Using Psychology to Help Design Your Website #1

Is your website easy on the brain as well as on the eye?

You could be forgiven for thinking what has psychology, the science of the mind got to do with web design? In fact, the answer is quite a lot. The more a designer is able to get into the mind of the customer they are targeting, the more likely that the design they create will succeed in encouraging them to take the required action.

While we all like to believe we’re free-thinking, independent individuals in control of the actions we take and the decisions we make, the reality is that a lot of the time, as we go about the more repetitive tasks in our everyday lives, we’re in a kind of automatic mode.

Coming home at the end of a long day at work for example, are you really having to think when you slot the key into your front door or reach in to switch on the light?

You’d certainly need to engage your brain if you found someone had moved the lock away from the door handle or had relocated the light switch so that it was on the opposite side to the way the door opens. An unlikely – not to mention annoying, scenario perhaps, but it does demonstrate that for some routine tasks, we have a level of expectation, anticipating that things will be in a certain place and knowing intuitively what we need to do. It also highlights that we don’t always engage our full level of consciousness to undertake a process.

What goes on in your customers mind?

Most designers are not trained in psychology, but having a very basic understanding of how the mind works can be helpful in predicting how users are likely to interact with a website, and making sure a finished design is as engaging and intuitive as possible.

As the source of all our thought and behaviour, the brain is incredibly complex, but there are three key functions which are important to keep in mind (excuse the pun) when it comes to design:

  • Thought

The thinking brain is more developed in humans than in any other species, and it’s what sets us apart. It’s this part of the brain that will take in the more detailed information presented in a website.

  • Instinct

We are all creatures of instinct. This part of our brain has been honed by millions of years of evolution to help us survive. Without us even being conscious of making a decision, we’re programmed for ‘fight or flight’. Where once, this might have kicked in if we spotted a sabre-tooth tiger running towards us, today it could just as easily cause us to click off a web page we don’t respond to right away!

  • Emotion

Any experience – a colour, an image or a word, for example, has the power to trigger an emotion in our brain. It could make us feel positive, negative or any shade in between as our emotional brain associates memories and behaviours with what we are experiencing.

From a design perspective, this is the most interesting part of the brain. It is important that design causes the desired emotional response, and in our next post, we’ll look in more detail at how design can stimulate emotion.

Indigo HR website design

Using mental models for better UX design

Having a rudimentary understanding of psychology can be useful in helping inform the User Experience (UX) – an essential consideration in the design of any successful website or application.

Why? Because thinking takes mental effort (psychologists call it ‘cognitive load’), and the more effort we have to put into thinking about something, the more likely we are to give up on it. It’s why product designers rarely deviate far from the tried and trusted unless they’ve got a very good reason for doing so, and it’s why a driver can be almost immediately at home in an unfamiliar car.

For design to work effectively, things need to be in the ‘right’ place. Most of us are inherently lazy and programmed to look for the easiest route to a solution, so if we land on a web page that doesn’t instantly look both engaging and simple to navigate, we’ll click off and go somewhere we feel more comfortable.

The trick then is to make sure that from the moment they land on your home page, your web visitors are in an environment they recognise and feel comfortable with. Doing this requires getting inside their head to map out a ‘mental model’, and then ensuring the design conforms as closely to this as possible. For a website to really engage, it must conform to the mental expectations of the visitor, and when it does, it will deliver an intuitive and engaging user experience that culminates in the desired action being taken.

If you were commissioning the design of a complex physical product, you’d need to undertake detailed research and workshops with people fitting the profile of your customer in order to build up a mental model. Websites are usually not so demanding, as many of the rules – for example, the way people typically scan a web page in a top left to bottom right ‘Z’ pattern, or how they engage with online forms, are common to all sites, but you need to work with a design agency that understands UX, and the more you are able to brief them on the behaviour and expectations of your customers, the more this can be built into the design.

Can we give your website a health check for usability?

If your website is not bringing you the results you want, it could be that it’s not be aligned with the expectations of your visitors. We’d be pleased to take a look and give you our professional opinion. Call us now for a chat!