Every day, Google alone processes over 3.5 billion searches. Out of the 7.125 billion people on Earth, 3.17 billion have access to the internet and the over 1 billion websites it contains.
I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that not all of those websites are great. Most of us have experienced some level of frustration online. That feeling of “I. just. can’t. find. what. I’m. looking. for. Argh!!”
This is where user experience, or UX design, can save the day. The principles of UX are used to design physical products and digital tools such as websites, apps and software that are easy to use and interact with. The practice draws on knowledge from disciplines like interaction design, human-computer interaction and psychology.
Psychology shows us that, for the most part, online behaviour is predictable. By using some fundamental psychological principles, we can design websites that integrate with how people behave and think online, thus using the psychology behind user experience to improve our digital tools.
Ease users into your content
People spend an average of 15 seconds on a website. That’s not a whole lot of time to read through the vast amount of content hidden within sub-pages. On top of this, our brains are hardwired to not expend more energy than needed, meaning that most online users will only briefly scan through content before deciding whether or not to read on. This is where the concept of progressive disclosure is really useful. User experience, and therefore the amount of time a consumer interacts with content, can be drastically improved by building content that fits with how the brain likes to process information.
Put simply, people are lazy. Just show the basics and let the user decide if they pursue more information or not.
Unconscious decisions influence physical actions
The way we frame content affects our unconscious decision making. Words, images and colours unconsciously affect our emotional brain which heavily influences our decision making. So, when writing, be mindful of tone, structure and design. If you want someone to click through for more information, make sure it’s obvious and well signposted with clear calls-to-action.
Human memory is not reliable
We know that people only remember small fractions of the information they are shown. This is where using Gestalt principles, like Pragnanz can really affect the amount of content users read. In UX, this means making sure to group relevant information in a way that is regular, orderly, symmetrical and simple. Simple design choices like using correctly sized headings and fonts can do wonders in guiding the user’s attention to where you want it.
Culture influences behaviour
We grow up surrounded by culture where we learn how things, and people, should look, feel and act. We store this information as mental models. Go too far beyond the mental model when designing a website interface, and it will become a barrier for users; it won’t make sense to them as they won’t have a way of assimilating it into a mental model.
By nature, humans are social beings. We look for social validation to guide us when performing new tasks. It’s in our biology to imitate an action we see another person do. This is known as social proof, another key concept in the psychology behind user experience. It influences the amount of value we place on an object and how we interact with it. Think about the cult following of the iPhone in comparison to other smart phones. On a website, social proof is often shown through case studies, testimonials, reviews or in statements like “6 million people are members, and trust us to…”.
Remember; nothing is created in a vacuum. Invest time in UX research to really understand who your audience is, their likes, dislikes and how they behave. Then you will be able to harness the psychology behind user experience to create an effective digital tool for engagement.