3 Psychological Patterns to Use in UX Design

Lisa Froelings
by Lisa Froelings 04 May, 2017

Imagine you're building a house. You have to go through the steps of construction in a certain order, right? You can't put in the windows or the plumbing if you haven't framed the house or set the foundation. It's just not possible. The world of design functions very similarly; there is a certain way of doing things, and if you don't do it in the correct order, your project may be doomed.

The first requirement before you start any construction, though, is the blueprinting phase. The same early brainstorming and planning stage is crucial to success in design too. This so-called blueprinting phase mostly falls under the purview of user experience (UX) designers. To continue the house-building analogy, UX designers are often the "architects" of a project. While they may not be doing a whole lot of actual construction, their blueprints-prototypes and wireframes-are crucial for the design of a website or app.

While the design process is highly technical by nature, it's important for designers to remember that they are making a product for real human beings. To that end, psychology in UX design is a crucial consideration if you want your website to attract and hold the attention of your target users.

With that in mind, here are three psychological patterns you should pay attention to in your UX design. 

1. Establishing Trust

This is a good thing to consider in general, but it does have important implications for UX design specifically. When a user clicks on your website or opens your app, they're assuming a certain level of trust from the website. Some elements of trust are obvious-don't install viruses on their computer, don't add items randomly to their cart, etc.,-but others have more to do with the way the users navigate and interact with the site. Consider again the house-building analogy. When you're drawing the blueprints, you wouldn't design a staircase that led to nowhere or a doorway that led directly into a wall, would you? Of course not.

Users expect to be able to navigate through your site or app the same way every time, and they assume a certain level of intuitiveness and transparency in the navigation. Establish trust with your audience by providing that in the setup of your website. Clear navigation markers that delineate a user's movement through a site's pages and direct easily back to the homepage are crucial first steps, as is being transparent with your placement of key information. If you're an online store, make the checkout process intuitive and clear; don't hide the shipping costs or the customer reviews of a product. Even if there are bad reviews, users will appreciate that you're at least providing them that information and can shop elsewhere on the site.

2. The Illusion of Choice

There's an interesting paradox in human psychology regarding the ability to make choices. On one hand, humans like having an array of options to choose from. Namely, they don't like being told what to do. They like having the freedom to pick whatever option most suits their fancy. On the other hand, though, many studies show that having too many choices distresses users.

A phenomenon known as decision fatigue dictates that humans get easily overwhelmed when they have too many choices-just think of how many minutes you've wasted staring at a wall of many different laundry detergents at the grocery store-often leading people to regretting the choices they do make. Typically, you have a goal that you want your users to achieve. Maybe it's to subscribe to your site, sign up for an email newsletter, or buy a certain product. The choices presented to the user, no matter what they are, should in some way direct the user to that final goal. Let them compare two products from your site side-by-side, for example. It gives them the illusion of having a shopping choice, but the ultimate goal, buying something from you, is the same.

3. Rewards

It's a well-established psychological principle that the promise of a reward can motivate users to do a lot of things. There are, of course, lots of ways to reward users for being loyal to your site, but there's a delicate balance to this rewards process that has its roots in human psychology. Top UX designers relish the chance to go deep in this regard by utilizing the emotions associated with rewards.

All sorts of tiny details-colors, fonts, shapes, you name it-can trigger implicit emotions that subconsciously encourage a user to perform a certain action. Maybe the desired goal for your users requires a few steps, such as creating an account, setting notification preferences, and finally engaging with the product for the first time. Giving a series of encouraging or funny messages within the step-by-step guide will trigger the feeling of reward as each step is completed, driving the users to keep going to the ultimate destination. You could even go an extra step by promising from the get-go some additional rewards or access to exclusive content that you get for signing up, prompting users to pursue a more tangible reward.

The human brain is a very complicated thing, and a good UX designer will know that the brain is constantly at work, even when navigating a website absentmindedly. Put these psychological principles to work in your UX design, so you can assure the best engagement from your users.

About the Author

Lisa Froelings is a business and productivity consultant with over four years of experience in human resources working for a major retailer in the country before she decided to build her own business. Her interests include technology, mindfulness as well as time management.