Five Psychological Principles In User Experience 2

Five Psychological Principles In User Experience

Looking to understand the behaviour and decision-making processes of your users? Once you understand it, you want to influence it. But there’s only so far you can go on instinct and talent alone – ultimately, you’re going to want to look at the psychology behind the user experience.

UX and the principles of psychology aren’t just happy bedfellows – they’re inseparable. When it comes to the science of high converting sites and successful UX in general, creative instincts aren’t always knowingly informed by psychological theory, but they are usually infused with the principles.

As Simon Norris at Nomensa put it:

Psychology is the science of behaviour and the mind. When design and behaviour match, the design will be superior.

The human brain is a complex maze. And if you’ve not yet utilised the power of psychology in your website design, you’re missing out on some serious insight. How can you build a website without first thinking about the psychology behind web browsing?

Why people ignore some things on a page and really focus on others? It can sometimes be baffling. But knowing about a few core theories can help to enlighten you and make your UX design strategy smarter.

There are tons and tons of theories out there that are in some way relevant to the way people browse the web. To get you started, we’ve narrowed it down to just five. Each of the below theories can have some impact on your strategies, and provide a basic intro to the thinking behind website design.

The only important thing about design is how it relates to people.’ – Victor Papanek

So what are the main theories which can you that killer edge when it comes to UX? Here are five of the best:

1. Gestalt Theory – whole vs separate parts

Max Wertheimer’s theory is all about how humans recognise the whole before the separate parts, a theory which is very useful in informing how we design clear structures and visual hierarchies. It’s broken down into several elements: Proximity, Similarity, Closure, Continuity and Connectedness. These principles are very design-relevant.

For example, think about the use of negative space in logos. NBA is a good example, or the World Wildlife Fund. It’s Gestalt’s closure principle in effect, the brain completes a picture with missing or white sections. You don’t need to be a designer to know symmetry is appealing, but again the reasons are rooted in Gestalt theory.

Get these elements of Gestalt-rooted design wrong and users won’t be able to effectively process the information you’re giving them. Get it right and they’ll be seduced by your logical visual cues.

2. Hick’s Law – don’t offer too many options

William Hick’s law states that the time it takes for a person to make a decision is based on how many different choices they’re given. Sounds obvious, right? Then again, all the best rules do.  We’ve all stared at a huge blackboard of drinks choices or sifted through an enormous food menu struggling to make a decision.

That’s the everyday representation of Hick’s Law. It’s a rule that certainly applies to UX. Put too many options in front of the user and they may well pack up and leave. So keep it simple, it pays. Check out this article at the Interactive Design Foundation for some in-depth analysis.

3. Von Restorff effect – isolated items are remembered more

German psychiatrist Hedwig von Restorff intuited that when someone was faced with a list of categorically similar items, but with one distinctive, isolated item on the list, memory for that item was improved. Applied to UX design it has multiple important uses. Think about a call to action button for example – this is the von Restorff effect in action.

Or perhaps you’re marketing a pair of cherry red boots, you might want to put them in a visual line of generic dour black ones. Using this principle allows a designer to highlight critical elements in a design, or to combat duration neglect, that tendency of users’ attention to drift in the middle of an experience.

4. Law of Proximity – keep groupings clear

Technically a part of Gestalt theory but worthy of its own mention, it essentially covers our brain’s desire to group together objects that are close to each other. The idea is that this kind of clustering occurs because humans often have a natural inclination to want to group and organise things in a neat and organised manner. Applied to design it means this: keep your groupings clear and you’ll keep the user happy.

5. Cognitive Load – complicated isn’t always better

Beware cognitive overload! Simply put, cognitive load is the amount of effort a user is putting in to complete a task. Unless you want your users bleeding from their ears you’ll want to keep their load light and allow their cognitive function to navigate and process information as quickly and smoothly as possible.

From the Decoy Effect to the Pleasure Principle, Gestalt to Hick, when it comes to psychology and UX design it pays to understand the principles of human interactions in the context of your design choices. Once you do, you can start to plan and execute with a clear idea of likely outcomes, improve conversion rates and keep users interacting for longer.

In need of some expert knowledge when it comes to website design? Don’t dive in blind, seek the help of experienced UX designers who are internet psychology gurus. Our team can help you to produce a user-friendly website that’s perfect for your audience and takes core psychological principles into consideration. Got questions? Drop us a line or chat to one of our experts.

Andrew Machin
Andrew Machin

With over 25 years’ experience in UX and digital strategy, Andrew has helped many national and global brands such as John Lewis, Harley Davidson, Johnson & Johnson, and Interflora create exceptional digital product experiences.

Through the success of such projects Andrew has received high-profile accolades that span innovation, strategy, and design, such as the Dadi Grand Prix Award and the Digital Impact Award for Innovation.

This experience has led to Andrew judging digital design awards, been featured in .net magazine, lecturing at Leeds university, and speaking at seminars and conferences across the UK.

Articles: 109

Newsletter Updates

Enter your email address below and subscribe to our newsletter