Psychology of Design – How we use behavioral psychology to build better applications?

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Psychology in Design – Overview

Millions and billions of people walk on this earth. Thousands and thousands of babies are born every day, making the population only bigger. The larger the population grows, the larger the arenas of thoughts get.

Varied thoughts, various ideas; myriad of problems concluding with ever more hoards of solution. But even in these huge variations of thoughts, there is a pattern. A pattern to crack the code, a pattern of making something which can be liked by most. The human mind is the greatest technology this race could achieve.

From the first fire, we produced to the latest spaceship that revolves around the universe, are all on whims and fancies of the brain. It might seem that every individual has his own behavior, thoughts, reactions; but when one dives deeper, one can understand that the basic instinct of every person is almost similar.

In this era of computers and tech, the primary form of living is dependent on some kind of device. Most often this is done through applications and websites. Thus comes the vital role of UX designers and their skill of understanding the user’s psychology to solve the problem and cater to their needs. Understanding how an individual will behave subconsciously and trying to find a pattern to streamline a design for the masses.

Cognitive psychology basically studies mental processes of thinking, behaving, understanding, solving problems etc. As vast as the subject goes it is fair to say that it is almost impossible to correctly say what reactions of the brain are categorized under cognitive psychology. It explains how a brain responds to a particular situation when under the influence of an external effect.

Cognitive psychology is done in four different ways. Experimental cognitive psychology explains how the human brain looks at the world outside. It explains how their abilities develop in terms of thinking, reacting, memorizing etc.

Computer Modeling helps in developing a computer software according to the way a human brain works.

Cognitive neuroscience is understanding the human brain with the help of scans and MRI while putting the brain under external stimulus.

Cognitive neuropsychology helps us understand which part of the brain has been injured.

Applications of cognitive psychology in Design: User Interface Design Principles

A few of the applications of cognitive psychology in design are

  • According to the research done by Nickerson and Adams, human beings do not remember the exact details of a given subject but tend to memorize the more generic aspects of it. It is easier to learn with the help of images, pictures, and logos compared to words or numbers. Thus the process of learning can be made easier with the help of cognitive psychology.
  • According to research, it has been found that if there are a set of abstract rules which are seemingly generic in nature, human beings tend to use them more easily. Thus it becomes easy for a designer to get solutions for a mass of people by introducing a set of generic rules.
  • Another important application is known as transference. The meaning of the term is a person’s expectation in comparison to his experience prior to that. The knowledge he had obtained from his previous experiences can be used in the new software. Thus this creates a chain reaction threading all the prior experiences creating familiarity.
  • It is difficult for a human brain to conduct two completely different tasks at the same time. Therefore the user cannot be made to be involved in more than one job at once. He might be made aware of more things together but he should not be made to do more than one simultaneously. `
  • The concept of short-term memory is extremely relevant here. During the time when the user is learning about the application or software, they cannot be showered with loads and hoards of information at once because of the whole limitation due to short-term memory. For effective memory retention, the information offering should be limited.
  • One of the easiest and most successful ways in which one can catch the user’s attention is by making the data bigger, bolder, and brighter. The chances of reading this information are much higher compared to something which is shabby and small.
  • In the Western part of the world, information is gathered from left to right and from top to bottom. This has been recognized as a method that is easier for users to abide by.
  • According to research, it has been determined that blue is a good color to attract one’s attention. This is because the cones of the retina used for identifying the color blue are on the periphery. Other colors which are associated with similar notions are red to showcase a warning, green for a safer reach. For designers, blue can be the most effective color for attracting the user. If a warning sign for a probable virus attack has to be sent then the designer can use the color red.
  • Simon Effect reveals that the human brain responds more quickly in the locations as of the event.
  • According to Schneider and Shiffrins’s research, there is a difference between cognitive processes which are carried out consciously also known as controlled cognitive processes, and the ones which are carried out in the subconscious state of mind known as automatic cognitive processes. So the responsibility lies on the designer to create messages accordingly and grab the user’s attention.
  • If there are certain elements that are together then they are thought as being associated with each other this is known as the rule of proximity. It is in the nature of the human brain to look at information and analyze it instantly. Finding patterns or understanding the relation comes later in the brain after the instant solution-phase passes.
  • Similar to the above discussion if there are elements that are similar to each other they are thought to be from the same category. This is known as the rule of similarity. Therefore using this theory the design can be made by clubbing similar ideas together.
  • The human brain is greatly affected by environmental factors. And the effect of these factors on the person tells much about his personality. Constructive perception is a theoretical concept that supports this theory. Thus the human brain come to conclusion according to the data that is served to it. When the brain sees an image it tries to relate with any old image or shape or color it has seen similar to this. Thus designers can take advantage of this by trying to create a sense of similarity in the human brain by connecting dots with old, known images and texts.

Von Restorff Effect Examples

When we look at a website or an application there are a few things that catch our attention first. This is obviously because they have been made to look clearer than the others. For example the call to action button is made to look completely different from the others. They standout because of the change in color, or shape or size.

Another example is the subscription options or the pricing information. For obvious reasons these are the most important buttons for such websites and hence are designed with subtle changes from all the other elements. The commands will probably have a shade darker colour or may have a darker background. As already said the design changes are really subtle, and are npt ghastly to the eyes. It is just made sure that they stand out from the rest.

More about Von Restorff Effect.

Serial Position Effect

There are two segments of Serial Position Effect namely:

The primary effect

This involves the effect which is brought by the alignment of the elements. The elements at the beginning are more important than the ones that are below or in the mid list.

The Recency Effect

The elements which are present at the end of the list also has chances of getting remembered more than the ones on the middle of the list.

The Primary Effect and the Recency Effects are important pointers that should kept in mind while deigning the application. According to research the human brain can remember 5 things at a time known as the short term memory. So the designers should make sure that through the design they should highlight less than 5 things at a time.

This is achieved by incorporating the filter option during designing. The filter option highlights only the select few elements which makes the searches more concise and easily registerable for the customer.

More about Serial Position Effect.

Cognitive Load

If the human brain is blasted with large amounts of data, it is without a doubt that the quality of results will suffer. In this context if we consider the scenario of UX specifically, then it can be stated that the mental state needed for analyzing one particular user interface is known as cognitive load.

The different types of cognitive load are:

  • Intrinsic Cognitive Load
  • Extraneous Cognitive Load
  • Germane Cognitive Load

More about Cognitive Load.

Hicks Law

Hick’s Law is one of the most important principles in psychology. If one is given more options then he takes more time to decide on what to take. It may also happen that with so many options he will 4fpget too confused and would not choose any.

It may happen that in one site there are too many usages which makes it extremely taxing for the user. It is probably not possible to delete any of the information because of their functionality which makes it more important for the designer to make this information look attractive and easy.

This can be done by breaking the bigger information into smaller segments. For example, if we look at food delivery apps like Zomato, they always have categories and subcategories. If the customer is suddenly given too many restaurants and food options he may get confused increasing the time of work. So the app gives options according to cuisine or location making the decision time shorter.

More information on Hick’s Law.

Societal Influence

The way we think and the way we work has a lot to do with what we see and hear other people doing. Human nature is such that our actions tend to get influenced by what our peers do. This process due to societal influence and is also known as social proof. Societal influence can act as a boon for application designers. Since the theory depends on one person influencing the other, it is 0to market the app more. With more people downloading the app and giving reviews and ratings, the loop of influencing will take place. The application can have a feature in it where friends and peers can form their own community and connect with each other.

Cialdini’s Principle of Liking

According to Cialdini’s research one tends to accept the requests of individuals they like. This principle is known as the Liking Principle. This can be used effectively by app designers by putting attractive photos and by making the content easy to understand by using a conversation tone rather than an instructive tone.

More about Cialdini’s Principle of Liking.

Use of Sensory Images

According to research, sensory images activate definite parts of our brain like words which associate strongly with smell activates the primary olfactory cortex. The designers can use this by:

  • Putting more graphics.
  • Adding elements which are triggered by sound.
  • Adding more metaphors and smiles.

Scarcity Heuristic

The Basic and Applied Sciences Psychology Journal conducted a research which showed two ads. One of the ads showed that in one company there were lots of job opportunities while the other firm had limited opportunities. People considered the firm with limited offers a better place to work in. They also thought that the second company would pay more. Thus this proved that by natural instincts humans tend to be attracted to the things which are limited. Designers can take advantage of this by:

  • Introducing limited time pricing.
  • Special offers and pricing for members.

More information about Scarcity Heuristic.

Forming Habit and the art of giving rewards

Creating habits amongst people is a great way of selling a product. The human has been made such that it loves habits and breaking them really takes a toll on it. So it is very fruitful for designers when the human brain gets habituated with something. If the apps are designed in such a way that the user gets notified after every specific interval of time it can be a very successful way to keep the user hooked to the app. Using of rewards to continue a good habit like exercising daily can also be helpful in making the application more useable.

FAQ for Psychology in Design

What is design psychology (Psychology in Design)?

Design psychology is the process in which designers use human psychology to build products for better experience and utility. This helps in understanding what products are to be made are how they are to be built depending on the needs and wants of the user.

What is UX psychology?

UX meaning user experience is how a person feels about using a particular product. Thus for creating a successful product it is important to know what the user desires that is take a sneak peak into his psychology. This is known as UX psychology.

What are the components included in UX design psychology?

Some of the components included in UX design psychology are- Hick’s Law, Psychology of Persuasion, Selective Disregard and Change Blindness, Memory Limitations, Mental Models, Psychology of Colors, Von Restorff Effect, Visceral Reactions, Fitts Law etc.

Which psychological quality is regarded as the most important for UX designing?

According to many empathy is regarded as the most important quality is UX designing. It is feeling the emotion of how the user might feel given the utility and by look of the design.

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Bluein Christian

Content Writer with experience of 6+ years. Have experience writing content for different industries, such as travel, education, fashion, and more. A creative person by birth and by profession. She loves learning new concepts and creating useful content about them. She loves traveling and is always up for new challenges.


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