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  • Subject area(s): Marketing
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  • Published on: 14th September 2019
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What is psychology, and why is psychology important to design, focusing on cognitive psychology for Web design

User Psychology

Jason Annand

Web content has been identified as one of the main factors contributing to repeat visits. As content on the web includes text, pictures, graphics, layout, sound, and motion, making the right web content decisions are critical to effective web design. This is where psychology comes in, as while an understanding of marketing strategies that attract visitors to websites is beginning to emerge, how to convert web surfers to repeat visitors is a less well-understood using psychology we can start to understand the phenomenon of the users mind and how designers can use this knowledge to condition the user to revisit the website numerous times and increase user participation within the site.

There seems to be a gap in some designer's knowledge in regard to using the science of psychology in designing a product for the end user. User psychology is a vital tool when designing a product or service for a user, as if the designer can relate more closely with a user by gaining insight to the way the user thinks and perceives things then the designer has an opportunity to use this knowledge gained from psychology to create a successful end product. This is why user psychology is important to design it is extremely interesting how much design depends on psychology even on a basic level. This is particularly true in cognitive psychology as this branch of psychology deals with how the user thinks and perceives and this is directly related to a user viewing or testing a website for the first time.

This paper will, using research on the subject, attempt to reinforce the importance of psychology to web design and how by using psychology in the design of a website can create a product that relates to the user on their level so that the users journey with the website is a successful user experience. This paper will also touch on several methods used within cognitive psychology and will explain how these methods are used by designers to manipulate the user into feeling a certain way about the product being used.

Psychology is a science which studies the human mind and its functions, particularly those functions which affect behaviour in a given context. Psychology is the science of the mind and behaviour.

Psychology as a science was born in 1879 by Wilhelm Wundt, a German psychologist who founded psychology as a truly independent experimental field of study. He set up the first laboratory that carried out psychological research exclusively at Leipzig University.

 There are various psychology approaches which all have their place and are each used in their respective environments. the foremost of these are noted below with a brief explanation of what each branch is commonly used for:

Development psychology which is the study of how a person develops psychologically throughout their life.

Evolutionary psychology which examines how psychological adjustments during evolution have affected human behaviour.

Forensic psychology which is the application of psychology to the process of criminal investigation and the law.

Health psychology observes how health can be influenced by behaviour, biology and social context.

Neuropsychology examines how the brain functions in relation to different behaviours and psychological processes.

Occupational psychology investigates how people perform at work in order to develop an understanding of how organizations function.

Social psychology is a study of how the behaviour and thoughts of people are influenced by the actual or implied presence of others.

clinical psychology which is an integration science based on theory and practice

most importantly to this paper are the branches of psychology that relate closely with the topic of this paper which are namely user psychology, HCI and UX psychology. These branches of psychology are all related to cognitive psychology which will be discussed in depth further in the paper. These branches all have a main focus on user interaction and how it can be achievable to create products suited to a particular user or user group's needs

Cognitive Psychology investigates internal mental processes such as how people think, perceive and communicate. At the centre of cognitive psychology is how people acquire, process and store information. Many say that cognitive psychology is the study of intelligence. practical applications for cognitive research may include how to improve memory, increase the accuracy of decision making.

Psychology has an important place when designing software or services for a user. Psychology helps us to understand how we act and perceive various things around us, it helps us to understand behaviours and why or how we do things the way that we do.

This is important when designing something as if we can relate to how a user may perceive certain things when buying a product or service than as a designer you can use this information to develop your product around the user's this way the user that relates more to a certain product may be encouraged to buy it more than other products that they do not relate with.

When designing a website or app it is beneficial for designers to understand these core concepts, as being familiar with these concepts will ultimately conclude with a successful website or app which will encourage repeat visiting from the user group that is being targeted by the designer. People don't have enough time in the day to pay attention to everything competing for their attention. Because of this we filter out almost everything so that we can focus on the goal or task at hand, as a result of this we ignore other things that around us, even things that are directly in front of us.

When it comes to designing a website, it is crucial to make a clutter free product so that the user can be directed to where it really wants to go with ease.

When we focus on one thing, we ignore other things around us. And this happens a lot on the web because we're very task-focused. By using cognitive psychology designers are learning new skills and approaches on how to better understand a user's need from a psychological point of view. Cognitive load is very important to the way in which we can process information. 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.

One of the reasons we use design patterns is because they're something we're programmed to do by default – so it's easier for the users to recognise and learn something new if they can discern it into a pattern from something they already understand reducing the cognitive load of the user making it simpler for the user to process the information presented to them.

Gestalt principles are used in design as the principles focus on a user's ability to perceive certain things a certain way, by using these principles designers can better understand of a user's mind and how they think and perceive their products.

Following and using the Gestalt principles for website design is a sure way to ensure that designers make intelligent decisions about the designs of their products.

The fundamental law that governs the Gestalt Principles is that we tend to order our experience in a manner that's regular, orderly, and recognizable. This is what allows us to create meaning in a complex and chaotic world.

These principles help the designer determine which design elements are most effective in a given situation. For example, when to use visual hierarchy, background shading, gradients, and how to group similar items and distinguish different ones. These principles hold the power to influence our visual perception, which allows designers to direct our attention to specific points of focus, get us to take specific actions, and create behavioural change.

By using these principles designers can design products that solve the customer's problem or meet the user's need in a way that's beautiful, pleasing, and intuitive to use. Some of these principles than can be relevant to web design are described below.


Users perceive objects that appear similar to have similar uses. As a means to communicate function in a quick and simple way, this principle use in web design is creating similar icons or structures a lot of time will be saved explaining functionality to the user.


Continuation is the effect of the eye moving through one object to reach another object within the design.

Continuation occurs in the example above, because the viewer's eye will naturally follow a line or curve. The smooth flowing crossbar of the "H" leads the eye directly to the maple leaf.


Closure occurs when an object is incomplete or a space is not completely enclosed. If enough of the shape is indicated, people perceive the whole by filling in the missing information.

Even though the above image is incomplete, there is enough of the image for the user to complete the shape, this is when closure occurs.

Other elements of psychology that are used in design and are used by designers focus on are visceral reactions of the user. These kinds of reactions come from the part of our head called “old brain” responsible for the instincts and it reacts much faster than our consciousness does. Visceral reactions are rooted in our DNA, so they can be easily predicted.

Designers using this knowledge can then aim at creating a positive aesthetic impression with their design. Designers generally know what looks nice to people and what doesn't if the target audience and their needs are known.

Psychology of colours is another tool used by designers to make their products more ascetically pleasing to the users within the target market.

Colours have a great impact on the user's perception, in this sense designers should choose colours knowingly for their product to ensure that the product sends the correct message to the user.

Designers should also adhere to Hicks Law (Hick, Hyman 1952) which states that the more options users are exposed to the longer it takes them to make a decision. The more products you give to users to choose between, be it products or images the more time and energy it takes to decide on the next step of interaction. This may result in the user becoming frustrated with the choices before them and may ultimately result in the user leaving the site with lingering bad feelings towards the product.

By adhering to Hicks Law designers can keep any buttons, images on a page to a minimum removing any unnecessary choices the usability of the product increases.

The Von Restorff effect is, the idea that the oddball out is the one that gets remembered.

When designing for websites sometimes you want your audience's eye to be drawn to one spot --even if there are other design elements around it. This might mean using a different colour, font, size, etc.

In this way, you can use the Von Restorff effect throughout the site pages to draw the users' eyes to certain spots on a page.

Exploring the principle of conceptual integration reveals the cognitive processes occurring in the human mind almost subconsciously when engaging with a product or app. Our job is not to ignore or hijack these, but engage with them. This is why making the case to include cognitive psychology as part of the website process is important, because it will enable designers to explain their design decisions intelligently.

psychology plays an important role in web design as understanding the experience of the audience and their perception of your web design gives designers a great advantage in creating a product that the user can relate to and will lead to an enjoyable user experience which will result in repeat visits to the website.



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