Psychology in UX Design: The Science of Making People Happy
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Many people who are new to UX design get confused when they find out that knowledge of human psychology is no less important here than graphic design skills. The accent shifts a bit if we say “User Experience” design instead of “UX”. Experience is something that lies in the field of human feelings, emotions, reactions, — all that belongs to psychology.
It may seem that the most basic UX commonplaces, like “make the main button big and bright” is something obvious. These things are not just an established way of designing similar websites: they are based on psychological principles, discovered by scientists and proven with experiments.
You may hear words like UI/UX psychology, interface psychology, or psychology of product design used to explain how psychology is used in UX.
In our design agency, we highly value design solutions that are built on the solid basis of interface design theory, UX design psychology, and user research. In the era of human-centered design, finding ways to make users happier is one of the most important tasks of a UX researcher.
You don’t need a UX psychology degree to understand the principles of UX design psychology: they are simple and often intuitive. Once you know them, your view of website design will be changed.
We will go through a few basic UX psychology principles that will help you understand why designers offer the solutions that they offer. Why do many websites look similar? Is it because designers don’t like to experiment? Let’s find out what UX laws tell us about it.
1. The Principle of Perpetual Habit. Don’t touch what works well
This is one of the basic UI/UX design principles. People get used to the same symbols, triggers, and behavioral patterns and feel frustrated when they can’t follow the beaten path.
What does it mean for UX design? It means that following an established page structure is the best. Let’s say, a designer decides to replace the traditional hamburger menu button (three horizontal lines) with a fun symbol. Yes, it may look cool from the point of view of the original design. But most users won’t appreciate this.
The principle of perpetual habit is one of the reasons why websites often have this uniform look: because people got used to it and forcing them to break their habits would lead to dissatisfaction.
This rule is simple and obvious, but for digital industries where people value innovation over anything, the desire to experiment with design is very high. UX designers have to resist this temptation unless they have proof that their target users would appreciate that “break in the system”. Psychology tells us that an average human is more conservative than an average product team member.
2. Validation. Conformity. Follow the majority
Imagine you are participating in a group study that checks your eyesight. You are shown three lines and asked which one is the same length as the fourth one.
You feel that the answer is simple until you hear that other people start answering “B”. You start doubting and trusting your eyes less and less. Afterwards you find out that the study was about psychology, not eyes. THe real objective of the experiment was to see how likely people are to conform with the majority. The study is known as the Asch experiment and proved that most people would change their opinion to conform to the majority.
This psychological effect is used a lot in politics, but there is a way to apply it to UX design, as well. Most companies put their former clients’ reviews on the landing pages, so that prospective clients feel that their choice is validated by other people who had a positive experience.
Some businesses put just a generic positive review along with a picture that looks pretty much photostock-y, but even this “evidence” works comforting on some basic level. Eleken steps forward from this approach: on our landing page, we put comments from Clutch, a review service, and videos from our clients telling their experience.
3. Hick’s law. Can there be too much jam?
Have you ever found yourself stuck for five minutes in front of the shelves with jam in a supermarket, unable to choose out of 30 different jars? We should be happy to have that much choice, but instead, we feel quite drained after an hour in a supermarket having to make all those decisions.
The “too many jam” effect was discovered when psychologists put a degustation table with 24 tastes of jam in a grocery shop on one day and only 6 tastes on the second day. The study showed that people were 10 times more likely to buy jam when they had less choice, even though a table with 24 tastes initially attracted more people.
This phenomenon is also called “choice paralysis” and is widely used in both marketing and UX design psychology.
Hick’s law states that increasing the number of choices will increase the decision time logarithmically. In the world of digital products, where people consider 3 seconds page load too long to wait, too many choices may ruin everything. Users get frustrated and are likely to abandon the page without making a decision.
That’s why the golden rule of UX design is to keep menus as short as possible. The less frequently used parts can be hidden behind the “other” section.
4. Errors. To delete or not to delete?
Doing things wrong sometimes is a part of human nature, as psychology (and life) tell us. The objective of the product team is to make the product error-free, but even the best product team can’t be protected from mistakes caused by the users. These mistakes result in unhappy users, and that causes a problem for the overall experience.
What can UX designers do with people making mistakes? It’s impossible to avoid them completely, but knowing some psychology can help minimize the frustration and soften the negative effect. Here are some rules of error management in UX design:
- Add the “are you sure?” pop-ups and “undo” buttons. Something that we take for granted, but saves us so many mistakes every day. I believe that the “Unsend” option introduced in Gmail is one of the best UX design ideas Google ever had.
Sending emails in an instant is great, but by sacrificing just a few seconds, users can prevent quite a few white hairs.
- Inform users about errors as soon as possible. Have you ever filled a long registration form, to find out that the password can’t be longer than 8 symbols? And then having to fill it in again. The websites that highlight the text box in red as soon as the wrong password is inserted help detect mistakes at an early moment when fixing is the easiest.
- Make error messages friendly and helpful. Instead of just putting “Error!”, suggest possible ways of solving the issue. “Contact our tech support and we will resolve the problem as soon as possible” sounds way more comforting and make people feel that they are not alone with the error. The modern trend of human-like friendly interfaces led many apps and websites to use this trick.
5. Emotions. Design for happiness
The human brain has two decision-making systems: fast, based on emotions, and slower, based on the results of rational thinking. Psychologist Daniel Kahneman wrote a lot about that, and much cognitive psychology in UX design is backed by his findings.
While many people would not realize that they rely on emotions in decision-making, the pattern remains. Sometimes, rational part of the brain would find reasonable arguments afterward to justify the fast emotional choices. Nowadays rational decisions are considered to be more reliable despite various biases of "rational" thinking. Logical thinking fits naturally into the product design process, but it’s important not to underestimate the emotional side of humans.
A large chunk of marketing and advertising tricks rely on emotions. How can we use them in UX design? The topic of applying cognitive psychology to user interface design is worth a separate article. Here are few elements that are used most commonly to evoke emotions:
- Emotionally-charged elements: pictures or illustrations of characters showing emotions, emojis
- Microcopy with an emotional tone
You can find some examples of emotional UX design in our article on user engagement strategies.
At Eleken, we believe that emotions in design are like pepper: it’s good in small amounts, but too much spice makes the dish a disaster. In Habitspace, a lifestyle app for personal use, one of our objectives was to make the app fun to use: we added emojis to habits and used encouraging copy to motivate people to stay on track of good habits.
Close to emotions stands the "beauty principle". It is quite intuitive: people tend to trust more websites and apps that look beautiful, for example have attractive and clean design. Of course, a pretty look won't make up for poor functionality and usability, but combined with good product development it definitely adds up to the overall user experience.
6. Serial position effect. Take sides
This rule might not be the most intuitive. It says that out of the row of objects, people pay more attention to the ones that are located on the sides, not the central one. That is why most apps try to place the most important buttons on the sides:
7. Von Restorff effect. The science of attention attraction
Behind this fancy word hides a simple rule: among the range of objects people tend to remember the one that stands out better, let's say, by having a different color. That's how a classic pricing page is organized: designers try to drag users’ attention to the benefits of the premium version by highlighting it with colors and contrast.
This is what most of psychology in UX design is about: attracting attention of the user. Here are some other principles that are commonly used.
8. Reading pattern. F-shape
People are used to reading pages following an F-shape, fading at the downside. This pattern influences location of the most important pieces of information and visual elements: the best places are the top part and left side.
Here is a picture of an eye tracker capturing the reading pattern. If you want to learn more on how eyetracking and other research methods are used in UX design, read our articles on UX research methods and tools.
9. Colors. The strategy of making accents
When we think of drawing attention, colors are the first thing that comes to mind. The most common color schemes used in UX design rely on psychological principles of perception.
The accent color has to be bright and contrasting to the rest of the page. What is important, it has to be used in small doses, no more than 10%. Look at the top of this page. Orange accent color is only used for buttons and links.
To sum up
These 9 principles are just the tip of the UX design psychology iceberg. And these rules should be treated only as assumptions: each decision has to be tested with users to prove right or wrong.
User Experience Maturity Model. Grow to Become User-Centered Company
Have you ever heard of a company whose principal values are serving users and providing them the best experience possible? Well, that is literally every company’s “mission”, as stated on their websites. In reality, most of them are far from that vision.
As a design agency, we worship the principles of user-centered design and believe it can save the world (or at least some businesses). UX maturity is the marker of how close a company is to that ideal.
User experience maturity is a long process that can take years, and it is important to know the milestones on this long road. Do you know what level of UX maturity are you at? How can you grow? Let’s start from the beginning.
What is a UX maturity model?
To evaluate how close the company is to the ideals of user-centered design, you have to find out its position on the UX maturity scale. This is what the UX maturity model is made for.
There are various UX maturity models. In 2006, Jacob Nielsen of Nielsen Norman Group developed one of the most common scales of 8 levels. Recently, in 2021, the NNG researchers came up with a new model, this time of only 6 levels.
Knowing your place on the scale is not just a theoretical piece of information. The UX maturity model indicates the next step and explains how to get there.
Estimating the level of your own team is tricky. Try to think of the real situation, not the desired one. Here is what to look at when evaluating UX maturity:
Now, let’s see all the levels of UX maturity model in detail:
The first level might as well be called level zero. There’s not much to explain. At this point, no one in the company cares about user research.
Being so user ignorant is a characteristic of companies from the dawn of the computer age when the UX was not a thing. However, in some cases, modern startups also neglect user experience, especially when they believe that their cutting-edge tech innovation has such a high value to the users that usability doesn’t matter much.
In some cases, there are few people in the company who are aware of user experience and try to apply some of its principles by testing the products on themselves.
“Eating dog food”, a process when team members use their own products at early prototype stages, is a common way of testing that helps to bring up the bugs fast and efficiently. However, if this is the only user testing method you are using, the results are likely to be biased.
Orientation on team members works pretty well when they fall into the user persona of the product. In other cases, the reactions of developers and real users can be drastically different. Sadly, many people don’t realize it until they see the results of real UX research.
Companies stay at this stage until some of the executives learn about UX and decide to implement some practices in their work, or an external consultant brings up the importance of user research when asked to assess why the product fails at attracting customers.
Moving to this stage means that user experience maturity has reached that level when it takes into account actual users. The efforts are still very small and unsystematic, but it is a step forward. And even a small effort can make a big difference when we are talking about user experience.
Some of the team members run usability research to test a new feature, and in most cases, it has a surprisingly tangible effect. However, usability testing still remains the main focus of UX research and often takes place at the late stages of the design process, which means that team members would be more hesitant to change the design according to the findings of testing. This way, the company misses on many benefits of the research.
At some point, when the effects start accumulating and the decision-makers decide to invest in UX intentionally, the company is ready to move to the next level:
User experience starts taking its place in the company when dedicated UX professionals are hired. Yet, at this stage user research is a bit random and chaotic. It lacks processes and structure. Whenever there is a shortage of time or resources, UX work is just skipped.
To grow from this stage on, companies need to educate all team members about the importance of user experience, make it a part of company values, priorities, and standard processes.
At this stage, no one in the company can ignore users (or at least they have to pretend they care). It marks the appearance of a separate team of UX professionals who collaborate with each other, share their findings, and keep track of all user experience-related processes going on in the company.
UX team members organize their work in a way that creates a more complex and comprehensive vision of the user experience of the whole product or different products.
Structured work on user experience makes room for systematic processing of the information, which allows UX researchers to develop best practices based on previous research results and build standards of the research process on the experience that is already existing in the company.
In smaller companies, where team size and the product volume does not require a whole team of UX researchers, this level of maturity can be diagnozed by presence of established user experience practices and guidelines. Even if there is no space for a researcher, UI/UX designers can mark a high level of UX maturity by dedicating a large chunk of work to user research (while using various UX research methods apart from usability testing).
Overall, the 4th stage is a breaking point for UX maturity: at this level, top management is absolutely aware of the need for UX research work and the shift to the next level is a question of time (and efforts of demonstrating the impact of research).
With time, user experience strategies and processes refine and reach new levels of efficiency. The work follows well-beaten paths, thus creating UX professionals some space for experimenting and finding new methods to incorporate into their practices.
Effective work of the UX team makes the business benefits of user research absolutely clear and data-proven.
An important feature of integrated UX is its connection to key business metrics: the company starts defining its success based on the quality of user experience, among other parameters.
The next step roots UX practices deeply in different stages of the design process. Product managers are willing to run user research before even starting the design, and continue monitoring the results after the launch of the product. This is where design finally gets to embody the principles of design thinking in real life. The design process becomes user-centered and the team fully understands the importance of iterations.
When the company becomes user-driven, it means that users can be prioritized upon increasing revenue. Is that even possible? Well, some companies claim it is. However, many companies would reach as high as level 5 of the UX maturity scale — and that’s totally fine.
How do you move to the next level? A real story
Some people think that the ones responsible for educating product managers about the importance of user experience are UX designers, while others believe that any professional team lead and decision-maker has to know it well and raise the level of UX maturity of the team members and the company as a whole.
As a SaaS design agency, we see different levels of UX maturity in our client companies. Our designers always work very closely with the team, so everybody can watch our design process closely, witnessing the impact of user research. Naturally, the client team can level up in their design maturity when working with people dedicated to user-centered design.
However, for the success of this process, there has to be a motivated person on the client’s side. This is what happened when we were working with Acadeum, an edu tech app.
In the beginning of our collaboration, the CTO said that he expected the design culture in their company to rise during our cooperation. Before that, they had almost no understanding of the design process. So we decided to make a presentation of our process, conduct workshops in Miro, write follow-ups of meetings to keep all the stakeholders on track.
All these activities helped Acadeum to move on the scale of the UX maturity model. After reaching a certain milestone in the product, we had a retrospective discussing all the positive and negative moments in our work. Based on that, we made conclusions about our future work, too.
As a result, we matured along with our clients. Nothing makes you as convinced about the importance of user experience as having to convince others about it.
Conclusion. What makes UX maturity?
If you are a product manager planning the UX growth of your company, you may think that since you have all the information at hand, you can jump directly to stage 6 or at least 4 and save a big deal of time. Can you?
Well, there’s no way we'd say it is impossible. Aim for the stars, and you'll get to level 3 (maybe). What's important is to be as objective as possible when evaluating the level of UX maturity of the company.
Having a team of dedicated UX professionals is a good start, but there is much more work to do on the way to UX maturity.
Prioritizing user experience should become part of corporate values. All the team members, from customer support to the executives have to adhere to the standards of user experience and consider it in all processes.
UX research should be conducted at all stages of the product life cycle: from the development of the first ideas to post-launch monitoring. The user experience should have a real impact on business processes, and vice versa, business success metrics should be tied to UX.
Are you willing to grow the maturity level of your company? Our UX professionals will be happy to help you! Drop us a line!
Google Meet Gets the Redesign We’ve Been Waiting For
The beauty of using a SaaS app is that you never know, when you close the app in the evening, how this app will surprise you the next morning.
Our latest weekly meeting at Eleken started in a shiny new Google Meet interface that has instantly refined the agenda from discussing tasks to discussing new bars and buttons.
It has been a year since we all shifted to online communication and video meetings, and now everyone has a story of a quarantine conference that went hilariously wrong. Just for the record — one out of 10 has now seen a colleague partially or fully naked thanks to the new ways of working.
Looks like Google Meet feels in some way responsible for our ragged peace of mind, poisoned by the year of remote work. Because their redesign is a response to the most common complaints coming from home offices.
"Hey, sorry, I'm back. I meant to unmute myself"
We don’t know who told Google that it was a good idea to put a hang-up button just in between the audio and video mute buttons (and make all three look exactly the same). I'm guessing it was a double agent for Zoom because there were no other interface features more annoying.
Now let’s appreciate the updated bottom bar wherein you won't accidentally hang up when trying to unmute yourself!
The end call button became bright red and moved on the right, away from the camera and mic buttons. I’ve found a few people on Twitter saying new buttons are anxiously small and close to each other, but overall this change was met with applause.
Also, you don’t have to move your eyes back and forth between the upper and lower bars anymore. All the controls are now being moved to the bar at the bottom of the screen.
The interface structure has improved. The elements are grouped by purpose. In the center are actions that relate to the call; on the right side are general and additional settings. All the content has become more holistic, even colors work better now — a dark interface helps to focus on the meeting making tiles stand out.
Maksym, UI/UX designer at Eleken
“Sorry, it’s the garbage truck driving by”
What usually ruins the working climate of remote meetings is surprisingly unorthodox background activities.
For a long time already, Zoom has had a bunch of features to camouflage your cluttered/embarrassing/illegal background noises and images. Google Meet now extends the range of its cloaking technologies to compete with Zoom on an equal footing.
The app now adjusts the light automatically, so that participants can see a bright picture of you even if you’re speaking from a dark cave.
Another promising feature is AI-powered autozoom, which is going to position you squarely in front of your camera even if you’re dropping out of frame.
Love it. Now when it’s your third meeting today and you slide down the chair
being curled like a shrimp, Google camera will slide down with you.
Daria, UI/UX designer at Eleken
Video background replacement — I haven’t seen them yet in my updated version, but in its press release, Google promised us an opportunity to turn our messy room into a natural-looking classroom, a party, or a forest.
“Let me know when you can see my screen”
With the new Google Meet, you can finally see what you're presenting, so you know if they can see your screen without asking. The new feature also helps to avoid that awkward moment when all the team is waiting for somebody forgetful to stop screen sharing when the presentation is over.
Another helpful change in a screen sharing mode is that you can unpin your presentation to view it as a tile in the grid or a floating picture. You still can’t interact with content in the meeting window, but the ability to view the participants in addition to your own screen sounds promising.
It's cool that you can share your screen with any collaborative tool being opened to work together and still see the faces of colleagues — feels almost like working side by side in a good old office.
Daria, UI/UX designer at Eleken
"Do we have everyone here?"
Now it is more convenient to control what you see during the call.
No need to guess who just joined — the re-designed participant tiles help to see everyone, up to 49 people, if you zoom out in your browser.
The updated app also gives you more control over self-view. If you prefer not to see yourself, you can minimize or even hide your own tile. Looks like this feature has a lot of fans.
In Zoom, you can hide your self-view, and I always do it. Your own face distracts attention from what people tell you. So I love that Google added a similar option.
Daria, UI/UX designer at Eleken
So what can we say about the Google Meet’s refresh?
Jen Aprahamian, Product Manager at Twitch, summarises the popular sentiment: well done, Google. We at Eleken agree with her.
Google updated its conferencing service to keep it competitive with services like Zoom, and refreshed its UI, giving it a neat look. Looks like everything worked out, but we all need to use it just a bit longer to see if there are any drawbacks.
Nice to have a free tool for calls that is no worse than its paid analogs. Actually, Google Meet won't be a free tool for very long now, but that's a story for another day. Now, let’s get back to work.
And if Google’s redesign inspired you to update your own app, remember that you can discuss your ideas with one little design agency that is very good at this sort of thing.