5 Cognitive Psychology Rules Every UX Designer Should Know

5 Cognitive Psychology Rules Every UX Designer Should Know

February 27, 2020 Uncategorized 0

Even if a website is perfect from the UI viewpoint, it does not mean it will engage and convert visitors. There are many cognitive factors, such as usability, legibility, ease of navigation, and so forth, that may directly impact how people will perceive your website. By familiarizing yourself with the basics of cognitive psychology, you will understand how human minds work and inject those rules into your UX design processes.

Here are 5 amazing cognitive psychology tricks every UX designer should know.

1. Transference

In psychology, transference is the unconscious projection of one’s emotions towards an important person in their lives onto someone else. For example, people could project their feelings towards parents to their partners, etc. 

Now, in UX design, this may mean that users transfer their knowledge from past experiences with websites (both positive and negative) to future ones. Let’s take a simple example. When a user opens a website for the first time, they will know where exactly to seek a navigation menu, contact information, CTA buttons, search boxes, etc. That is because they browse through a new website based on previous experiences and expect it to offer similar functionalities, flow, and interfaces. 

Sure, this doesn’t mean a client’s website needs to look exactly the same as their competitors’ sites. Still, you should keep your design as close as possible to the standard website design in their industry. This is how you will minimize the learning curve and help clients onboard and convert visitors faster. 

2. The Left-to-Right Theory

The left-to-right theory explains that people often process information from left to right and from top to bottom. This can be applied to UX design, as well. UX designers need to arrange data and layouts according to these principles. The most important data and website features, such as website navigation search boxes, CTAs, or newsletter signups, should always go above the fold. 

The same applies to content creation. For example, when visiting a blog article, people will first read its title. If a title is not intriguing and relevant enough, chances are they will leave the page without reading the rest of the article. This is where UX design goes hand in hand with content development and graphic design. 

Let’s take an example of Domain.me that hires Infostarters to write and design infographics for them. If you look at this infographic about digital nomads, you will first see that the title is informative and catchy. Dark letters on a bright background make it readable and prominent. The rest of the infographic also proves this theory true. Important animations and statistics are prominent and are placed above the rest of the text.

3. Color Psychology and The Von Restorff effect

There are many psychological studies analyzing the relationship between colors and the emotions they evoke. You have probably heard of the psychology of colors that is often mentioned in UX design. Namely, each color ties to specific emotions. For example, blue stands for serenity and calmness, green is linked with growth and prosperity, red to love and passion, while yellow is the color of happiness. UX designers can use different colors to send specific messages to users, gain their trust, and inspire them to take the desired action faster.

In UX design, colors also reflect the importance of website elements. This was proven by the Von Restorff effect, also called the isolation effect. Namely, visually contrasting items are more likely to get noticed and memorized. In UX design, this means the following – visitors will prioritize website elements in bright and vivid colors over those in duller hues. For example, if a page background is white, letters are black, while a CTA button is red, blue, or green, it will automatically grab users’ attention. 

4. Automatic Processing

Automatic and controlled cognitive processes are two ways humans process information. The first refers to our immediate responses, something we do without thinking, while the latter are those activities we perform consciously. For example, if someone shows you a picture with a text below it and says not to read the text, you would probably read it unconsciously. 

In UX design, automatic processing may help designers understand their users’ immediate reaction. For instance, statistics show that most users will leave a site if it takes more than 3 seconds to load. Most of them will be annoyed and leave your site immediately, not thinking about the exciting stuff they might have learned from a page if they stayed. Knowing that poor website performance drives people away, irrespective of a client’s reputation, you can work more on minimizing the size of visual content to increase user experiences.

5. Cognitive Fluency and The Law of Simplicity

Cognitive fluency is the ease at which we process information and understand it. In other words, users prefer to consume the information they are familiar with and tend to unconsciously avoid any kind of content that is complex or new to them. The law of Prägnanz (simplicity) claims the same. Namely, when looking at ambiguous images, people will interpret them as the simplest form possible. The reason for that is simple – we are always striving to simplify things and find meanings immediately. 

These are important things to know when designing a user-centric website. Namely, to reduce the cognitive curve and increase user experiences, you need to keep website design simple, easy-to-understand, and straightforward. Here are a few simple rules to follow:

  • Use typography, colors, logo designs consistently. Experimenting with visual assets will only add complexity to a client’s website and impact users’ interactions with it. Above all, inconsistency in web design may compromise a client’s brand memorability and trustworthiness.
  • Don’t overload blog posts and other website pages with large chunks of textual content. Break the text down into smaller paragraphs, keep your sentences sweet and short, and use bullets and subheadings to make the long text easier to follow, this review of Audible is a good example of using bullet points and tables to structure information.
  • Remove any unnecessary design elements. The idea is to leave lots of white space and present the most important information only.
  • Content strategists and copywriters should avoid complex, industry-specific jargon. Instead, they should use simpler phrases and constructions everyone understands. 

Over to You

These are just some of the numerous examples of how UX designers can use psychology to boost user experiences. It helps them understand how website visitors behave, what their reactions to different kinds of content and designs are and, what their major expectations are.

All the technology in your car, phone, or even kitchen, has behind a UX designer. UX designer jobs are getting more and more traction. Businesses need well-trained experts who understand the effect of user interactions within our digital world. 

Knowing how human brains work, developers, designers, and content writers can work together on creating perfect digital products that engage, convert, and inspire loyalty. 


Have you used cognitive psychology in UX design? Share your thoughts and experiences with us!

My name is Raul, editor in chief at Technivorz blog. I have a lot to say about innovations in all aspects of digital technology and online marketing. You can reach me out on Twitter.