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CodiePie | The Psychology Behind Ux Design
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The Psychology Behind UX Design

Even though there are a lot of psychological factors that we learn in classes, books, and podcasts, we often don’t think about or attach names of theories to our actions or experiences on a daily basis. The lack of symbolic interactionism and state recognition leaves us guessing what successfully assessed data can lead to in design. Quantifying data and deciphering the priority of content drives the user experience and thus proves the power of psychology in UX design.

Psychology is the study of the mind. One of the primary reasons we study the mind is to figure out why people do what they do, and it bestows many advantages to different aspects of our lives: relationships, work life, business, design, and ultimately, helping oneself and one another. Yes, it, of course, applies to such a big part of the design! Specifically, UX design has many cognitive and social psychological components that can be utilized.

A reason to study our minds primarily before studying design is clear: technology changes constantly and quickly, but our operating systems (our brains) don’t change.

To give a brief overview of our brain function regarding UX design, there are 3 components that we can keep in mind. We will mostly focus on the limbic system that holds mood, memory, and hormone control. Like life experience with stored emotions, it is the part where we’re constantly looking for novel things. One of the reasons why video games and other media are becoming more and more sensual and outrageous is because of this part of the brain. The saliency of new technologies and new ideas constantly get old and we seek new things. The mammalian aspect of this holds emotion versions and affinity. This makes you continue what makes you feel good and avoid what you don’t like. The reptilian aspect consists of 4 F’s: fight, flight, feeding, and fornication—all survival needs.

Our logical brain is the cerebral cortex. However, it is very expensive to use as it burns a quarter of our body’s lasting calories. It has delayed gratification and it calculates the consequences of our actions. The track of how information travels around in our brain is in this order: brainstem, limbic system, and neocortex, which normally doesn’t go all the way to the neocortex. This means that 95% of our actions and decision making are pre-conscious. And we normally make a gut decision first and then we rationalize it unconsciously. Unfortunately, there is no such thing as a completely “logical decision” since there is no way to separation decisions from our feelings.

Therefore, as UX designers, we must be able to keep the attention of salient seeking, lazy, and easily distracted people. And we must make the user experience simple, engaging, and personal.

What are some ways?
First, limit choices. Research shows that the average person can keep about 4 non-rehearsed things in short term memory. Giving them too many choices in your category, whether in sales or navigating in any way on your website, is not a good idea. For example, a fashion merchandising website would do well to present fewer main categories and have more sub-categories at the request of the user. Let’s say you are looking for a skirt for your friend’s wedding, the choices you would want to filter would be men vs. women, then top vs. bottom, which naturally would lead you to the skirt category. Forcing the user to deal with all possible categories at once can be overwhelming and can lead to user data overload may cause them to be a one-time buyer or lose interest altogether.

The second component is to make choices obvious. Remember, our brain is constantly exposed to many different websites and ads. The user is not going to try to look for something for more than 15-30 seconds. If you are trying to direct them to make a choice or respond to a call to action, make the path to get there very clear. Use animation sparingly and wisely since animations almost always draw attention compared to other call to action tools. It can be a distraction when it is used with no purpose.

Third, manipulate things with visual bias. We constantly learn in social psychology classes that context and situations are powerful. People are not aware of the previous intention we have as we design the website, and they are not going to use the expensive brain part as they are navigating as a user. Therefore, use visual manipulation to guide your user the way you planned. We can always use priming, framing, highlighting, and other context around objects. For example, in sales, people tend to anchor onto the first thing they see, so sales experts often recommend putting the highest priced items first. And then as they continue to shop and as prices decrease, it may cause them to see those lower priced items as a reasonable compromise and sales will increase.

These are just some of the psychological tools that can be utilized in UX Design. We can always get creative with some basic and advanced psychological research and factors from neuropsychology to business psychology. We will dig deeper with some of the useful and practical rudimentaries in design that are related to psychology in the “Psychology Behind UX” series.

Tim Ash. Context and the power of Framing: An Irrational Approach to Increasing Online Conversions [Webinar] In User Testing.
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Matthew Lieberman, Ph.D. (9.29.09) Social Psychology Lecture, UCLA, Psych 135
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