Back to all articles

7 September 2023 - 7 minutes

Crafting Human-Centric Experiences: The Psychology of UX/UI Design

Psychology helps create more immersive and engaging UX/UI designs.

Ironhack - Changing The Future of Tech Education

Here’s a hot take: everything that we interact with in this world is related to psychology in some way or another. This is because human beings use their senses to interpret the world in front of them and have a lens that is unique in some ways and in others shared with billions. 

UX/UI design is one of those careers that uses psychology to capture and keep the attention of their clients to make a human-centric digital experience, and as a result, UX/UI designers must have some knowledge of the strategies that they can leverage throughout the whole design process. But why is it so important and what psychological principles and theories would most benefit them in creating human-centric experiences?

UX/UI Design Psychology

Designing the interface and overall experience that we interact with on our devices, UX/UI designers have an enormous job in front of them. UX designers are at the helm of the user experience, which includes designing the structure and format, collecting and gathering user-focused research and feedback, and making the necessary corrections based on the information they collect. On the other hand, UI designers are focused on designing the interface from the layout to the size of the font. 

Both positions share one goal: to design and build a user experience that is intuitive, engaging, and simple yet encaptivating. Since the person on the other end of the screen is bound to psychological concepts, they must use them when designing and building applications and web pages. This is what it means to make a human-centric experience design.

The psychology of UX/UI design includes several concepts, effects, and models that can be broken down into different categories such as emotions and aesthetics, informational processes, and time and memory limits. UX/UI psychology can be leveraged in various ways to improve your designs and make them more human-centric in the process.

Connection with the client

Empathy and emotional contagion

As a creator of interfaces and full experiences, you must use the power of empathy to understand what the user is experiencing on your page. Empathy is about imagining the perspective of a person and feeling what they feel and since emotions are an influential part of the human experience and connection, it is important to keep the emotional aspect at the forefront. 

This concept applies as well to emotional contagion, or the idea that when your senses interpret a feeling, especially when it’s someone you like, you begin to feel it as well. We all feel emotions and the influence of seeing or hearing media that implies one can have a powerful impact. 

Design tip: creating user personas give you great guidance in imagining what it’s like to be them! Also, in your designs, including emotional pictures and media can connect your interface with the client.

Storytelling effect

The storytelling effect connects to the emotional experience when a client is interacting with the product, providing meaning and order to what we don’t know. If you look into the history of the human race, you can see that humans have looked to connect with others and pass on information. Stories connect and attach people when they are truly provoking and engaging. 

Design tip: require designers to think up a story for the entire experience and include a short story from the outset of the design process. 

Aesthetic-usability effect

Creating an aesthetically-pleasing design provokes a positive response in the brain and provides customers with more resistance to potential errors when browsing the website or application. If there are any minor issues that arise, the client won’t be as likely to leave. For usability, clients trust and respect a page that is more visually-appealing and coherent.

Design tip: when you create different elements on a page, make sure that they are intuitive and obvious. 

Information and load

Hick’s law

It can be very difficult to make a decision, especially when it may have a big impact, but on a website or application, decisions don’t always have high stakes. Hick’s law states that the more options there are to choose from, the more time it will take for an individual to make a decision. If they are more complex, it also increases the cognitive load. 

Design tip: lots of choices may be inevitable, but making content easy to skim and simple makes it more consumable for the user.

Curiosity gap

Relating to the human desire to create stories and look for more meaning, the curiosity gap refers to the desire a client has to know missing or unknown information. What does that mean for them? Well, the need for them to find out what they don’t know may be the driving factor to click on the button to the next page.

Design tip: titles and information that stir up mystery and intrigue attract clients to where you want them to go. 

Von Retoroff effect

Amongst a group of similar objects, which one most sticks out in your brain after walking away? The Von Retoroff effect, also known as the isolation effect, says that the most unique object in a group of similar ones will stay in your memory.

Design tip: when designing elements like a button, the one that you want most to stick out needs to be different from the rest. However, it can’t be too different–you don’t want to confuse the user! 

Time and memory

Focus and attention span

The normal adult has an attention span of twenty to thirty minutes and since the UX/UI design teams’ goal is grabbing and keeping a user’s focus on the page, they have to keep their engagement and short attention span in mind. This is especially essential when dealing with longer processes and if the product is for children, you can cut that down to much shorter of a time.

Design tip: avoid inserting elements such as pop-ups, ads, or sounds that could distract users from their current task.

Investment loops/hook model

Our brains love rewards and investing your clients in your page or application can be addictive for them. Much of society is hooked on social media and our devices but why is that? Investment loops and the hook model play a big role. The formation of an investment loop consists of the following:

  • Trigger: start interacting with the product

  • Action: satisfy the trigger

  • Reward: variable positive feedback for the action

  • Investment: have them return and feel invested in the product

The more frequently you visit that page or application, the more likely you will associate them with usefulness and want to visit it again!

Design tip: when a user is on the page and completes an action, provide them with some sort of reward. This could be an immediate one or one that is given over time; the most important thing is that they receive positive feedback for investing and interacting with the product.

Miller’s law and cognitive load

We all have limits unfortunately and in terms of short-term memory, our cognitive load is not too high. According to George A. Miller, a cognitive load exists and therefore a user interface should not present the user with too much information or elements all at once. A simple, concise, and streamlined design is key to ensuring that the user enjoys visiting the page.

Design tip: if there is a lot of information that needs to be present, group it together. Also remove any repetitive information that could take the user’s focus away from the key information.

Peak-end rule

When you watch a movie, do you walk out discussing and rehashing? Our brains tend to focus on and remember the ending or the peaks (highs and lows) of an experience and for a website or application, designers need to think less about the micro-events and more about completing tasks at the end.

Design tip: when providing a task for the user, you should have a clear starting point so you can highlight the peaks and add a fun element that celebrates the completion of the task. 

UX/UI psychology combines these and even more concepts to really create an enjoyable, engaging, and memorable experience each time you go to an application or website. Without it, it’s likely that we wouldn’t be so invested in certain sites and want to visit them so often, which is why they are so important for designers. Remember that the two most important goals for a UX/UI designer is to grab your attention and to keep it.

If you like design, psychology, and technology, UX/UI design sounds like it would be the perfect fit for you. Check out the course page for UX/UI design, sign up for our bootcamp, and get started on your first human-centric digital experience.

Related Articles

Ready to join?

More than 10,000 career changers and entrepreneurs launched their careers in the tech industry with Ironhack's bootcamps. Start your new career journey, and join the tech revolution!