eCommerce sites. If you were to switch the steps where you review your items by putting in your payment information, customers will likely be off-put and decide to not push through their order. However, if you have a groundbreaking idea for your product page layout, you think it will increase the ease of use while still employing common iconography and eCommerce flows, then that’s a great place to innovate.

Innovate, But Don’t Reinvent The Wheel

As designers, we love to push the boundaries but as user experience designers. We want the best for our users. Finding a balance between adding in elements to enhance the experience, but don’t detract from usability is key. Remember, most people spend their time on many other websites than yours. If it doesn’t function similarly, then they are more likely to navigate towards something else.

Contact TM Now for Assistance

Our design team can help you determine the best steps to take your website to incorporate Jakob’s Law. Contact us today to set up a discovery meeting.

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