Psychology is a discipline that ventures to study the most complex of entities: the human mind. With over 15 different major branches, psychology is one of the most diverse social sciences in existence.
Many fields have been adapted to psychology in order to use an understanding of the human mind to innovate. Particularly in design, psychology is used to understand and better the experiences of users with different interfaces.
Cognitive psychology – which explores the ways people store, process and perceive information in the brain – would be particularly relevant to design, content creation and marketing. An understanding of cognitive psychology will assist designers in understanding people’s mental processes better, such as attention spans, use of language, memory, perception, creativity, and thinking.
By incorporating psychology in UX research methods and looking at the features, shapes and colours that appeal to users the most, UX designers can better be able to draw users’ focus and understand how they perceive different design elements. Ultimately, the user experience is enriched significantly.
What is Design Psychology?
Did you know that it takes around 17 to 50 milliseconds after exposure to a website to form an aesthetic opinion on it? For reference, it takes around 400 milliseconds to blink.
There seems to be a clear incentive for UX designers and researchers to explore the different types of psychology that comes into play when a web page is opened.
Design psychology involves the use of studying intuitive, human-centred approaches to guide product and service design in a way that aesthetically appeals to users.
So, why should you invest in design psychology?
For starters, the human brain is lazy. This is why huge companies like Facebook and Google invest heavily in practices that make use of computational neuroscience and are constantly brainstorming new ways to improve colour schemes, pattern recognition methods, and shortcuts.
To truly appreciate the use of design psychology in an organisation’s methods of UX research, it is important to understand the principles upon which it functions.
What are Psychological Principles in Design?
Several successful website designs on the internet don’t look too similar on the surface, but in reality, employ the same fundamental principles that govern design psychology at its core. It is important to make sure that you’re employing the right ones for your website, and avoiding potential risks.
If cognitive psychology deals with the way that people remember, solve problems or perceive things, then cognitive load becomes fairly self-evident.
Cognitive load theory is premised on the amount of “mental effort” it takes a person to process new information. It could be said to be the psychological power needed to use something, at any point in time. The development of this theory primarily can be attributed to the works of G.A Miller in the 1950s and John Sweller in the 1980s.
Cognitive load can be broadly categorised in three main types: intrinsic, extraneous, and germane.
Intrinsic cognitive load refers to the mental energy required to keep up with the difficulty of a task. In UX research, it is used to keep track of the energies that users invest when understanding information regarding a product or service on offer.
Extraneous cognitive load refers to the usage of mental energies that aren’t necessarily linked with the task, and in UX is influenced by the use of methods such as random font sizes that may be irritable to users.
Germane cognitive load is more complex, and refers to the mental energy that is used to process the way information is structured and designed.
The goal should be to minimise all possible cognitive loads to whatever extent possible. This can be done through the use of aids that assist short-term memory usage, which according to Miller’s Law, can hold up to 7 objects for around 30 seconds.
The best way to employ it is to make use of a design that is simple, decluttered and makes use of visual or image recognition. It also utilizes the mere exposure effect which proposes that common and more familiar elements can be used more frequently when preparing a design in order to reduce cognitive loads.
Websites like zeroqode.com make use of this very well, having minimal and relevant content, bright and simple colours, as well as uncomplicated pictures on its interface, making sure that cognitive load is minimised.
The Gestalt Laws
Ever wonder how the most abstract of patterns seem to make sense to you?
This phenomenon is made possible because of the Gestalt laws of perception and organization, which are useful tools in design psychology. They operate on the principles of grouping, which explains that people perceive objects as organised patterns. Therefore, even the most complex of scenes can be broken down into simple shapes.
The Gestalt laws are a useful set of tools that, in tandem, can be extremely beneficial for UX designers. A few prominent examples include:
- The Gestalt Law of Proximity: Content that appears close together on a screen is often considered to be related to each other as opposed to content placed apart. In UX, this is utilized when grouping items together as well as when labelling fields or text boxes.
- The Gestalt Law of Similarity: Objects that look similar to each other (in form or style) are considered to serve similar purposes. In UX, text boxes of similar sizes can belong to the same form, or buttons differentiated by colour signify different functions for each button.
- The Gestalt Law of Closure: When people look at a complex arrangement of visual elements or an image that is incomplete, they mentally complete it or associate them with a recognizable pattern. People tend to fill missing spaces from memory. This is often used when designing logos with negative space or in animation that signifies that an object is still loading.
- The Gestalt Law of Continuity: Objects that are put in the formation of a line or a curve are considered to be more related to each other than objects that are not. This particularly helps when designing menus for users to navigate where subtopics pertaining to a certain heading can be assembled in one line.
- The Gestalt Law of Symmetry: Items that are symmetrical to each other are usually viewed as part of one group.
These laws are utilized to improve the functionality, efficiency, clarity and engagement for any UX design. These can impact how users are able to perceive content on a page when they first see the page and also can aid them in their user experience.
Von Restorff Effect
When a number of objects are listed together, it is possible to create a differentiation between them by changing one of the preattentive attributes associated with the object.
Hedwig von Restorff – a German psychiatrist and paediatrician – called this the Von Restorff or “isolation” effect.
This can be utilized when highlighting a particular piece of information in a group. This allows the item to stand out and creates more engagement on the page. This can be done by using the psychology of colours and allowing for the distinction between various options by using different colours for different options.
Webpages utilize this principle in price listings in order to show a distinction between the statuses of different packages they are offering. Websites also use these variations to make ‘most popular’ items or items on sale stand out in a menu.
The Hick’s law in UX design dictates that choices in a user interface should be made easier for the user. It proposes that the more visual stimuli that may be present on a page, the more difficult a choice becomes for the users visiting a page. Users bombarded with choices are consequently required to take more time when making their decision and weighing all the options.
Hick’s law hence allows for users to not be faced with complex choices when visiting a web page that they are able to navigate with ease through the page. Limiting the options provided to a user upon viewing a page can ensure that they are able to engage with it better.
Fitts’ law deals with the time a person requires to navigate to a certain option on a webpage. It states that this time is relative to the distance from the position of the cursor to the object and is inversely proportional to the size of the object.
Fitts’ law also goes on to propose that the combination of fast movements and small object sizes can result in more errors when the users are interacting with a component due to the speed-accuracy trade-off.
When adapting to this law, certain practices have become a convention in UX design. This includes creating larger interactive buttons particularly on finger-operated devices as well as keeping the distance between consecutively selected options very short so that users are able to engage with the interface more easily.
As a result of incorporating Fitts’ law, several interface components that have been very successful innovations have been brought into practice. Complex designs are avoided and features, like pop-up menus and drop-down menus, have been favoured. Overall, reducing users’ travel distance and allowing them for more efficient engagement with the webpage.
The Power of Shapes
Shapes are used to allow users to perceive an interface in a favourable manner. The psychology of shapes allows for a way of connecting various elements of the design with one another or allowing for components to stand out or be grouped together.
In designing a UX, one has to deal with many details, small and complex such as buttons and icons. The shapes utilized in various parts of this design can impact the user’s perception and their experience with a web page.
For example, shapes may be used to direct the users in a certain direction, forms are often compiled of rectangular boxes making it easier for users to scan through them and add information, which can be arranged in a pyramid, drawing attention to the top.
A combination of shape-based design elements such as straight lines and sharp angles or round shapes and curved vertices can be used to influence the overall look of a webpage as well. The former looks more decorative and mild while the latter gives a more formal and even aggressive look. An open approach to the meaning of shapes in psychology when designing UX allows users to interface with a page better and engage with it in the most meaningful manner.
The Chameleon Effect
Similar to the earlier mentioned Gestalt law of symmetry, the “Chameleon Effect” proposes that all people have a tendency to replicate the emotions or feelings of those around them. While this is purely organic, the quality can be employed in UX design in order to influence users’ behaviour.
For example, introducing an announcement or content on a page in an encouraging or joyous light can be used to create a positive ambience around the objects, allowing for users to develop a positive association with it as well.
The Human Mind and UX Research
UX design and cognitive psychology have one thing in common: they’re both disciplines that are complex and highly misunderstood.
The prospects for psychological research in UX are limitless. Artificial intelligence, for example, is predicted to incorporate psychological research in the not-too-distant future.
As far as UX designers go: a good UX is one that understands users fully. In this pursuit, psychology might soon be accompanied by other social sciences such as Economics, Political Science, and Linguistics which might mean that we’re going to be seeing a lot more behaviour-based technology in the future.