Psychology and design

Vignesh Nandha Kumar
Published in
3 min readDec 10, 2017


Image source: Pixabay

The more design-related articles and blog posts I read, the more I feel that they fall under these two categories:

  • Design Artefacts — the visible components that constitute your app-screen/web-page. This includes choice of UI elements, colors and typography.
  • Design Process — the steps you follow to make various design decisions, and to validate them. This has become pretty much standardized by now — user research, personas, story boards, user testing, etc.

One thing that I feel doesn’t get the coverage it deserves is the role of psychology in design. Understanding human mind can help to a great extent in making such design decisions.

Image Courtesy: Goodreads

In his book, The Design of Everyday Things, Don Norman does talk about how human psychology impacts the way people use products. In so much detail. Actually, he had originally named it The Psychology of Everyday Things (he liked how it abbreviated to “The POET”).

Unfortunately, I don’t find much other content around this.

Why is it important?

When you’re making products to be used by people, how can you do a good job at it, without understanding how those people behave?

Is standardization an alternative?

One way is to standardize things — from UI elements to decision making process. This is what UI libraries and step-by-step design processes (like the one pioneered by Alan Cooper) do.

Despite this standardization, we see poorly designed interfaces all around. We could pick a UI library that is well thought out and exhaustive (I myself admire Material Design a lot), but the quality of final product depends on how we — the designers — use them. There is no dearth of pathetic interfaces using Material UI elements (or any UI library for that matter).

You could follow a great design process to the dot — doing user research, defining personas, validating with user testing, etc. But the usability depends on how you interpreted user research and other inputs. Computer rage is such a common problem despite attempts to follow such design processes.

Image source: Pixabay

Psychology is that missing piece

At the end of the day, we as designers, are making our own calls amidst all the standardization.

For example, usability and aesthetics compete with each other sometimes. Heated debates between interaction designers and visual designers is a common sight in many workplaces. How do you get to the perfect balance that the users would like the most?

One thing that interaction designers do constantly — apart from locking horns with visual designers :D — is interpreting inputs from different sources, especially user research, to base their decisions on.

This is where an understanding of human mind can greatly help make a better informed decision.

Psychology is one of my favorite topics to read about. I plan to write a series of posts around applying some fundamentals of psychology to real-world scenarios in design.

Would love to hear what you think. Feel free to share your thoughts on this. Thanks in advance! :)