Raul Harman March 3rd, 2020

Using Cognitive Psychology in UX Design: What to Know

Even if a website is spotless from the UI viewpoint, it could still deliver poor user experiences. Apart from their technical knowledge, UX developers also need to understand how the human mind works.

By learning how online visitors think and how they behave, you will be able to help them understand and interpret a digital product you are designing. Given that, it is not surprising at all that UX design and cognitive psychology are inseparable aspects of providing seamless user experiences.

Here are some basic cognitive psychology rules every UX designer should apply.

Hick’s Law

The Hick-Hyman law, or Hick’s law, explains that the time it takes for us to make a decision is directly impacted by the number of choices we have. Logically, increasing the number of choices will increase users’ decision time.

Hick’s law is particularly important to UX designers. No matter if they want to make a purchase online, read a blog post, or search for a company’s contact information, a visitor wants to find the desired content fast. Precisely because of that, you need to engage a user, provide seamless website experiences, and avoid overwhelming them. Your task as a UX designer is to synthesize the website information and keep users’ communication with a client’s website clear, logical, and consistent. 

Remove Unnecessary Design Elements

Like I have mentioned above, every user landing on a website has a specific goal. When the website is cluttered with lots of content and too many design elements, it would be difficult to interpret and navigate through. 

For starters, reduce the content on landing pages. Putting too much information on a single page may overwhelm a user and prevent them from reading its content. Above all, it may hide a page’s primary selling point and harm conversion rates. Talk to a client about their priorities and, based on them, reduce the website information. Instead of offering huge blocks of text, focus on breaking them up into smaller chunks.

You should always give every page a clear purpose. For example, when creating a landing page for a client, make sure it has a clear goal. Providing multiple CTAs on a single page will only confuse a user and prevent them from converting. 

Finally, leave lots of white space to keep users focused. Avoid using multiple typography options, color palettes, high-contrast colors, links, images, and font sizes. You should also stop using frustrating auto-play videos. 

Simplify Navigation 

A navigation bar is one of the most significant website elements and definitely the first thing a user will see when landing on a website page. This is why you should keep it simple. Instead of providing all website pages right away, you should first classify them under high-level categories and specific subcategories. Also, focus on optimizing your website navigation for mobile users. Keep it clear and intuitive, irrespective of the device a searcher uses.

Offer Visual and Progressive Onboarding

Never assume that website visitors know where to go next or what links to click. This is where you need to help them. Providing guided task completion is one of the best ways to convert visitors. Simply put, you offer a series of steps to prompt a user to interact with a website.

Apart from making user onboarding more gradual, you should also visualize their journeys. Start by creating unique icons to make a site easier to understand and more navigable. For example, Infostarters created custom icons for Reportz, a digital marketing reporting tool. This way, they helped them convey the right message through engaging visuals and create a more compelling interface. 

Gestalt Visual Principles

Gestalt originates from the German word “Gestalt,” meaning “shape” or “form.” It is a cognitive psychology theory explores people’s perceptions of massive amounts of data they learn every day. Namely, when we perceive complex objects, we tend to group their elements and observe them as a whole.

Knowing the common laws of grouping elements, UX designers will arrange website information more logically, improve website interactions, and minimize misunderstandings. Now, there are a few principles of the Gestalt theory you should understand:

Figure-ground

People subconsciously separate website elements on different planes of focus. We tend to analyze the object to understand what elements are put prominently to the front and which ones are in the background. Use layering, contrast, and information hierarchy to emphasize the most important website elements. 

Closure

When shapes, images, or letters have missing parts, our perception bridges this visual gap and observes the object as a whole. This is particularly used in logo designs, such as IBM or NBC. Completion meters and loaders are also a great example of this law.

Continuity

This law emphasizes that the eye is compelled to move through one object and continue to another one. Elements that are arranged on a line are often considered more related than those standing independently. There are many ways to use the law of continuity in UX design. For example, you could apply it to creating an intuitive navigation bar or when grouping products that are similar or related to each other. 

Proximity

Elements that are close appear to be more related than those that are far apart. A perfect example of that Gestalt principle is product pages, where the nearness of a product image and its title and description indicate their relatedness.

Similarity

The idea behind the Gestalt law of similarity is simple – items that are similar to each other are grouped together. 

The Psychology of Persuasion

Remember that online customers’ social media news feeds and email inboxes are packed with messages from similar brands. When making purchasing decisions, customers want to learn how you are different from your competitors. And, this is exactly where the psychology of persuasion can help you.

Provide Social Proof

In cognitive psychology, social proof is a theory that people conform to the opinions of others. There are many ways to use social proof marketing in UX design:

  • Add logos from the companies a client or employer collaborated with.
  • Encourage customer reviews, comments, and ratings on a website.
  • Show customer testimonials, along with their name and location.
  • Add real-time data. For example, SaaS businesses could show how many people signed up for their app during the last month or how many people are seeing their pages.
  • Display trust badges, such as safe checkout badges, accepted payment badges, money-back guarantee badges, free shipping badges, etc.

Evoke FOMO

Fear of missing out (FOMO) is a psychological phenomenon that helps brands improve conversion rates. Research says that 60% of Millennials buy impulsively just because of FOMO. People tend to attach more value to products that are exclusive or available for a limited time. 

UX designers could, for example, help clients emphasize product scarcity by adding countdown timers for their landing pages or website product pages. Creating unique exit-intent popups is also a great option. Namely, giving visitors an amazing one-time opportunity to save up is a great way to encourage impulse purchases. Finally, you could make sure that the website shows how many products there are in the stock. 

Over to You

When it comes to implementing cognitive psychology laws in UX design, remember that there is no one-size-fits-all strategy. Those are just some of the numerous rules that will help you understand how online users behave, how they think, and what they expect from websites. This is the only way to create a truly user-centric website that engages, converts, and retains customers.

How do you use cognitive psychology in UX design? We’d like to hear from you!

Raul Harman

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.

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