Human psychology drives behaviour and decision making. From the placement and colour of a button on a website, to where the information is placed on the main menu, website developers can directly influence the actions of the user.
While humans are a complicated species, they are remarkably predictable when it comes to patterns of behaviour. By understanding psychology, you can gain a grasp on what your audience is going to do, and when, and create design decisions which can improve the entire experience of your website – leading to more enquiries and greater sales.
What is UX and why is it so important?
The aim of user experience (UX) design is to create a memorable and positive experience for website users – one that fulfils their specific wants and needs. The last thing you want is for a potential customer to feel frustrated and annoyed when visiting your site because they have difficulty navigating your webpage or finding the information they need. A great user experience keeps people coming back again and again, and drives brand and product loyalty; something that is essential in today’s saturated marketplace.
Well thought out UX design takes the user on a journey through your product or service, making them more likely to click those all important “contact us” or “add to cart” buttons.
The importance of psychology in UX design
A large portion of human behaviour is driven by the subconscious mind. In order to conserve energy, the mind is constantly looking for patterns and shortcuts in order to process a situation. The brain will very quickly identify something, label it, and then discard it until it is relevant again (5). This level of understanding can help you to design a website that immediately draws the user to the information that is most important, and can entice them to make a decision at the click of a button. The role of the UX designer is to understand the key psychological principles which influence this behaviour, and incorporate this into the website design.
While it may sound like a difficult task, there are some psychology laws we already know that can be adopted into design to capture the interest of users.
- The speakeasy effect: People prefer things they are familiar with – whether that’s words, products, or experiences. On the other hand, they can associate new words or products with risk. If you use familiar language for your audience on your website and in your communications, they are more likely to trust you and buy from you.
- The choice paradox: It’s easy to feel overwhelmed when met with too many options to choose from. Reduce the number of choices or options within your website and the user will feel more certain and confident in their decision making.
- Selective disregard and memory limitations: Online, it is impossible to give attention to every stimulus on a webpage, so users will naturally ignore what they consider as irrelevant to them. Studies have shown that most users look to the middle and sides of a webpage for the information they need. You can improve their attention by creating bold headings or images that stand out and draw the eye to relevant information. Given that memory is also a limitation when scanning a webpage, it pays to put the most important information in long page text at the top and the bottom. Users will often forget what was in the middle, but can recall what they saw first and last.
- The psychology of colours: The choice of colour in website design can be a factor in the choice and behaviour of users. Different colours have different meanings, so it’s important to match the colour to the feel and tone of your business. For example, orange stimulates energy and excitement, while green can elicit a calming effect.
- The Von Restorff effect: Also known as the isolation effect, the Von Restorff effect describes how the position of an item or design element can affect the recall of the user. Studies show that when a number of similar objects or elements are present, the one which differs from the rest is most likely to be remembered.
- The mere exposure effect: Similar to the speakeasy effect, mere exposure relates to familiarity. People like to use things they are familiar with because it enhances their sense of comfort and certainty – whether that’s buttons on a website, symbols, objects, or brands. The more often a user interacts with your brand or website, the more comfortable they become using it again and again.
- Fitts’ law: Fitts’ law describes the time taken to move a pointer (or a mouse cursor) to a target (a button), and the influence on the user. To keep the attention of the user, and enhance the click conversion, this time should be as short as possible. It’s crucial to make important buttons or call-to-actions as large, and as close by as possible, making it easier for the user to click with either their mouse on a desktop or their finger on a mobile device.
How to use these psychology principles to improve your website’s UX
When it comes down to implementing design elements into your website, it’s important to first distinguish the behaviour outcomes you want from your audience. Are you driving users to book an appointment? To subscribe to your mailing list? To read your blog? Or to click “add to cart”? Your website design, and the psychological principles you implement, will change according to your goals.
While there are no shortcuts to creating a website which both enhances the user experience and drives decision making, there’s a few things you can do yourself without the help of a website developer.
- Keep the language clear and concise. Implement the speakeasy effect by using words or phrases that would be commonly used by your own audience to enhance familiarity and trust.
- Reduce choice. While you may think that you’ll reach broader audiences by giving users plenty of choice on your website, you are immediately putting yourself at a disadvantage. Your business does not exist to serve everyone, so display the most relevant options and choices for your niche audience. You can always refer users to a contact page or to book an appointment if they have specific needs or requirements.
- Add headings, subheadings, and striking images to your webpage. Given that users have short attention spans, make their job easier by highlighting the important information they are looking for. Break up long walls of text with headings, subheadings, and images, and place the most important information at the top and bottom of the written copy.
You can do a lot more to improve your UX with the help of your website developer. Here’s some things to look out for when discussing your website’s design:
- Implement good design choices. It’s important to think about how you want users to feel when they interact with your site. Your developer can design your site to enhance these feelings, while also ensuring that contrast of colours is included to highlight important information or buttons. Consistency in colour and design are just one step toward creating brand recognition, so it’s important to get it right. Studies have also shown that people are more inclined to believe that aesthetically appealing websites are more intuitive than their counterparts, leading to an enhanced user experience.
- Ensure important elements stand out. Your developer can use the Von Restorff effect to ensure the most important information, products, or services stand out on your site. In this circumstance, the product or service that you want to sell above the rest should look distinguishable from the others, drawing the user right to it.
- Create large buttons and call-to-actions. Your developer can design your website to ensure that the buttons and important call-to-actions on your website are both close by, and easy to get to from anywhere on the page. Buttons that perform the same action should look identical, ensuring the user knows what to expect each time the button is clicked. It’s important to design these buttons to stand out with colours that contrast well with your site’s background. Given that 70% of people now prefer to view websites on their mobile devices, the buttons on your mobile site should be just as responsive and easy to find as those on your desktop site.
- Keep the layout consistent. It is vital to stimulate familiarity when users engage with your website. The layout, symbols, colours, and branding should be consistent on every page of your website. Humans are designed to look for patterns, and many website users have been trained to look for specific buttons on specific areas of a website, no matter what website that is. Common placeholders for buttons are the top right of a screen, so ask your developer to place a call-to-action, page menu, or important button here.
- Arrange important information in the most viewed areas of a webpage. Given that most people scan the middle and sides of a webpage for the information they are looking for, ask your designer to add the most important elements, products, or buttons to these areas of your webpage. The principle of continuity can also be used here, which states that elements which are arranged on a line or a curve are perceived to be more related. Group similar products, services, or elements together, allowing the user to interpret and understand the information quickly and easily.
UX design has a long standing relationship with psychology. Understanding how users interact with and respond to a site can assist them in making their buying decisions with your company over the competitor. Consumers continue to look for an emotional connection with a brand, and incorporating common psychology principles into your design can ensure they feel at home when visiting your site.
- Ishan Manandhar, February 6, 2020, “The psychology in UX design”, UX Collective, Medium, https://uxdesign.cc/the-psychology-of-ux-design-859439bc8a32
- Carlos Han, March 12, 2019, “7 Principal psychological phenomena in UX design”, Medium, Prototypr, https://blog.prototypr.io/7-principal-psychological-phenomena-in-ux-design-1104e09fc974
- Abu Experience, April 30, 2018, “13 psychology principles all UX designers should know”, Uxbert Labs, http://uxbert.com/ux-psychology-principles-design-ux/
- Katryna Balboni, Updated March 2020, “UX psychology: 6 essential principles for UX design”, Appcues, https://www.appcues.com/blog/user-psychology-ux-design-principles
- Miklos Philips, “Design psychology and the neuroscience of awesome UX”, Designers, https://www.toptal.com/designers/ux/design-psychology-neuroscience-of-ux