The psychology of design: Principles for designers

As a designer, one should learn multiple skills like writing, marketing and others to align their work and create a visual communication channel. While the other skills are not as fundamental to a designer’s role, there is one aspect that can help designers understand their audience better; psychology. As technology becomes easier to access, the new audience has patterns for everything, from the way they shop to the way they consume news and media. As a designer, being able to leverage the way a target audience thinks and acts helps create a roadmap for better design that is practical and engaging in its approach. 

If you were to read a book that would tell how to go about learning this, it would be an endless sea of information. Psychology and design together form a strong base to attract an audience based on a few core principles. As a designer, you don’t need to know every single principle, only a selected few that can be applied to your work in order to get desired results.

At the end of the day, as a designer, your goal essentially is to engage the user and get them to come back. In order to achieve this, if designers keep these principles in mind, it’ll help create a pattern to not only help the user engage with the design but also create a recall value.

1.Psychology of Colours

Colour psychology helps a designer understand a user’s emotions and behavioural patterns. The study of colours is variable depending on the user’s background, culture and personal preferences. There is a quote by Paul Rand, “If you can’t make it big, make it red!” Colour from the beginning has played a crucial role in understanding the way a user interacts with the design. From yellow meaning happier to blue being used for trust, every colour can tell you how a user will respond based on their demographic, age bracket and other preferences. As a designer, using colour theories can enhance the overall experience and attract the ideal user base.

 2. Cognitive Load

Cognitive load describes the effort it takes for the brain to process a certain piece of information. While machines can be upgraded to increase their storage capacity, it’s impossible to do the same for humans. As a designer, it’s important to keep this principle in mind and design based on the limitation of cognitive load. The main points to remember when designing are to:

  1. Keep the visual clutter to a minimum. Reduce irrelevant imagery, extra buttons and multiple fonts.
  2. Use recognition not memory elements. Rather than expecting the user to remember certain information, give them access to it. For example, all visited links on google search are highlighted so that the user doesn’t have to strain to remember whether the link has previously been used or not.
  3. Keep all information short and accessible. All written and visual information along with the call to action button can be placed in the same space. A product’s information manual can be a page rather than an extensive essay.

3. Mental Models

Mental models are basically patterns human create in their brain to understand the workings of a system. For example, a lock. We use the system in our brain and look for similar patterns to identify the use case. The challenge is to understand the user’s mental model and gauge to create a similar experience without copying it. Apple is a great example for it. Every new iOS launches a few features without drastically changing the overall look. When a user interacts with it, they use the patterns as connecting dots to ease into the new system. Here, the goal is to create and build on an already created experience.

4. Hick’s Law

This law was created by William Edmund Hick and Ray Hyman. Hick’s law tells you that the time it takes for a user to make a decision, is dependent on the number of choices they have. The reason this principle is useful for designers is because when they provide too many options to their users, they’re more likely to avoid making a decision altogether. In order to get your user to make a decision, don’t get rid of all options, rather make the process shorter to simplify their experience. For example, highlight the option they’re supposed to pick in a subscription form or keep the menu simple rather than adding multiple layers.

Using these core principles of psychology will help you create a seamless experience for your user and generate better results.



Views expressed above are the author’s own.


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