How to Make a Great UX Design Using Psychological Principles

What drives user experience? Is it the technology, the design, or the user? While technology and design are crucial elements of great user experience, the role of a user is the most significant aspect that either breaks or makes a user experience.

In areas where humans are so closely involved, human psychology plays a vital role. UX design and psychology, in fact, go hand in hand to create a seamless user experience.

 “A designer who doesn’t understand human psychologies is going to be no more successful than an architect who doesn’t understand physics,” says Joe Leech, UX consultant and author of the book Psychology of Designers.

So how exactly do psychological principles influence a UI UX design process ?

The main purpose of a UX designer is to understand the user in order to create a satisfactory experience for them when they interact with a product. A powerful tool to understand the user in Psychology. Once we are able to interpret how the human brain functions, we get an idea about how a design would be perceived by the user.

a man designing on a computer

Behavioural Psychology and UX

Behavioural psychology is based on the idea that human behaviour is developed through conditioning, which occurs from our interaction with the environment.  A person’s response to any scenario depends on their history of interactions with a similar scenario.

So when people interact with a new website, they expect it to work the same way as the other websites they are familiar with. Users expect certain functionalities to be placed at certain places. For example, the logo of a website would be located at the upper corner, or the footer would contain contact details etc.

Users looking for a sensation of familiarity or a pattern that they can identify. So it is important that the application of UI UX design trends should not be achieved at the cost of familiarity.

Cognitive Psychology and UX

Cognitive psychology deals not just with how people behave but also with how people think. It includes research on focus, memory, problem solving, perception, creativity etc.

Application of cognitive psychology in UX design can help to improve features such as usability, navigation, readability and accessibility. As an example, let’s take the fact that an average person’s memory span is limited to around seven pieces of information. A UX designer can use this information in such a way that if a website needs to display more than seven items, it can be divided into categories.

Let’s take a look at some of the cognitive psychology principles that have excellent application in UX design:

1. The Principle of Least Effort

The principle of least effort is a psychological principle that is foundational to great UX design. It says that to achieve their intended goal, people will choose the easiest path. Although human brains are capable of processing complex patterns, we don’t want to spend too much time thinking. So if there are several ways of performing an action, we choose the path of least resistance.

When a product or a service helps a user find what they are looking for, complete their task and achieve results with minimum thought, it is perceived as a seamless user experience. People are more likely to make quick decisions based on their intuition or gut rather than coming to a decision through conscious or deliberate thought.

A UI UX design company should strive to produce designs that reduce the cognitive load of a user to a minimum. When a design is intuitive and has a simple state of flow, it provides cognitive ease to the user.

Applications in UX design:                             

  • Using simple and intuitive icons to indicate standard functions instead of descriptions

Our brain can process images much faster than text; hence using icons leads to a quicker response.

  • Designing a sign-up/login page with simple and minimum needed information. If a sign-up page is too lengthy or asks for too much information, it is likely that the user will abandon the process and most likely not return.

Using white spaces in design so as to not overwhelm the user with content. This makes the text scannable and helps the user to find information easily. 

2. Law of Proximity

Law of proximity states that people perceive elements that are placed close to be related than those that are far apart.

When this is applied to UX design, we can find that users categorise elements that are located close to each other as one group. An example of this is in product pages, where the product image, its title and description are located close to each other to indicate their connectedness.

3. Law of Figure/Ground

This law states that an element can be perceived either as a figure (a point of focus) or as a background. People subconsciously separate elements on different planes of focus.

This law is applied to UX design through information hierarchy, contrast, brightness, colours etc. For example, in order to bring focus to the Call to Action button, it is designed in a colour that will make it stand out from the background.

4. Hick’s Law

Hick’s law states that the time taken for a person to make a decision is directly related to the number of choices he has. More the number of choices, greater will be the time taken to make a decision.

This law plays an important role in UX design. When users are overwhelmed with options, they might not choose anything at all. Users want to find their desired content fast and by applying a minimum thought process. Hence a UX designer should group information into categories so that the user’s communication is clear, logical and consistent.

Social Psychology and UX

Humans are social beings. The need to belong and get approval from others is fundamentally rooted in our existence.

To satisfy this need, while interacting with content, users feel the need to share it in their social circle. A good UX design can account for this by providing links for easy social integration or sharing. Designing a provision to use social sharing from within a page, allowing interactions with community through comment sections or forums etc. creates an enjoyable user experience.

Allowing a means for a social outlet within a website or application, in turn, allows for greater social interconnectedness. This interaction drives traffic to a website or product through what is essentially a free advertisement. It also helps to add credibility to the product or services being offered through features such as ratings and reviews.

Food For Thought

Humans are complex creatures. But the good news is, we tend to follow certain patterns and our behaviour is often predictable. Understanding users and the psychology behind their actions lead you to effectively design and enjoyable user experience.

When it comes to implementing psychology laws in UX design, there is no common strategy. The principles that we discussed in this article will help you recognise a user’s behaviour, thought pattern and their expectation from a product or service. Understanding this will lead you to create user-centric designs that will engage, convert and retain users.

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