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Psychology in UX Design: The Most Influential Studies

Psychology in UX Design: The Most Influential Studies

Design Process
8 min read

The convergence of psychology and UX design emerges as a pivotal aspect in crafting interfaces that are functional and deeply resonant with users. Each psychological factor discussed below deserves a separate, detailed article. Various scientists have studied them over the years, and this research has many insights you can apply to your design.

Since Arounda has over seven years of experience creating impactful projects, we've researched UX design psychology a lot. This article briefly characterizes all these aspects to give you a general idea of the psychology of UX design.

Concepts Related to UI/UX Design Psychology

First, let’s look at general UX-related psychological concepts you should know about.

Chameleon Effect/Mirroring

The Chameleon Effect, also known as Mirroring, is a psychological phenomenon where individuals subconsciously imitate the gestures, speech patterns, or attitudes of others. This concept has profound implications in UX design:

  • Intuitive interfaces. It invo
  • lves mimicking the layout of commonly used platforms or adopting universally recognized icons and gestures.
  • Personalization. By analyzing user data, interfaces can adapt to mirror user preferences and habits. It leads to a more tailored and engaging experience.
  • Building trust and familiarity. Incorporating elements that users are already comfortable with reduces the learning curve and increases acceptance of new products.
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Attention

Attention in psychology refers to the cognitive process of selectively concentrating on one aspect of the environment while ignoring others. Good UX captures and directs the user's attention to those essential elements.

  • Visual hierarchy. A clear visual hierarchy in design guides the user's attention to the most critical information. Designers can achieve it through size, color, contrast, and placement.
  • Use of motion and animation. Subtle animations or interface changes draw attention to specific elements, such as notifications or CTAs.
  • Progressive disclosure. This technique involves progressively revealing information as the user needs rather than presenting all the data simultaneously. This way, you maintain user attention by reducing cognitive load.

Memory

In UX design psychology, understanding the different aspects of memory, including short-term, long-term, and sensory memory, is vital. Consider it when creating interfaces that support user recall and recognition. Here’s how to apply it in UX design:

  • Recognition over recall. Use universally recognized icons and visual cues to reduce the cognitive load on the user. Ensure people don’t have to remember what each element does.
  • Repetition and reinforcement. Repeating basic features and information in different sections of the product reinforces memory. For instance, when consistently placing the search bar in the exact location across pages, users will quickly remember where to find it.
  • Use of mnemonics. Color coding or acronyms help users recognize and associate information more effectively.

Sensemaking

Sensemaking in psychology is when people give meaning to their collective experiences. It's about how users interpret and understand the information they perceive. You can apply it in UX design as follows:

  • Logical information flow. It involves grouping related items or structuring a website in a way that follows a logical sequence.
  • Contextual help and guidance. Providing users with tooltips or inline instructions assists in understanding unfamiliar features or content.
  • User feedback loops. Implement feedback loops where users can see the results of their actions immediately. Thus, they understand the system's functionality and know how to interact with it.

Decision Making and Choice

Designers learn how users make decisions to create interfaces that facilitate more accessible decision-making processes. It involves presenting choices and understanding the cognitive load and emotional factors. Here’s how to use this knowledge in UX design:

  • Simplified сhoice architecture. It involves limiting the number of options to avoid overwhelming users. Besides, it makes the intentions clear and distinct.
  • Clear CTAs. The language, placement, and design of CTAs are crucial in nudging users toward a conclusion.
  • Comparison features. Tools that let users compare options efficiently promote decision-making, especially in complex scenarios like shopping or choosing services.

Motor Processes and Interaction

Motor processes in psychology refer to the physical actions and coordination involved in movement and interaction. Here’s how to adopt it in UX Design:

  • Ergonomic design. Consider how users physically interact with a product. For instance, ensure that clickable areas are sufficient and positioned within easy reach for mouse and touch interactions.
  • Gesture-based interactions. With the rise of touchscreens, understanding users' natural gestures (like swiping, tapping, and pinching) is vital. 
  • Keyboard navigation. Focus on users who rely on keyboards, including those with specific disabilities. Ensure that the product is fully navigable using keyboard shortcuts and tab sequences.

Motivation

Motivation in UX design psychology is the driving force behind human actions, desires, and needs. It can be intrinsic (arising from internal desires) or extrinsic (influenced by external rewards). Both types play a role in how users interact with digital products. 

  • Customization. Allowing users to personalize product aspects increases intrinsic motivation. It gives them a sense of control and ownership.
  • Clear value proposition. Communicating the value and benefits of a product or feature motivates users to engage with it. 
  • Progress tracking. Features letting users track their progress in tasks, learning, or personal goals boost motivation. They provide a sense of achievement and purpose.

Cognitive Biases

Cognitive biases are systematic patterns of deviation from norm or rationality in judgment. They influence the decisions and conclusions that humans make. You can also utilize it in UX design:

  • Anchoring bias. Users rely heavily on the first information they see (the "anchor"). Designers can strategically place critical data or pricing first to influence subsequent decisions.
  • Confirmation bias. Users tend to search for, interpret, and recall information in a way that confirms their preexisting beliefs. Highlighting diverse viewpoints or presenting balanced data mitigates this bias.

Persuasion and Influence

Persuasion and influence guide user behavior and encourage specific actions. Ethical application of these principles respects user autonomy while guiding their decisions and actions gently.

  • Principle of reciprocity. People are more likely to give something if they receive something first. In UX, consider offering free trials, helpful content, or bonuses, encouraging users to reciprocate with their engagement or purchases.
  • Scarcity and urgency. Limited-time offers or limited stock notifications create a sense of urgency and scarcity, prompting quicker user decision-making.

Emotion and Delight

Evoking positive emotions and creating moments of delight enhance user engagement. The goal is to design products that meet functional needs and connect with users on an emotional level.

  • Pleasant aesthetics. A visually appealing design evokes positive emotions. Use color, typography, imagery, and spacing to create an interface that is not functional and enjoyable to use.
  • Storytelling. Incorporating storytelling elements can make the user experience more relatable and memorable. Implement it through the content or the overall narrative of the user journey.

Attitudes toward Technology

Understanding this aspect encompasses how comfortable users are with technology, their trust in digital platforms, and their openness to adopting new tech solutions.

  • User-friendly interfaces for tech novices. For users less comfortable with technology, UX design should focus on simplicity and clarity. It includes intuitive navigation, clear instructions, and avoidance of technical jargon.
  • Onboarding processes. Effective onboarding eases users into new technologies. Guided tutorials, tooltips, and progressive disclosure of features make the transition smoother and more efficient.

Experiments Important for UX Design Psychology

In addition to the above principles, the following research is also crucial for UX design. 

Invisible Gorilla Experiment

The Invisible Gorilla Experiment (Simons and Chabris, 1999) showed inattentional blindness. It occurs when people miss unexpected things while focusing on something else. In the study, people watched a video. They had to count how many times one group passed basketballs. Meanwhile, someone in a gorilla suit walked in. About half the viewers, busy counting, didn't see the gorilla.

This experiment highlights that UX design should focus on the user's attention. Designers must make critical elements stand out and prevent other content from hiding the essentials.

Magical Number Seven

The "Magical Number Seven, Plus or Minus Two" (George A. Miller, 1956) refers to the average number of objects an individual can hold in their short-term memory simultaneously. This theory profoundly impacts UX design, especially in presenting and organizing information to avoid overloading the user's cognitive capacity.

Fitt's Law

Fitts's Law, formulated by psychologist Paul Fitts in 1954, is a predictive model of human movement in ergonomics and human-computer interaction. This law states that the time required to move to a target area is a function of the distance to the target and the size of the target. In UX, Fitts's Law optimizes the design and layout of interactive elements, improving usability and efficiency.

Hick's Law

Hick's Law, formulated by British psychologist William Edmund Hick in 1952, describes the time it takes for a person to decide, considering the choices they have. The law states that the more options available, the longer it takes to settle. This principle is highly relevant in psychology for UX design, particularly in simplifying user decision-making.

Hawthorne Effect

The Hawthorne Effect describes a psychological phenomenon where individuals change their behavior because they know others are observing them. Its first description occurred during studies conducted at the Hawthorne Works of the Western Electric Company in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Understanding the Hawthorne Effect in UX design is crucial for user research and testing.

Final thoughts

The intersection of psychology and UX design is a fascinating and crucial study area. In UX design psychology, every detail, from the button size suggested by Fitts's Law to the subtle influences of cognitive biases, impacts the user experience. 

As we delve into the synergy between psychology and UX design, it becomes clear that the best digital products are functionally robust and deeply in tune with human behavior and psychology. 

Arounda implements the principles of psychology in UX design in all our projects. This approach guides us to create more intuitive, engaging, and satisfying user experiences. Moreover, the fusion of UI/UX design psychology offers a rich canvas for innovation and creativity. 

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