Pip Decks Laws of UX Review
Laws of UX Review: First Impressions
On the Pip Decks Ranch: Black Sheep or Dark Horse?
Once consumed, side effects may include: feeling like you can accomplish anything, subdued Imposter Syndrome, and relief that there other people who share your desire to make things better. — Pip Decks
Table of Contents
- What made me notice Laws of UX?
- What’s in the box?
- How do the cards work?
- The psychological journey
- The “Laws of UX” website and book
- My verdict: Black Sheep, Dark Horse, Cash Cow?
- What’s next?
Always open with a joke…
…they say. Here’s why.
It wakes up the audience and they are on their toes for the rest of the presentation waiting for another one.
I’m not going to do that. I’ll give you a bit of interesting trivia instead. Do you know why actors tell each other at auditions to “break a leg”?
It’s so they’ll be in the cast.
What made me notice Laws of UX?
My copy of the Storyteller Tactics card deck from the Pip Decks team arrived a month ago and I love it. It is aimed at those making presentations and provides a step away from Death by Powerpoint.
Read my ongoing review here:
Briefly, these cards are a brilliantly-designed system for crafting stories for any purpose. A distilled essence of a pile of textbooks on the art of storytelling, they guide you through the steps you need to take to create a story to sell something, to persuade, to educate or to, well, tell a story.
We all love stories and these cards pretty much guarantee that your audience will listen and take in what you say. Follow the steps, reap the rewards. They may not even realise that you are using some storytelling tricks to present a situation in a clever way.
I looked at the other decks on offer and this one stood out to me. Laws of UX. Not just because it has a different design style. But because I could totally use some help in understanding how to improve the things I do in my day job.
UX stands for User Experience and is a field of study aimed at understanding and improving the way people use things.
“User experience” encompasses all aspects of the end-user’s interaction with the company, its services, and its products. — Don Norman and Jakob Nielsen
I have a keen appreciation of UX from the user end. I travel a lot and one of the most stressful experiences in my regular life involves getting off a plane at the end of a long flight — I live in Melbourne, Australia so everywhere is a long flight! — and having to work out how to navigate the airport to collect my bags at the right carousel, join the right queue for immigration, and then find a way to buy a ticket for the local public transport system.
Trust me, these things can reduce me to tears, especially if I haven’t slept for two days, I don’t speak the language, I don’t have any local currency, and I’ve had one plastic glass too many of cheap red wine on the plane.
Anything to help ease my user experience struggle is welcome. Anything!
Would these cards help me help others? I clicked the “buy” button to find out. They offer a money-back guarantee and if after a year you feel you haven’t gotten ten times your value out of the cards, you can ask for a refund and keep the deck.
Yup. If within a year you have used the cards and video tutorials to a reasonable degree and you haven’t found the outcomes from using them are worth at least 10x what you paid, we’ll refund you in full — and you can keep the deck. -Pip Decks FAQ
What’s in the box?
Well, let’s start with the box itself. It’s sturdy, it holds the oversized cards snugly, the lid seats firmly. This is a box that will look good sitting on the shelf and will do its job protecting the cards — and itself — sliding around in your briefcase or backpack.
I’m an inveterate gawker at other people’s bookshelves and the pandemic has been good for me with Zoom meetings taking me to offices and studies and living rooms around the world. I see a surprising number of the distinctive Pip Decks boxes proudly displayed on shelves within arm’s reach.
Maybe it’s because these are reasonably spendy; people want to show them off. I know I do!
In due course my package arrived. Inside the protective envelope, both the box and and the cards inside came wrapped in plastic; they were not going to get soggy during shipping.
There are 56 cards. Two About cards and 54 working cards. Like the box, these are sturdy cards; each one easily legible, a diagram and brief description on the front, three or four paragraphs on the back.
- 1 Introduction/How to Use card
- 1 About the Author/Get the Laws of UX book card
- 7 Interaction Principle cards
- 8 UX Method cards
- 10 Psychology Concept cards
- 29 UX Theory cards
Principle, Method, and Concept cards are shades of grey on the front and the backs are highly legible black on cream, where most of the words are. The Theory cards are coloured what I can only describe as “edgy dark pastel” on the front. The light colour is used for accent and text on the fronts of all cards.
All but one. The Jakob’s Law card is black printing on mustard and oddly enough this law is about how similar patterns on similar sites should carry the same meaning. There are a few other subtle Easter Eggs scattered around.
How do the cards work?
What better way to begin than by quoting the designer’s own pitch?
The UX Designer’s secret weapon, brought to you by Laws of UX & Pip Decks. Each deck includes 54 psychological principles and UX methods that help you design and justify your user interfaces, get buy-in from stakeholders and empower your design team. — LawsofUX.com
The cards are divided into four types.
- Interaction Principles. These are fundamental factors in how the user interacts with the system. Mapping is how the system connects to actions. Turning the steering wheel moves the car in that direction. Feedback is what happens to indicate success or failure.
- UX Method. Practical exercises to discover and document a system. User Personas are stylised example users — a power user, a novice, a customer, an administrator, an asshole etc. — and should be named and described so that roles and behaviours may be uniform for every member of the design team. Usability Test is about observing what the users actually do, rather than how they were supposed to act.
- Psychology Concept. How the human mind actually operates to understand and perform tasks. Chunking is about abstracting a mass of data or possibilities into distinct entities that the brain can handle. Flow is when the mind is focused, engaged, and operating effectively without needing to stop and work out details.
- UX Theory. These are the “laws” that describe how the user experience operates. Hick’s Law states that “The time it takes to make a decision increases with the number and complexity of choices.” Miller’s Law says “the average person can only keep seven (plus or minus two) items in their working memory”.
I feel that any UX designer worth their salt would know everything on the cards already. And, to be honest, what is on the cards is fairly sketchy. Just what can you say in depth in a handful of sentences?
If I were mean, and damning with faint praise, I’d say that the cards are splendidly designed and laid out, easy to use, clear and clever. Which they are, but why would you lay out a chunk of money for a sketch of what you already know?
I think that, unless you are really on top of your game, the true value of the cards lies in their clear summation of what a UX designer should know: what was learnt to pass the exam and then pushed to the back of the brain.
I mean, one could learn the Law of Prägnanz in a late-night cram session, flash it out for the exam the next day, and stick it in an inside pocket in the mind’s lumber room along with all the other obscure stuff. One day it will come in handy when explaining a concept to a client but chances are that if it were me doing the explaining from a dim memory I’d get the spelling wrong and give a bumbling explanation.
With the card, one can whip it out, be instantly full bottle on the concept, and look awesomely professional.
These are reminders and guideposts. They explain a concept simply and clearly — along with an abstract diagram of whatever the card is presenting — and give directions both forward into solving whatever problem you currently have, and back to whoever came up with the “law”.
The Jakob’s Law card gives a definition on the front:
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.
And on the back is a bit of a dig around in the psychological basis of why it works:
- Users feel that they are on familiar territory
- Users are focused on their tasks, not on learning a new system
- If you must change the system, let users keep using the familiar system until they feel able to change up.
There is also an origin story:
Jakob’s Law was coined by Jakob Nielsen, a User Advocate and principal of the Nielsen Norman Group, which he co-founded with Dr Donald Norman (former VP of Research at Apple Computer).
So if you want to learn more about the history and context, simply google Jakob Nielsen.
There are also links to other cards:
- Mental Model. An explanation of someone’s thought process about how something works in the real world.
- Occam’s Razor. The best method for reducing complexity is to avoid it in the first place.
The very first card in the deck provides a structured approach for those who prefer it. (Me, I’m happy to shuffle through the cards until something pops out at me.)
Start with the UX Theory cards as a starting point for connecting related psychology concepts, interaction principles and UX methods such as Peak-End Rule > Cognitive Bias > Conceptual Model > Journey Mapping.
These cards take the designer on an abstract journey ending at a UX Method card giving concise instructions on how to perform a practical task in the design process, such as constructing a map of the user’s experience, or using teamwork to build a set of shared design principles.
The psychological journey
The deck is far more than a design handbook in card form. It is a pair of high rubber boots to go wading through the mind of the user.
At heart, most users are pretty much the same — though see the User Personas card for a way to visualise distinct types of user, based on age, education, skill, task and so on — and build abstract representations inside their heads of how systems work and how they can use them to do what they want to do.
Users are also bound by the limitations of their organic thinking machinery. Most of us have trouble remembering more than seven arbitrary chunks of data, for example. That’s why a phone number is best presented as (say) (404) 867 5309 rather than 4048675309.
Or, for another example, as complexity rises, our speed in decision-making slows down. Remember that Tokyo Metro map pictured earlier? I vividly remember standing in the Metro station in Shibuya (that’s right, the one with the famous pedestrian crossing outside) trying to work out, with a beer and a bowl of ramen inside, how to get back to my hotel in Shinjuku. As these things go, a relatively short and simple journey but it took me a good fifteen minutes just to identify the platform I needed.
A good UX designer is in there, pushing aside bundles of neurons, following the user’s thoughts, hopes, and feelings on their journey through a system. The analyst and designer might know what the system is meant to do and how it works, but for the user trying to go from A to B with the minimum of fuss, they have to discover it for themselves.
You want your users to work with confidence and purpose, rather than curling up into a foetal ball and vowing to use someone else’s product. You want them to achieve a state of flow, where the system fades into the background and the user performs tasks with ease and grace.
The “Laws of UX” website and book
The Pip Decks cards come with access to something called The Vault, containing additional resources, videos, etc. to help use the cards. The Laws of UX cards come with their own Vault but there’s a freebie resource in the author’s dedicated website.
Jon Yablonski runs LawsofUX.com and it is a fair dinkum motherlode goldmine of resources to backstop the cards. There are pages for selected cards full of more information than can be packed on a handy piece of cardboard.
Here’s the page for Jakob’s Law. Examples, references, diagrams. I can even download a poster. (And on that note, people pay money to buy high-quality posters; these things are great art all by themselves!)
Jakob's Law | Laws of UX
Users spend most of their time on other sites. This means that users prefer your site to work the same way as all the…
There are some excellent articles included on the website. This one on the psychology of design is a particularly good read:
The Psychology of Design | Laws of UX
As humans, we have an underlying "blueprint" for how we perceive and process the world around us, and the study of…
The book Laws of UX goes even further. There are ten pages in the Jakob’s Law chapter. This is reproduced in full via the Amazon “See Inside” feature, and well worth a read.
In fact I can heartily recommend the book. It goes deeply into the psychological background of why these “laws” work.
It’s not a long book. 128 pages or so. I read a chapter or two at a time and let my subconscious chew on the material. After a while I was dreaming about this stuff!
Jon knows his material, practices what he preaches, and writes well.
The cards, website, and book are brilliantly designed and expressed. Not a wasted word in the enterprise. I could learn a lot from this guy.
My verdict: Black Sheep, Dark Horse, Cash Cow?
My second — after Storyteller Tactics — card deck from Pip Decks.
As physical objects, these are excellent. Tough, clear, colour-coded, systematised. They are attractive objects in their own right. They give an air of professionalism and security.
The Laws of UX card deck follows a different design philosophy than the others in the Pip Decks stable. Not quite so quirky, more buttoned down, more cerebral. Just as good, just as usable, just walking a parallel path.
It is perhaps best described as a “guest deck”.
If I were an experienced UX designer, on top of my game, I might feel slightly disappointed in these cards. They are simple, concise presentations of the business and wouldn’t be teaching me anything I didn’t already know, even if it was on the back burner somewhere.
However, they shine in three aspects:
- They can be laid down on a table to make a dot-point kind of path through a particular design problem.
- They contain links to other cards representing other concepts, principles, and methods that may be relevant and overlooked in a “seat of the pants” process.
- They are excellent for explaining and demonstrating principles of UX design to users, clients, art designers and so on. Pull out the relevant card and you have the concept laid out simply and clearly
For myself, a neophyte in this arena, I find them absolutely fascinating. They show me how systems are put together and why. They explain the human dimension in computer (and other) systems.
I can use the principles and lessons in my own work and I am already starting to contemplate areas of improvement. For instance, this article contains a table of contents so that readers get a good idea of the content up front and can jump to sections that interest them. This is something new for me.
I see no problem at all in realising ten times my investment in the course of a year. These cards, backed up by the resources in the Pip Decks Vault, the author’s website, and his book, are literally a game-changer for me.
This marks the end of playing around and the beginning of professionalism.
For myself, I’ll compile a detailed and in-depth review of the type I’ve started for the Storyteller Tactics deck.
I feel that there are concepts and theories that are worth examining in more depth. Not from the standpoint of a skilled UX professional but more from my own perspective. I’ve spent many years learning a certain model of mind and I love seeing how the various notional chunks fit together. So come back and see how I go. I’ll add links to further articles in future versions of this one.
For you, Dear Reader, I heartily urge you, if you have any interest at all in engaging with users in any sort of system whether it be physical or app or web, to investigate the field of UX design, and the website, book, and cards mentioned in this article are an excellent place to begin.
Jon Yablonski leads by example. He writes well, he resonates with the reader, he makes complex ideas able to be grasped and held with mental fingers.
His Laws of UX site is here:
Home | Laws of UX
Laws of UX is a collection of best practices that designers can consider when building user interfaces.
The book is available on Amazon as paperback, e-book, and Audible, and through various other sites:
Book | Laws of UX
Laws of UX is a collection of best practices that designers can consider when building user interfaces.
Use my discount code BRITNIPEPPER to get 15% off. I get a few dollars in return. The bold links above are affiliates, same deal. Or just go to the website, no strings attached, look around, discover the system for yourself. There are some good — and free — blog posts:
Card decks that help you confidently influence and inspire. Run creative workshops. Tell great stories. Design better…
I believe in these cards. They are the wisdom of UX professionals, passed on from direct experience. The laws are true; they work. They are a secret guide in the palm of your hand, and while they are expensive, they come with a money back guarantee.
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