How Psychology Is Used In UX Design 2

How Psychology Is Used In UX Design

Figuring out how to create the perfect website is all about getting inside people’s heads. Because, after all, it’s people that use your website, and their behaviour is influenced by many different factors.

Small cues and subtle changes can have a big impact on the way the human brain reacts. If you want a website that delivers every time, you need to start focusing on human psychology, and how browsing a website is related to this.

Just picture yourself landing on a website and take a moment to consider what goes through your mind. You just want to reach your goal and find what you’re looking for in the easiest way possible. And if a website doesn’t deliver, you’ll leave straight away.

But what is it that makes people stay on websites and how can you use psychology to tailor your site to the human mind? Psychology helps UX designers to understand how certain aspects of a website may be perceived by audiences.

Many site owners make the mistake of going for flashy designs that look impressive, with little or no thought to the best thing for their customers. Web designers and UX experts need to have a basic knowledge of how the human mind works, and some experience in internet psychology.

Once you delve into this topic a little, you can easily get lost. Why? There are so many studies and an endless collection of research papers to read through. The human mind, after all, is a pretty complex thing.

Perhaps this is why those with a background in studying Psychology tend to do well as UX experts. It’s also up to you how you interpret different research, but there are some common psychology principles which are usually applicable to most websites.

Psychological theories

First off, let’s touch on psychological theories, because they are what shapes a fair few web design principles. There are some common theories that pop up everywhere that can loosely be applied, like Freud’s Pleasure Principle for example. It’s quite a far reaching concept that can be applied to a lot of different things, yet it’s still relevant to web design.

His theory claimed that there’s a basic human tendency to seek pleasure and avoid pain. So how does this relate to UX? Well, when browsing a website, people don’t want anything that causes them pain, like slow loading sites or confusing layouts that make their brain hurt. They want to gain pleasure, like quickly and easily buying a product that they love.

Another example of a psychological theory that can be used in UX design is the Gestalt principle which refers to people naturally perceiving objects as organised patterns and objects. In a nutshell, visual perception is important, and so is how objects are arranged together on a web page.

And then here’s Hicks Law, which again is quite broad but still very useful. It’s based on the time it takes a person to make a decision in relation to possible choices. Ergo, the more choices, the longer they take to make a decision. So, when building your website, when people are given a choice, don’t’ give them too many options. For example, Procter and Gamble saw a 10% increase in sales after reducing their Head and Shoulders shampoo line from 26 varieties down to 15. Present less, and you’ll get more.

Understanding emotions

Ever seen the film ‘Inside Out?’. It’s a brilliant representation of how emotions work, and also a lovely, heartwarming tale. Happy, sad, angry – these are all emotions we manage on a daily basis, and they come into play when we browse a website. Designing a fantastic website is all about tapping into people’s emotions in the right way.

Creating positive emotions rather than negative ones. The last thing you want to do is make someone angry when they visit your site because it’s so frustrating. Instead, find ways to give people pleasure and make them happy and most importantly, satisfied. When you think about emotions it’s easy to understand how crucial psychology is to web design.

Questioning behaviour

A UX designer’s job is partially about questioning people’s behaviour and thinking ‘in this situation, what might people do?’. Usability experts have a talent for predicting what web users might do before they do it, and if they don’t behave as predicted, quickly adapting their strategy. And of course, the best way to understand people’s behaviour is to study it.

People don’t always know what’s best for them, which is why it’s more useful to watch them do something rather than ask them how they’d do it. Pay close attention to exactly how people use your website, where they click and why they do some things and not others. If someone leaves a page, question their behaviour and try and understand why.

Making things easy for people

Psychologist and cognitive scientist Dr Susan Weinschenk hits the nail on the head when she explains:

People don’t want to think more than they have to, and they will do the least amount of work possible to get a task done.

A simple psychological concept, yet it plays an enormous part in web design. The goal is always to make things as easy as possible for web visitors.

In Steve Krug’s book, Don’t Make Me Think, he states that ‘people typically glance at websites and scan the content, clicking whatever they first see that catches their interest or vaguely resembles what they are looking for, rather than reading the whole page.’

Users just want to find the simplest and easiest route to their goal, and they don’t want to have to think too hard. And boy do people enjoy shortcuts, if there’s a way to get it done quicker by missing something out, they’ll do it. Nobody wants to go the long way round.

Information overload

Woahh hold on for just one second. #toomuchinformation Our brains can only take so much before they burst. People have limits to the amount of information they can absorb, so it’s always best to keep things simple.

Especially seeing as humans are in fact 90 visual creatures (we like images). A UX designer’s job also involves making sure that information overload doesn’t occur and just the right amount of info is displayed to keep people informed and help them progress.

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.

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