Product design

How to Design a Product That Meets Psychological Needs of Users


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Table of contents

More and more aspects of our lives are digitized and covered by virtual solutions. When we work, play, manage our finances, take care of our health, and plan our leisure activities, we tend to turn to technology. But what do we expect the solutions to be like? Most likely, they are supposed to be helpful, easy to use, and enjoyable. 

However, these simple characteristics are just a tip of the iceberg. In fact, users have specific psychological needs that are the driving force of human-product interactions’ efficiency. If these needs are met, people are motivated and happy to keep using a product. But if the product doesn’t manage to meet those needs, users may feel confused, discouraged, or incompetent when using it. 

That is why a product's UX should primarily focus on these fundamental human needs. When designing our solutions, we at Eleken always explore users' psychology and dive into audiences' specifics to deliver outstanding user experiences. In this article, we will explain the most significant users' psychological needs and their impact on UX design.

Why user psychology matters for UX design

According to a famous framework known as Maslow’s Theory of Personality, psychological needs should be considered the basic aspect of the human needs hierarchy. These are the most natural, deep-seated demands, such as breathing, food, water, and sleep. 

And what are the most fundamental needs when it comes to user experience? Similar to Maslow’s hierarchy, the base of the pyramid of human needs in UX design is how users perceive products on a cognitive level. These are not aesthetic preferences or common user expectations, but fundamental requirements that define how people perceive digital solutions and interact with them.

When using any technology, people spend their time and energy learning how the product works, adapting to it, and achieving certain goals with its help. So one of the main challenges for design teams is to build products with users’ essential psychological needs in mind. 

The basics of human motivation laying at the very bottom of the UX pyramid of needs are defined and explained by the self-determination theory.

What is self-determination theory?

Self-determination theory (SDT) is a human personality and motivation concept that defines the basics of people’s psychological needs. The core principles of SDT were first introduced by psychologists Dr. Edward Deci and Dr. Richard Ryan in their book “Self-Determination and Intrinsic Motivation in Human Behavior.” Deci and Ryan carefully studied people’s behavior and explored their motivation. They came up with the three fundamental human needs.

  1. Autonomy. People strive to be free and make decisions independently. They prefer to take actions based on their own will. Any form of strict control decreases motivation and may trigger users.

  2. Relatedness. Social interactions, mutual understanding, and support are crucial for every human being. People like to feel connected with each other, collaborate, and get encouraged, whatever they’re up to. These connections drive positive emotions and take people’s motivation to the next level.

  3. Competence. Nobody likes to feel helpless or unable to complete a certain task. In contrast, what motivates people is when they don’t have to struggle to achieve a certain goal. In particular, people want to feel competent even if they do something for the first time.

You’re probably wondering what all these theories have to do with UX design. In fact, much more than you might imagine. Users tend to enjoy products that address these three fundamental psychological needs. If designers keep them in mind and consider them in UX solutions, people have better motivation to keep using an app or platform. This makes a technology not just helpful, but delightful to work with. 

Now, let’s explore in detail these three fundamental human needs and their relation to product design.

Three human needs in UX design explained

As we mentioned above, there are three basic psychological needs product teams should consider when designing digital solutions. Let’s explore how different apps and platforms meet (or don’t meet) those needs and if they manage to motivate them for further interactions. 


Autonomy in UX means that a product provides users with sufficient control over their experiences. As a result, people feel more freedom as they can choose how to adapt the interface and its features to their individual needs. Normally, this can be achieved through a certain level of customization. For instance, users can configure widgets, manage their personal dashboards, pick custom font sizes according to their vision specifics, or even choose the background color. These options will make them feel more independent and motivated to keep using the app.

As an example, for our client Process Place we designed onboarding that gives users the opportunity to choose what they want to do next: explore the kick-off checklist or observe Premade Templates.

Read more in case study

Another great example of user autonomy is gamification in educational apps like DuoLingo. It allows users to choose the order and speed of their learning experiences, adjusting the whole learning process according to their preferences. Instead of going through a strict program, people choose topics or stories for reading and decide when to move to the next level on their own.

Duolingo stories
Image source: DuoLingo

Last, but not least example of users’ autonomy is the customizable dashboard designed by the Eleken team for SEOCrawl. We enabled users to pick custom views and provided them with an opportunity to configure widgets depending on their individual requirements. As a result, the product enhances users’ control over their workflows and covers their need for autonomy.

Read the story of SEOCrawl redesign

What to avoid?

The lack of autonomy can disappoint users and even make them leave your app. Make sure that people always control their in-app activities and can choose how to interact with a product if it is possible. When designing our solutions, we avoid having just one possible scenario in user journeys. Instead, we create variable interfaces with multiple options to choose from. 

For instance, when it comes to onboarding and support, it’s worth enabling several ways a user can get it, from a live chat to a FAQ section or video tutorial. As a result, people will be able to learn what they need by using the method that suits them best.


The connection between individuals and the apps or services they use can be achieved if the product was originally built with those individuals in mind. People feel that they are understood and treated properly when a product meets their actual needs and addresses their personal pain points. This, in turn, builds customer trust, increases retention, and minimizes the risk of churn. But if users have to deal with inconsistent interface elements, unclear workflows, or irrelevant messages, their need for relatedness won’t be satisfied.

Eleken designers are advocates of the psychology of UX design and apply it when creating SaaS products. To build strong relationships between the products we create and their end-users, we turn to the most effective UX research methodologies. Our team carefully studies the audience’s pain points and analyzes their needs. 

Usually, this is possible thanks to interview sessions, field studies, customer journey mapping, and various qualitative tests. For example, when designing a product for our client, Griddle, we created an empathy map based on user interviews: 

This empathy map later helped us design a great user-centered CRM platform.

Also, we build user personas to summarize users’ behavior, goals, and preferences. All these methods help us get a clear idea of users’ expectations and provide more meaningful, personalized user experiences.

What to avoid?

Most often, products do not meet people’s need for relatedness when they deliver irrelevant content or lack personalization. For example, generic notifications sent to all customers, even if they don’t really need that information, can push them away. So any content that is addressed to users should be focused on their personal goals and consider their previous experiences. 


Nobody likes to feel lost, confused and overwhelmed when using a product or service. Unfortunately, this happens quite often, since many systems are complex and require clear explanations. Moreover, even when using a simple app, users may face pitfalls at some point. The important thing is not to leave them alone in that situation. Instead, the product’s design should do its best to make people more competent in using it.

Normally, the need for competence is achieved through frictionless onboarding, simple navigation, and overall interface intuitiveness. For example, the onboarding we designed for Griddle tells users about main product features and helps them feel more confident and competent.

However, even detailed tutorials and other learning materials can be insufficient. Users often skip product tours and other onboarding materials or fail to memorize them and face challenges later on. 

To address this problem, we at Eleken often rely on common onboarding patterns that help users learn products not only at the beginning, but also at certain points of their journeys. These are tooltips and hotspots that explain particular features or other interface specifics exactly when users need this information. For example, look at contextual onboarding provided by Zakeke. Users can click on a hotspot and learn about the capabilities of the in-app search at the right moment.

What to avoid?

First and foremost, it’s critical to avoid too complex interfaces that may overwhelm users and make them feel lost. People should be able to find out how to use an app or platform without leaving it and seeking help elsewhere. Users always need to know where they are and how to move through the interface to reach their destinations. Also, it’s important to allow them to cancel their actions and go back if necessary.

Besides, the learning materials explaining how to use a system, as well as the ability to get instant support, should always be accessible and easy to find. Therefore, users can increase their competence using a product at any point and any time, not just after completing the registration. 

Final thoughts

It can be challenging for a product’s UX to meet and combine core psychological user needs we mentioned in this aritcle. For example, prioritizing competence may lead to compromising users’ autonomy. However, the more effectively a product serves each of these needs, the more motivated the users will be. Autonomy, relatedness, and competence increase people’s motivation, improve their psychological well-being, and allow them to enjoy the products they use. 

Looking for a professional designers to create a product that meets the fundamental psychological needs of end-users? We at Eleken will gladly help you out. Our team are experts in providing UI/UX design services with the psychology of UX design in our minds. Contact us!

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