Jakob’s Law & Decorum

Jakob Nielsen had a simple principle in web design: People expect your site to work like all others. People spend 99% of their time on other websites, so conforming to the model of those sites will make your site more palatable. For instance, social sites have a log-in button in the top left, news sites follow the layout of a physical paper, and so on.

While this “don’t reinvent the wheel” advice sounds like a recipe for creative stagnation, it’s more productive to think of Jakob’s Law as a razor to shave away effort and focus on the core idea of a product or project. If you’re trying to sell sneakers made from almonds, don’t reinvent the online checkout experience. Use existing paradigms to save time and reinvest that time into your unique value proposition.

In etiquette, decorum is a similar concept to Jakob’s Law. Meaning “right” or “proper” in Latin, decorum is a set of appropriate dress and behaviors for a social situation—like no elbows on the table, chewing with your mouth closed, etc. Every group of people will have their version of etiquette. Maybe it’s wearing a tie or not wearing a tie. Perhaps it’s talking directly, or maybe it’s avoiding specific topics. Regardless, decorum is a civil lubricant, so honoring decorum will smooth social interactions.

Don’t drive with the brakes. Slot yourself into grooves that aren’t central to your purpose, values, or mission. It’ll make you and your initiatives more palatable.