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The Psychology of UX Design

Posted by Molly Geipel on July 5, 2016 at 9:00 AM

User experience design means creating mutually beneficial interactions between user and brand. You can create a beautiful product, but if it fails to drive results, you have not created a quality UX. So what are the defining traits of quality web UX?

The goals of UX on the web are two fold:

  1. Create an experience that enhances customer satisfaction.
  2. Create an experience that drives target user behaviors.


That’s the tricky thing—there isn’t a single set of characteristics that determine quality UX. The essential elements of quality design differ from site to site depending on the specific end goals of the experience.


Users may discover your website and find it appealing enough to browse. That’s a good start, but unless you’ve created an effective UX framework, their browsing will be aimless and will ultimately click away without performing any further action.

To avoid losing potential business, your website needs to be centered on a specific strategic goal—whether that’s sales, lead generation, or something else—and that goal needs to be supported by strategic UX design.


The closest we can come to a universal definition of “quality UX” is that it is any design that effectively guides user behavior toward supporting your strategic goals, while providing value that satisfies user needs.


To design UX that strategically shapes user behavior, start with the psychology that drives how users interact with your site. Once you understand the principles that underlie user behavior, you can use those principles to create a site that guides user interaction according to your strategic goals.


Psychological Principles of User Experience


Simplicity and Usability

UX simplicity is often confused with minimalist design. In fact, UX in general is often mistaken for aesthetic design. While there is overlap, the two are complementary but distinct processes. Minimalism can actually compromise usability if key functions are obscured by sparse interface. Simplicity in UX design is a matter of creating optimal conditions to facilitate user behavior.


As a rule, people want to expend the least amount of effort possible in order to accomplish their goals. Your website should demand no more—or less—from the user than they are willing to give to achieve their goal.                                                                                                                    

Attention and Visual Guidance

To avoid inundating visitors with too much data or too many options at once, utilize progressive disclosure in your UX design. Progressive disclosure is the practice of providing just enough information to visitors to intrigue them and keep them moving through your site, but not so much that they’re overwhelmed.

Provide the option for more rather than just dumping it on them all at once. Then, if they want more information, the action feels self-motivated—making them feel more invested.


Your site’s visual organization will be key to this guiding process. Use hierarchy, font size, color, graphics, and visual storytelling to direct your visitor’s eye to crucial information, guiding them from one important section to the next in a path that escalates toward the target behavior.


Social Proof and Buyer Affirmation

When a new visitor first lands on your site, they may be impressed with what they find, but there will be a nagging question in the back of their minds asking, “Are they really as good as they seem?” This small seed of doubt could be enough to cause your prospect to click back to Google to continue their search. You can nip that doubt in the bud by utilizing the power of social proof.


As social beings, we rely on other people for decision making. We look for social proof to verify our assessment of a product’s quality before making a purchase. Social proof can take many forms on your website. Customer reviews, social metrics, and testimonials are all good ways to incorporate social proof into your UX design.


Motivation and Action

People are more inclined to do something that has intrinsic personal value. To dovetail your respective goals and create a mutually beneficial experience, you’ve got to acknowledge what brought your visitor to your site in the first place. Provide sufficient triggers for them to make the decision to act, then give them the tools to do so.


This three-part model of shaping user behavior comes from the Fogg Behavior Model. Each of the three components—motivation, triggers, and ability—must be present for the target behavior to take place.


Before you designing your website, create a motivational map. Which desires will entice visitors to click on a new page? Which triggers will make them decide to seek more information? What tools are needed to simplify the desired action? Your site should make it as easy and satisfying as possible for visitors perform your desired action, whether that’s purchasing a product or opting in to an email list.


In Summary

There’s no foolproof model for UX across all industries. Your own UX may even change over time based on your current business goals. However, if you keep your UX focused on a few core principles of user psychology, you’ll be on the right track


  • Give just enough information to pique interest and provide context.
  • Don’t distract visitors with competing elements.
  • Focus on your goals to keep your visitor focused too.
  • Use visual cues to guide users to key information
  • Provide social proof to validate your brand.
  • Ensure functionality is clear, easy to perform, and satisfies a need.


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Topics: UX, marketing strategy, Web Design, user esperience

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