7 Psychological Principles for Better UX | LiveSession Blog (2023)

UX and psychology go hand in hand.

User experience professionals are supposed to answer the needs of the people, find their main pain points and solve their problems through design. This is why understanding human behavior is essential to create world-class products. Once you’re familiar with the basic principles of psychology, designing experiences feels less like taking a shot in the dark. You’ll find it easier to spot the areas for improvement and come up with ideas rooted in psychological theories.

In this article, we’re going to discuss the fields of psychology that can be useful for UX designers, researchers and other usability professionals. To make these tips more actionable, we’ve picked 7 of the most compelling psychological principles related to user experience.

Ready to find out how psychology can help you become a better UX professional? Keep on reading to learn more!

Which areas of psychology are interesting for user experience professionals

Apart from clinical applications and psychotherapy, psychology comes with a wide range of tools to help people in their everyday life. Some of the areas that can be particularly useful for UX people include:

Behavioral psychology

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What is is: Dating back to the 19th century, behavioral psychology (also known as behavioral science) explores patterns so fundamental that they can be applied both to humans and animals. The core assumption is that all behaviors are either a response to certain stimuli or they come from a history of reinforcements and punishments. In other words, an individual’s reaction depends on their previous interactions with the environment.

Classic example: Pavlov’s dog – a textbook example of classical conditioning. Ivan Pavlov, a Russian psychologist, expected that the dogs would salivate when they receive food. He found out that they start drooling as soon as they hear the footsteps of the assistant who’s bringing the snacks. Later, he designed an experiment that involved ringing a bell while the dogs were fed. After that, the dogs started salivating as soon as they heard a bell, even when food was not involved. This behavior is known as a conditioned response.

UX-based example: Jakob’s law – people expect your website to work the same way as the other websites they’re using.

(Video) Psychology & UX: Evidence-Based Techniques to Improve your Customer Experience (Sitback + Acquia)

Cognitive psychology

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What is is: While the previously discussed approach is focused entirely on behavior, cognitive psychology takes other mental processes into account. Among other things, it researches attention, perception and problem solving. To put it simply, it deals not only with how people behave but also with how they think.
Classic example: Miller’s Law – George Miller found out that an average person’s memory span is limited to around 7 (plus or minus 2) pieces of information. This fact can be useful for UX designers as well. For example, if you need to display more than 7 items on the website, it makes sense to divide them into categories.
UX-based example: The principle of least effort – This rule is rooted both in cognitive and evolutionary psychology. In short, it means that your users will choose the easiest path to get something done.

Gestalt psychology

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What is is: A theory created by Max Wertheimer, Gestalt states that the whole is more than the sum of the parts. This field of psychology explores how people perceive objects, as well as how they simplify complex images.
Classic example: Law of proximity – It’s a quite simple rule, pictured above. When people see that some objects are close to each other, they’re more likely to see them as one group.
UX-based example: Virtually all Gestalt laws can be applied to UX design – below, we’re describing the law of proximity and the law of continuity in more detail.

These are the three branches of psychology that can be useful for people working in the UX field. Now we’ll move on to 7 psychological principles that can be applied in design:

How exactly can you show your potential customer that your company is reliable?

1. Jakob’s law

Let’s start with the basic question: why reinvent the wheel?

This is exactly what Jakob Nielsen thought. You may recognize him as the co-founder of Nielsen Norman Group, a famous UX consulting firm. He knows a thing or two about interfaces, as he worked for IBM, Microsoft and other technology giants.

The idea behind Jakob’s law is simple. Your users already know how to interact with other websites. Why would you ask them to change their habits? If your site works like other sites they know, they won’t need to learn how to use it – they’ll know right away.

(Video) 3 Psychology Principles in UX Design

Users expect certain functionalities to be located in certain places. One could come up with dozens of examples: the X is always in the upper corner of a window, the hamburger menu will unfold after clicking and the footer will probably contain contact details.

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The visitors are going to look for these features in the most likely places. This kind of behavior is known as a desire path – people tend to take the easy route to find what they’re looking for.

The bad news is: there is no ultimate list of UX habits.

The good news is: you can find your users’ desire paths with the help of session recording tools. When you watch how they interact with your website, you’ll soon see some common patterns emerging.

Try session recordings today. No credit card required!

2. The principle of least effort

We’ve mentioned desire paths above – they’re also a great illustration of the principle of least effort. As the name suggests, it means that people will do as little work as possible to get something done.

There is a brilliant evolutionary explanation of this phenomenon. Our resources, including the cognitive ones, are limited. In order to survive, we shouldn’t be using more energy than needed.

What’s more, in the digital age, we’re often overwhelmed with information. Our attention span is shorter and our time is limited. We want to achieve the goal as soon as possible, which is why we choose the easiest (and often the fastest) path.

So, what is the easiest way? As in the previous case, the way to find out is to watch how the users interact with your website.

(Video) Miller's Law Explained

3. Law of proximity

One of the Gestalt principles, law of proximity is often visible in UX design. As we’ve mentioned above, it means that elements located close to each other are perceived as one group. Have a look at this simple example from RocketLink:

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All the pricing plans are described within a separate column. Thank to clear structure and hierarchy, the pricing is easy to understand.

4. Law of figure/ground

Another important Gestalt principle is the law of figure/ground. It states that an element can be perceived either as a figure (distinct point of focus) or as a background. This is often explained with this famous optical illusion:

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In terms of UX design, this principle can be applied through contrast, brightness or colors. For instance, call-to-action buttons work better when they stand out from the background, like in the example below:

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Chatbotize used a contrasting, green sign up button. Green is associated with confirmation, but in this case it also a great contrast with the background color. The button is easy to notice and the users are likely to click on it.

5. Law of similarity

Just like two previous principles, the law of similarity also comes from Gestalt psychology. The idea is that if two elements are similar, they are seen as parts of the same group. This rule is often used when describing multiple features, like in the case of Cloudtalk:

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6. Hick’s law

Less is more – this is probably the shortest way to sum up Hick’s law.

(Video) Lesson 7. Practical Application: UI/UX Best Practices for e-Learning

Research by William Hick has shown that the more choice we have, the longer it takes to make a decision. When the users are overwhelmed with options, they may as well not choose anything at all. This rule is also known as the tyranny of choice. People may expect they’ll feel happier when they can choose from a wide range, but it’s often the opposite – they get frustrated instead.

Well, what if you actually have a lot on offer? Amazon and Netflix have a huge inventory and both services are quite successful, aren’t they?

Definitely, and not without reason – they both know how to make the choice easier. Everything that’s on offer is grouped into tailor-made categories:

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7. Serial position effect

There’s a very specific reason why we’re describing this principle as the last one.

Serial position effect combines two other rules – the primacy effect and the recency effect. The effect describes how people tend to remember the first and the last items in a series best.

What does it mean for UX designers? You can think about it this way: if you need to grab your user’s attention with something, it pays off to repeat this thing both at the beginning and at the end of the page.

This is a common practice on landing pages. The sign-up button pops up at the top and reappears at the bottom. We used this strategy at LiveSession, too:

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(Video) The Gestalt Principles | Basics for Beginners

Key takeaways

As you can see, different fields of psychology can be a goldmine of information and ideas for UX designers and researchers. Sticking to psychological principles can help you come up with more relevant design solutions. With this knowledge, you’ll find it easier to understand how your users think and what are the reasons behind their behavior. Last but not least, psychological knowledge will help you interpret data from qualitative research, such as session recordings.


How psychology helps in UX design? ›

In UX, you'll be concerned with users' emotional journeys when interacting with a product, service, or system. When conducting user interviews and usability testing, you'll be able to leverage your psychology background to identify how users feel when interacting with a product.

What is cognitive psychology in UX? ›

Understanding Cognitive Psychology in UX Design. Cognitive psychology studies human mental processes, including attention and perception, memory, problem-solving and creative thinking—the foundation for user experience design.

Why is psychology important in graphic design? ›

“Psychology behind graphic design is basically about capturing the minds of potential customers. Designers need to understand the psychological parameters of design because every single color, typeface, shape and structure communicates a subconscious message to the viewers.

Is UX design good for introverts? ›

UX/UI designers, as well as introverts, are thoughtful people that learn from their environment and those around them. As a UX/UI designer, the vast majority of your time is spent working on projects alone.

Do UX designers need to know psychology? ›

Bringing psychology and technology together is at the heart of UX design because UX is people. However, you do not need a degree in psychology to understand the basics of how humans function. Most psychological principles that are relevant to UX are easy to understand but make a big difference when applied correctly.

What is emotional impact in UX? ›

The word experience in User Experience implies the emotions that users go through when they use a product. Depending on a lot of factors, they can be happy, satisfied, frustrated, overjoyed, or disappointed by the experience. User can also feel two or more emotions while using an app.

Why are mental models important in UX? ›

Understanding users' mental models is important in interface design because it helps designers empathize with how their audience expects things to work. This gives useful hints for designers to build experiences and interfaces that are intuitive, predictable, and therefore highly usable for their audience.

What are the 7 major themes in Cognitive Psychology? ›

Cognitive psychology is the scientific study of mental processes such as attention, language use, memory, perception, problem solving, creativity, and reasoning.

What is 6d process in UX? ›

They stand for Discover, Define, Design, Develop, Deploy and Drive, the building blocks of the UX process. Companies can come to the table with some of them already figured out, or just with an idea.

What is heuristic in UX? ›

A heuristic is a fast and practical way to solve problems or make decisions. In user experience (UX) design, professional evaluators use heuristic evaluation to systematically determine a design's/product's usability. As experts, they go through a checklist of criteria to find flaws which design teams overlooked.

How is psychology used in design? ›

As designers, we can leverage psychology to build more intuitive, human-centered products and experiences. Instead of forcing users to conform to the design of a product or experience, we can use some key principles from psychology as a guide for designing how people actually are.

How is psychology related to creativity? ›

In the past, scientists thought that creativity came solely from the right hemisphere of the brain, but more recent discoveries have shown that many neural networks across the brain spark creativity and control our responses to various stimuli.

What is the psychology behind logo? ›

The formation of the lines in your logo shapes can be enough to impact the perception of your audience. Vertical lines create a subconscious association with strength and sophistication, while causing logos to appear slimmer. On the other hand, horizontal lines create a sense of tranquility and calm.

What is the usability Rule of 7? ›

Summary: People can remember about 7 (plus/minus 2) items in short-term memory. This memory limitation has implications for UX design, but not the ones you often hear stated.

What are key UX principles? ›

7 fundamental UX design principles all designers should know
  • User-centricity. The purpose of UX design is to create products and services that solve user problems. ...
  • Consistency. ...
  • Hierarchy. ...
  • Context. ...
  • User control. ...
  • Accessibility. ...
  • Usability.
22 Jun 2022

What are the key rules for a good UX? ›

9 Rules For UX Design
  • Involve Your Users. Users naturally gravitate to websites they like. ...
  • Consider the Cognitive Load. ...
  • Keep Things Simple. ...
  • Be Consistent. ...
  • Design Intentionally. ...
  • Focus on Function Over Aesthetics. ...
  • Know Where You Are in the Design Process. ...
  • Personalize the Experience.

Can I be a UX designer if I can't draw? ›

For one, it certainly helps to be creative. However, a common question is whether a prospective UX designer needs to know how to draw. The answer, succinctly put, is no.

What should you not do in UX? ›

Common UX Design Mistakes to Avoid
  • Considering UX only in the Initial Parts of the Project.
  • Adding too Much Content.
  • Improper Navigation.
  • Not Adopting Simplicity.
  • Not including Design Thinking.
  • Ignoring Usability.
  • Lots of Animations.
  • Poor Contrast.

Is UX a stressful job? ›

UX design is a field that can be very stressful. Many times, there are tight deadlines, and the designer must create a product that meets the needs of the client while also meeting their own personal standards.

Can a shy person be a UX designer? ›

Being shy or an introvert doesn't mean you can't be a collaborative, articulate, and confident designer. It doesn't stop you from being passionate and thrive in your UX career.

Is it too late to become a UX designer at 30? ›

While you may face different obstacles than your younger colleagues, becoming a UX designer (and succeeding!) in your 30s, 40s, 50s (and beyond) is totally doable. In fact there are even advantages and perks that you'll experience that your younger colleagues won't (at least not for a while).

Is UX too late to learn? ›

As we age and our responsibilities grow, it can seem more difficult to start fresh. If you're thinking about becoming a UX designer later in your career, you're in luck. The UX/UI industry welcomes individuals of all ages, and there are no official educational or experiential prerequisites to get started.

What is UX empathy? ›

Definition: Empathy is the ability to fully understand, mirror, then share another person's expressions, needs, and motivations. In UX, empathy enables us to understand not only our users' immediate frustrations, but also their hopes, fears, abilities, limitations, reasoning, and goals.

What are the 6 emotional interaction? ›

Dr. Ekman identified the six basic emotions as anger, surprise, disgust, enjoyment, fear, and sadness.

How does empathy influence design? ›

Empathy is the first step in design thinking because it is a skill that allows us to understand and share the same feelings that others feel. Through empathy, we are able to put ourselves in other people's shoes and connect with how they might be feeling about their problem, circumstance, or situation.

What personality trait is most important for a UX designer to have? ›

UX Designers have big picture thinking. A core trait that every UX designer should have is big picture thinking. One needs to be able to holistically understand strategy, business requirements, users needs and manage their impact on project delivery.

What are the 5 mental models? ›

We are going to see in detail about adopting the below 5 popular mental models,
  • First-Principles Thinking.
  • Second-Order Thinking.
  • Inversion.
  • Map vs Territory.
  • Feynman's Technique.
27 Jul 2021

What is the most important thing to keep in mind while designing UX UI? ›

Meet the users' needs

The foremost of all UX design principles is to focus on users throughout the design process. The term user experience itself makes it clear that your work needs to center on improving your users' experience with your product or service.

What is the magic 7 in psychology? ›

The Magic number 7 (plus or minus two) provides evidence for the capacity of short term memory. Most adults can store between 5 and 9 items in their short-term memory. This idea was put forward by Miller (1956) and he called it the magic number 7.

What are the 7 cognitive functions? ›

Cognitive functioning refers to multiple mental abilities, including learning, thinking, reasoning, remembering, problem solving, decision making, and attention.

What is the significance of 7 +- 2 in psychology? ›

It was written by the cognitive psychologist George A. Miller of Harvard University's Department of Psychology and published in 1956 in Psychological Review. It is often interpreted to argue that the number of objects an average human can hold in short-term memory is 7 ± 2.

What is 5D in design thinking? ›

The basics of Design Thinking involves 5 phases: empathize, define, ideate, prototype and test. These basics of Design Thinking help us from a user-centric viewpoint.

What are 5D in UX design? ›

Interaction design pays attention to five dimensions: words, images, space, time, and behaviour.

What are the 4 D's of design? ›

Design Thinking methodology involves FOUR distinct stages – Discover, Define, Develop and Deliver. Collectively, this is known as the 4D Framework.

What are the 7 heuristics? ›

7 Heuristics That all UI Designers Should Know
  • Strive for Consistency. ...
  • Keep Users in Control. ...
  • Reduce Users' Minimum Steps. ...
  • Users Should Know Where They Are. ...
  • Avoid Obtuse Language. ...
  • Make the UI Aesthetically Appropriate. ...
  • Present New Information with Meaningful Aids to Interpretation.

What are the 11 usability heuristics? ›

11 Usability Heuristics Every Designer Should Know
  • Visibility of system status.
  • Match between system and the real world.
  • User control and freedom.
  • Consistency and standards.
  • Error prevention.
  • Recognition rather than recall.
  • Flexibility and efficiency of use.
  • Aesthetic and minimalist design.
6 Aug 2021

What are the 4 types of heuristics? ›

Each type of heuristic is used for the purpose of reducing the mental effort needed to make a decision, but they occur in different contexts.
  • Availability heuristic. ...
  • Representativeness heuristic. ...
  • Anchoring and adjustment heuristic. ...
  • Quick and easy.

What are psychological factors in design? ›

​Psychological factors include, smell, light, sound, taste, texture and temperature. These are a significant part of ergonomics and human efficiency and safety can be affected by these factors.

What are the 6 P's of creativity? ›

He considered the six Ps of creativity – Process (cognitive), Product, Personality, Place, Persuasion and Potential.

What are the 5 traits of a creative person? ›

  • They are risk takers. Creative thinkers are risk takers. ...
  • They have the dare to fail attitude. Failure for them is a learning curve. ...
  • They are willing to be different. ...
  • They are impulsive, fickle and change their mind quite often.
9 Apr 2017

What are the 5 components of creativity psychology? ›

Sternberg has proposed that creativity has five components: expertise, imaginative thinking skills; a venturesome personality; intrinsic motivation; and a creative environment that sparks, supports, and refines creative ideas.

How does your brain see a logo? ›

1_ Your brain registers the Colour & form of the logo

You see a logo and your eye sends a signal along the fusiform gyrus to the Primary Visual Cortex where it first perceives colour then identifies the shape and form of the logo.

What is Colour psychology in design? ›

Color psychology is the study of how color affects our emotions and behaviors. Depending on your upbringing, cultural background and personal preference, certain colors can make you feel a certain way.

What is the principle concept of Snapchat? ›

Snapchat is an American multimedia instant messaging app and service developed by Snap Inc., originally Snapchat Inc. One of the principal features of Snapchat is that pictures and messages are usually only available for a short time before they become inaccessible to their recipients.

How did Netflix reinvented itself with the help of design thinking? ›

After conducting a series of streaming tests to understand the feasibility, Netflix started renting old movies in DVD format by mail. This way, it made people get used to streaming while they kept on building their library. Currently, Netflix offers on-demand internet streaming video services.

Why does Netflix have good UX? ›

User onboarding UX

The site affords one of the best user onboarding experiences. The homepage is uncluttered with a clear call-to-action – to enter your email address to start watching. They also clearly state their unique selling point: 'Unlimited films, TV programmes and more. Watch anywhere.

What is breakpoint in UX? ›

A breakpoint in a responsive design is the “point” at which a website's content and design will adapt in a certain way in order to provide the best possible user experience. For example, when the website of The New Yorker is viewed on a regular desktop screen, the user sees the whole navigation menu on the sidebar.

Is Snapchat used for flirting? ›

Texting can be boring, and regular chats can be too direct. But Snapchat is a fun, low-pressure app with lots of opportunities for flirting. If you want to flirt using Snapchat, you can add face filters, backgrounds, play games, chat, and take cute selfies, all accompanied with flirty little messages.

What is Snapchat's business model? ›

The snapchat revenue model is based on advertising. The company defined itself as a camera company, which enables users to generate content through its AR and story formats. In 2020, Snapchat made over $2.5 billion in revenues and over $950 million in net losses.

Which company uses design thinking? ›

Design thinking has become a business buzzword that's changed how companies approach problem-solving. Countless brands, including GE Healthcare, Netflix, and UberEats, have utilized design thinking to develop effective solutions to challenges.

How did Google use design thinking? ›

At Google, design thinking helps us foster a culture of innovation, and lets our teams generate and test ideas creatively and effectively, whether they're trying to bring internet access to remote communities or developing new methodologies for interviewing potential employees.

What is Netflix strategic approach? ›

Netflix uses data-driven and customer-centric marketing strategies that work in the digital age. Netflix's success relies on constant analysis and optimization, so you can use these tools for marketing your business online.

What design UX trends will be popular in 2022? ›

10 UX design trends in 2022
  • Advanced cursor interactions.
  • Personalized experiences.
  • Data visualization.
  • Dark mode.
  • Micro-interactions.
  • New 3D design tools.
  • Clean user interfaces (with a twist)
  • Augmented and virtual reality.
27 Dec 2021

What are the top 3 challenges you faced as a UI UX designer? ›

7 biggest UX designer challenges
  • Fuzzy role titles and duties. ...
  • Issues with user research. ...
  • Tight budget and deadlines. ...
  • Undervalued UX design. ...
  • Juggling between design solutions and business. ...
  • Aligning with the development. ...
  • Focusing on one problem.
11 Mar 2022

Which UX role pays the most? ›

High Paying UX Designer Jobs
  • Product Architect. Salary range: $134,000-$156,000 per year. ...
  • Digital Solution Architect. Salary range: $121,500-$156,000 per year. ...
  • Information Architect. Salary range: $100,500-$151,500 per year. ...
  • Usability Engineer. ...
  • UX Architect. ...
  • UX Visual Designer. ...
  • Workflow Developer. ...
  • Content Architect.

What breakpoints should I use 2022? ›

Common Responsive Breakpoints
  • Mobile: 360 x 640.
  • Mobile: 375 x 667.
  • Mobile: 360 x 720.
  • iPhone X: 375 x 812.
  • Pixel 2: 411 x 731.
  • Tablet: 768 x 1024.
  • Laptop: 1366 x 768.
  • High-res laptop or desktop: 1920 x 1080.

What is UI responsiveness? ›

Responsive design is a graphic user interface (GUI) design approach used to create content that adjusts smoothly to various screen sizes. Designers size elements in relative units (%) and apply media queries, so their designs can automatically adapt to the browser space to ensure content consistency across devices.


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