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December 25, 2023 - 5 minutes

The Psychology Behind User Interfaces: Creating Intuitive Designs

Find out how UX/UI designers use psychology to help create more intuitive designs.

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As humans, we like life to be uncomplicated and the same idea applies to when we interact with our devices. In fact, the people who design and build operating systems, applications, and software focus on making the user interface as intuitive as possible. How do they go about making these intuitively designed interfaces? And how does psychology come into play? Let’s take a deep dive into creating intuitive designs. 

User Interface

To interact with our devices, we need to have a designed system in place or they would simply be worthless chunks of plastic and metal; this system is called a user interface. The user interface is extremely important as it bridges that connection between the device and humans using it and the people behind designing them–UX/UI designers. 

UX designers focus on the following parts of the user interface:

  • Structure and organization: these include the overall framework of the interface and how the user moves between the different pages. 

  • Usability: UX designers want to ensure that users can easily understand the functionality and movement throughout the interface.

  • Consistency: since the user interface appears on several devices, they should ensure that users have the same experience on a computer as they do on a tablet. 

  • Accessibility: users are diverse and UX designers want all users to be able to interact with their interface. 

UI designers, on the other hand, work on the aesthetics and visual elements of the user interface such as:

  • Typography

  • Layout

  • Color palette

  • Buttons and other interactive elements

  • Visual hierarchy

  • Images and other media

  • Iconography

Although UX and UI designers invest their time and energy into different parts of the overall user interface design, they are both working towards a similar goal: a pleasant, intuitive, and attractive user interface design that invites users to return to the page. The key to their design is making them as intuitive as possible.

Intuitive Design

Do you ever feel like everything is just flowing naturally? Or that a situation isn’t exactly right? We all have senses that are constantly providing us with information from our surroundings and we make decisions based on all that available data. We can feel when everything is going smoothly or not and in regards to user interface, intuitive design is when we can naturally feel or understand what to do next with all the information we have in front of us. 

UX designers use their expertise to ensure their designs are simple yet engaging for their users and later, confirm these aspects with user research. In the development process, UX designers need to depend on collecting data, which they achieve with the help of surveys, interviews, questionnaires, and user personas. Thanks to all the data they collect, they can better understand how to tweak their designs by making them more intuitive, and as a result, enhance the experience for the users. But how can they make things more intuitive?

Why is Psychology Important for Intuitive Design?

We are all controlled by a command center in our heads: the brain and our brains are governed by a set of limitations and rules that are consistent and yet vary from person to person. To better understand the mind and our behavior, psychologists develop theories and concepts to describe the rules and ways in which the brain works and thanks to psychology, we can see the world in a different and more accurate way. 

For intuitive design, UX/UI designers need to know about psychology and how to maximize  the user’s experience on their interface because if their designs are confusing or overwhelming, users will not want to continue on the page. People want to have an easy and engaging experience since most of our lives already feel difficult and stressful. Some psychological concepts can benefit UX/UI designers by avoiding potential stressors and maximizing ease of use.

Intuitive Design Psychology Concepts

Once you know the laws that govern the human mind, you can play around with how you apply them to your user interface design. To create the most intuitive designs, the following theories, effects, models, and laws will help:

Hick’s Law

Decisions can be hard to make sometimes, especially when there are lots of options. Hick’s law dictates that the more options, the more time that users will spend sitting there having to think about it. When it comes to design, the less options and simpler, the better. 

Tip: to ensure that users are not feeling confused or overwhelmed, provide very obvious and singular elements.

Storytelling effect

Humanity has evolved with storytelling since its beginning and thanks to these stories, our cultures, religions, and families have flourished. Beyond the caves of the past, we have continued telling stories as a way to connect with our emotions, and the human mind easily hooks onto the set of events. When the story is told in an engaging way that connects with the person, it’s easy to continue forward.

Tip: when working on a design, ask yourself what story do you want to tell? And with that in mind, you want to answer who, what, where, and most importantly, why. 

Hooks model

Our minds can get hooked pretty easily, especially when there is positive reinforcement for our behavior; every time we check our social media to see that there’s a new like on a post we receive a dopamine hit that feels good. The Hooks model facilitates the creation of a habit, and we all know that habits are hard to break once they’ve become part of our daily life. 

Tip: when a user completes an action, ensure they receive some type of positive feedback or reward upon completion. 

Miller’s Law

Just like at a busy intersection during New Year’s celebrations, we can become overwhelmed when there is too much happening, and the same is true when talking about our cognitive load; the mind is capable of processing a lot of information but not all at once. UX/UI designers do well to streamline and minimize their designs so as not to overwhelm or confuse users.

Tip: remove any repetitive information from the page and if there is a lot of information, group it together. 

Peak-end rule

We all love a happy ending because they are so satisfying and finish on a high note. According to this rule, our brains are more likely to remember events that end powerfully as well as reach high highs or low lows. Peaks and endings of a story or an experience stay with us and bringing it to a design shows them how the events and steps will occur.

Tip: when having a process, such as buying a product on a website, make sure the design has a little celebration when they have bought it and when it arrives too.

Von Retoroff effect

At school, you most likely had a fashionista in your class who wore the funkiest and most different clothing, and they stood out for a reason. The more unique something is, the more likely our brains will remember, find, and interact with it. 

Tip: when making clickable buttons, design them to be very different so they stick out from the rest of the page. 

Attention span

As we use our devices and look at our screens, our brains are losing their capacity to hold attention for longer than a certain amount of time; the average attention span has significantly fallen from 2000 to 2015, making the current timeframe 8.25 seconds. For designers, this is an important detail that they have to remember when designing their page since they need to show them the page’s flow without distracting them.

Tip: there’s no need to rush everything; however, minimize and avoid anything that may distract the user from their current task.

Curiosity gap

When presented with a mystery that interests us, we usually feel motivated and curious to discover this unknown information and on a website or application, you want to take advantage of users’ thirst for intrigue. They want to advance forward towards the next part of the process and their curiosity will guide them.

Tip: create titles for pages that will provoke curiosity in the minds of users and don’t provide all the information in one blow and they will look to go to the next page. 

Aesthetic-usability effect

Aesthetics for many is an essential part of design and art in general; however, in UX/UI design, pleasing aesthetics can also help make the page feel easier and more intuitive. 

Tip: avoid using confusing or jarring images and keep it simple and chic!

The overall goal of creating intuitive designs is for users to be content and return to the page after a single use, and our minds have so many ways to create a habit or provoke a connection to something even as inorganic as an app. UX/UI designers have to use all the tools in their repertoire to make the best product possible and by using these concepts and theories, they can achieve more than just a simple design: they can create an intuitive masterpiece that people can’t get enough of. 

If you want to combine psychology and design you want to create interactive and intuitive applications and web pages, check out the UX/UI Design Bootcamp at Ironhack. 

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