The Psychology Concepts You Need to Use for Designing Good UX.

Good UX is all about user perception.

Ravi Shankar Rajan
Jun 20 · 8 min read

How do we perceive a good or bad design (or anything, really)?

The key is stimulus.

Let’s say, you see this hot girl — the one every guy can’t keep his eyes off whenever she’s in the room. There’s just something about her that attracts every type of guy, and she’s not even trying. She stands out — and gets further accentuated because of the tiny dress she is wearing that barely covers her assets.

Then, once you perceive her — and depending on what the stimulus is, you’ll use different parts of your brain to recognize her. For example, your occipital lobe does most of the processing to understand visual information. It processes that she is a girl, specifically a really hot girl, specifically wearing a tiny dress.

Once done, the stimulus gets encoded into your short-term (or working) memory.

Then you decide how to proceed — either act on the stimulus, forget it, or store it in long-term memory — probably date her in this case.

In a nutshell, we’re all capable of focusing on one stimulus and tuning everything out — this is called the cocktail party effect. You remember that one powerful stimulus that overwhelms you and push all the hundreds of other stimuli in the background.

This, when translated to design, makes the users tune into digital elements that are relevant to the achievement of their navigation goals, and tune out all others.

Thus a good UX design is all about enabling user focus. Putting too much of a strain on the user by presenting too many stimuli causes them to miss information or not understand how something is supposed to function, and it may even cause them to stop paying attention to the design altogether.

And Psychology plays a big part in a user’s experience with an application. By understanding how our designs are perceived, we can make adjustments so that the apps we create are more effective in achieving the goals of the user.

Thus By integrating psychology into UX design more value can be added to the products as the designers are able to design better by understanding emotions, human behaviors, and their motivations.

And here are some key psychology concepts which can help us in creating better UX designs.


Attention.

Imagine that you just typed in a Google search and are viewing the results on a laptop.

On average we tend to look 7 to 10 words into the first line of the results, 5 to 7 words into the next line, and even fewer words into the third line of results. This characteristic of our eye movement is called the “F-shaped” pattern of visual attention.

And this is an unconscious automatic activity of which we are little or no control.

This concept is beautifully explained in Daniel Kahneman’s book Thinking, Fast and Slow, he makes the compelling point that there are two very different ways in which your brain works. The 1st set of processes are the conscious processes of “thinking slow” over which we have full control and the 2nd set of processes are unconscious processes of “thinking fast” over which we have little or no control.

A good UX design should not only harness the conscious processes (for example decision making, selection, etc.) but it should also focus on the automatic unconscious processes. This optimally takes into account people limitations.

People will do the least amount of work possible to get a task done. So It is better to show people a little bit of information and let them choose if they want more details. This is called progressive disclosure. Only provide the information that’s needed at the moment to get the best attention.


Wayfinding

All living creatures including us in this world have the uncanny ability to know where they are right now, where do they want to go and what must be done to reach the destination.

We do this using our brain’s “where” system — one of the largest regions in the mammalian cortex.

Coming to the digital world, as product designers, it will make a lot of sense if we are able to tap on this natural ability of wayfinding to give a seamless experience. And this requires giving some distinct cues to the user to help navigate his way.

For example, Gate numbers at airports, signs on the highway, and trail markers on a hike are just a few of the cues in the physical world that makes our lives easier.

Similarly, in the design world, a good UX design taps on common user actions that can be taken to navigate the way ahead. For example, you may need to tap your phone for the desired action to occur, shake the whole phone, hit the center button, double tap, control-click, swipe right, etc. And the lack of these actions becomes the Achilles heel for a lot of applications.

Some interfaces make wayfinding much harder than it needs to be. Many (older?) people find it incredibly difficult to navigate around Snapchat, for example. Cases, where there is no button or link to get you from one place to another, so you just have to know where to click or swipe to get places makes the user experience a very frustrating one.

The point is as UX designers we should help in solving problems for users and not create new puzzles for them. We should strive to match our audience’s perception of virtual space as best we can, and align our offerings to the ways our users already interact with other things or humans.

Make it as real world as possible. That is the key.


Memory

Human Memory Is Complicated.

In most cases, when we look at something, a camera goes inside our minds and we capture a perceptive image of that object with all the assumptions that go with it. We have perceptive images for almost anything in this world; coffee, birds, trees, phone, etc.

Think about it……what happens when you read an interesting cliffhanger whodunit or see a movie. You make a kind of movie in your mind, don’t you? You can remember all the names of the characters, places, and events because you can see it and you are creating pictures all the time while reading. You are using your imagination and your natural creative ability to bring information to life.

Now assume you are reading a dull textbook on psychology. How does your mind behave? You strive hard and try to retain a mental photograph of the page within your mind but you do not use your creative facilities you bring the information to life. As a result, when the crunch time comes to use the information, you know the page on which it is written but you just cannot remember what is written.

And the key is bringing this information to life in the minds of users without taking much effort. Once as UX designers, you are able to achieve it, users can never forget your app.

Memory is fragile. It degrades quickly and is subject to lots of errors. Don’t make people remember things from one task to another or one page to another. People can only remember about 3–4 items at a time.

By effecting managing user memory, we can efficiently manage expectations, be consistent with expectations, and make the person more trusting of the experience. Don’t tax the users.


Language

As humans, we assume that the words we utter have the same meanings for other people as they do for us. Although that might make our lives, relationships, and designs much easier, it’s simply not true.

We are all unique and special and have our own ways of interpreting words. Words like “Dude”,” IMHO” etc. might work in one culture but may be grossly inappropriate in another culture

The same problem is also encountered in the digital world by UX designers. Differences in culture, age, and geographic location influence the meanings of words in our minds, or even the existence of certain entries in our mental dictionaries — our mental “lexicon.”

Overuse of jargon language confuses users, makes them lose faith in your app and ultimately ends the relationship. The key here is communication and communication which cannot be misinterpreted.

A great UX designer always understands the customers’ level of sophistication in his line of work (as opposed to his intimate in-house knowledge of it) and designs products that are meaningful to them at their level.


And Lastly Emotions.

The emotional brain is affected by stories. The emotional brain has a huge impact on our decisions.

And decisions made by the emotional brain are often based on gut response rather than a logical reaction. Herbert Simon coined the notion of satisficing, which means accepting an available option as not necessarily the ideal decision or choice, but perhaps satisfactory given the limited resources available for decision making at the time.

At times when you are mentally taxed, either due to overstimulation or emotion, you often rely on a gut response — a quick, intuitive association or judgment.

For example, in casinos, no clocks can be found and food and drinks are available everywhere. This gives the impetus to the user to keep gambling irrespective of the time or even the money that might be available with him. Here the emotional brain affects the user to go against the logical reasoning of not gambling in spite of the fact that it might adversely affect him.

As product designers, we need to understand both what the rational, conscious part of the customer’s mind is seeking (data to make good, logical decisions) and what the underlying emotional drivers are for making the decision.

For example, while designing a job app, the search results should show job advertisements relevant to the user experience. That is required for making a rational decision. On the other hand, some job apps also show search results which do not exactly match the user expertise but which are desired by the user may be in the coming future. These are user aspirations and these results give that impetus to the user to stretch himself and keep coming back to the app.

By uncovering (and leveraging) what appeals to your audience immediately, what will help them in the long term, and what will ultimately awaken some of their deepest goals in life, you’ve gone from the surface level to their gut reaction.

This will be a positive factor when coming to understand how people behave and feel when coming to application usage. This becomes your unique selling point and may also become a reality for the user someday.

As Earl Nightingale has rightly said.

Whatever we plant in our subconscious mind and nourish with repetition and emotion will one day become a reality.


Further Reading

· Kahneman, D. (2011). Thinking, Fast and Slow.

· LeDoux, J. E. (1996 The Emotional Brain: The Mysterious Underpinnings of Emotional Life.

· D., John Whalen Ph… Design for How People Think.

· Ariely, D. (2008). Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces that Shape Our Decisions.

· Pink, D. H. (2009). Drive: The Surprising Truth About What Motivates Us.


About the author-:

Ravi Rajan is a global IT program manager based out of Mumbai, India. He is also an avid blogger, Haiku poetry writer, archaeology enthusiast, and history maniac. Connect with Ravi on LinkedIn, Medium and Twitter

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Ravi Shankar Rajan

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Technology Manager,Poet,Archaeology Enthusiast,History Maniac.Also a prolific writer on varied topics from AI to Love.

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +479K people. Follow to join our community.