POSTED 07.11.17 / BY HOTWASABI
PSYCHOLOGY OF UX
Generally speaking, psychology is the scientific study of the human mind and its functions especially in understanding people's behaviors, emotions and motivations. Similarly, there are behaviors, emotions, and motivations when people interact with a product or service, and why they choose one product over another. Studying this and seeking to create a better experience is the pursuit of user experience design and the subject of Neurodesign.
There are several psychological principles and aspects of the human mind that can be used to inform UX design. The design process often begins with observing the customer journey. By doing this it is possible to analyze what is going on for users at a cognitive level and recognize opportunities for improvement. A users perception, memory and attention are all vital elements to understanding how a user might engage with a design, or how a design is potentially causing problems through stressing these cognitive functions.
Perception can be defined as our recognition and interpretation of sensory information. It enables us to navigate through the world, avoiding danger, making decisions, and preparing for action. Visual perception of colors, patterns, and structures has been of particular interest in relation to design. This is the basis for Gestalt theory founded by Max Wertheimer at early 20th century. This psychological philosophy derived several principles which help designers create UI better aligned with a users perceptual experiences:
- Law of Proximity; states when objects are close to each other they tend to be perceived together in one group. This is important when considering the layout of content and use of whitespace in a design.
- Law of Similarity; states that elements tend to be perceived into groups if they are similar to each other. Similarity can be achieved in many different ways, including size, color and shape. On a page filled with similar-sized circles and squares in two different colors, the mind will separate them into two groups based upon color. In web and interactive design, the similarity law can be used to contribute to building connections between linked elements.
- Law of Common Region; States that elements tend to be perceived into groups if they are sharing an area with a clearly defined boundary. Useful to clearly separate different content in UI design
- Law of Closure; States that when we encounter a complex element with a missing part, or with a break, we look for a continuing, smooth pattern. Closure works best with objects that are recognizable. For example, an outline of a triangle that slowly has pieces taken away is still recognizable as a triangle even when down to a bare minimum of pieces
- Law of Figure Ground; States “Elements are perceived as either figures (distinct elements of focus) or ground (the background or landscape on which the figures rest)”. Figure/ground is also referred to as positive and negative space, the positive being the object and the negative referring to the space around it. This is often used in the design and placement of CTA buttons or to give the illusion of depth.
It is also important to explore people’s motivations. Why does one user struggle while another might not? What behaviors can we predict from better understanding motivations and fears? This leads to the formulation of a users mental model; the explanation of someone's thought process about how something works in the real world. A representation of the users world, the relationships between its various parts and a person's intuitive perception about his or her own acts and their consequences. Understanding people’s mental models are an important part of the design process.
Psychology describes motivation as either extrinsic where someone can be driven to do something either by external factors, like the prospect of receiving a reward, such as money, discount, points etc.. Or intrinsic where motivation is gained from internal factors like the enjoyment derived from doing an activity. Rewards are often a powerful way to get people to change behavior in the short term, however a useful framework for looking at what enables behavior is BJ Fogg’s behavior model. The model assumes that a behavior is most likely to happen due to a combination of 3 aspects; when a person feels sufficiently motivated, is able to perform the behavior (for example, they want to go for a ride and they have access to a bike) and is reminded to perform it by a trigger. Mapping Users’ motivations is important when designing to change user behavior. Customer experience maps, personas and user journeys are useful tools for capturing motivational insights; where will users be when they use the product? What tasks will they most commonly perform? What mistakes or frustrations might they encounter? How do they feel about their capacity and skills? The best method of gathering this information is using contextual inquiry.
Understanding user motivations, why people do what they are do, can have a strong impact on creating better UX Design. 'People Don't Want to Work or Think More Than They Have To' so it is better to show people a little bit of information and let them choose if they want more details, know as progressive disclosure. 'Human Memory Is Complicated'. Don't make people remember things from one task to another or one page to another. People can only remember around 5 items at a time, the "7 plus or minus 2" rule. 'Attention' People are programmed to pay attention to anything that is different or novel. If you make something different it will stand out. 'People Crave Information' People will often want more information than they can actually process. Having more information makes people feel that they have more choices. 'Unconscious Processing' Most mental processing occurs unconsciously. The emotional brain is affected by pictures, especially pictures of people, as well as by stories. The emotional brain can have a huge impact on our decisions.
Spencer Lanoue defined several “Psychological Triggers” that could be employed to reinforce BJ Fogg's model:
- Reciprocation; The principle of reciprocation tells us that if we do something for other people, they want to return the favor to us. This could involve give useful information or service away for free,
- Social Proof; The principle of social proof tells us that when people aren’t sure what to do, they look to the behavior of others to guide their actions—especially their peers. This is seem in the use of Testimonials, Customers also viewed…, and Reviews,
- Scarcity; The principle of scarcity tells us that people tend to want what they can’t have. We place higher value on things that will soon be unavailable to us, and a lower value on what’s available in abundance,
- Framing; The principle of framing tells us that people make comparisons when they’re making a decision. Not only do users tend to avoid extremes, but they also respond to a particular choice in different ways depending on how it’s presented. This is the basis of the “Goldilocks” Pricing Technique,
- Salience; The salience principle tells us that people’s attention is drawn to that which is most relevant to them at that moment. By identifying these moments, you’ll be able to focus on when your users are most likely to be influenced. Customer journey micro moments are good example when you can be most effective.
Other Psychology principles that can be useful when considering UX design are:
- Von Restorff effect (also known as the isolation effect) predicts that when multiple similar objects are present, the one that differs from the rest is most likely to be remembered. This is the main reason why all call-to-actions (CTAs) look different from the rest of the action buttons on a site or application.
- Serial position effect is the propensity of a user to best remember the first and last items in a series. This is why many applications are now looking to ditch the hamburger menu and go for a bottom or top bar navigation, placing the most important user actions to the right or left.
- Cognitive load refers to the total amount of mental effort being used in a person’s working memory. To put it simply, it is the amount of thought you need to exercise in order to complete a specific task. Intrinsic cognitive load is the difficulty associated with a specific instructional topic. It’s the main reason micro-copy and copy play a huge role in a good user experience. Germane cognitive load is the cognitive load devoted to processing information and construction of schema's. The schema's describe a pattern of thought that organizes categories of information and any relationships among them. “It’s easier for users to learn something new if they can discern it to a pattern from something they understand”.
- Hick’s Law states that the time it takes for a person to make a decision depends on the choices available to him or her. So if the number of choices increases, the time to make a decision increases logarithmically.
It is also important to consider aspects and limitations of the human mind, e.g. it is physically impossible for us to pay attention to everything in our environment. When we focus on one thing, we ignore other things around us. This happens a lot on the web because we’re very task-focused, such as browsing a web site. The principle of least effort is a broad theory which postulates that animals, people, even well-designed machines will naturally choose the path of least resistance or "effort". In his best-selling book “Thinking Fast and Slow,” Nobel Prize winner Daniel Kahneman explains hoe the brain is divided into 2 separate thinking systems. System 1 allows us to make decisions with little-to-no mental effort. System 2, on the other hand, represents conscious, deliberate thought. Understanding the user journey can help highlight which system the user many be employing at different touch points, and to then tailor the design to best interact with that system needs.
One of the most difficult tasks in UX Design is creating solutions that have a positive impact on changing user behaviour, especially in the area of health and fitness. There are several theories with basis in psychological principles that can help shape design to have greater impact on behaviour:
- Social learning and social cognitive theory (SCT); essentially states that behavioural change is determined by environmental, personal, and behavioural elements. A basic premise of SCT is that people learn not only through their own experiences, but also by observing the actions of others and the results of those actions. Self-efficacy, or a person’s confidence in his or her ability to take action and to persist in that action despite obstacles or challenges, is especially important for influencing health behavior change efforts. Thus, changes in the environment, the examples of role models, and reinforcements can be used to promote healthier behavior.
- Transtheoretical Model (TTM) of behavior change; defines a 5 stages of behaviour leading to change. 1. Precomtemplation; user has no recognition of need for or interest in change. 2. Comtemplation; user is now thinking about change. 3. Preparation; user is planning for change. 4. Action; adopting new habits. 5. Maintenance; Ongoing practice of new, healthier behaviour. Understand where the user is in relation to this journey and the fact that people can go backwards as well as forwards can help frame the messaging and level of content/information for the user.
- Third Wave Cognitive Behavioral Therapy; is a group of emerging approaches to psychotherapy that represent both an extension of and deviation from traditional cognitive behavioral treatment approaches. Third wave therapies prioritize the holistic promotion of health and well-being and are less focused on reducing psychological and emotional symptoms. The ultimate goal of assisting people live and experience fuller, more satisfying lives. Concepts such as metacognition, acceptance, mindfulness, personal values, and spirituality are frequently incorporated into what might otherwise be considered traditional behavioral interventions.
Using the principles of neuroscience and cognitive psychology in combination with the disciplines of good user experience and customer experience; 'neurodesign' lets UX designers better shape their creative direction to fully meet the needs of users at both a conscious and sub-conscious level.
I am passionate about innovative design and creating user experiences at the intersection of art, science and technology.
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