HomeGraphic DesigningMust Know Psychology Principles for Designers

    Must Know Psychology Principles for Designers

    There’s a common misconception that being artistically gifted is more than enough to become a high-qualified designer. By all means, you can’t be successful in this field without artistic skills, but it takes much more than that. The design is both art and science.

    But it’s not just any science. Since the design is created for people, understanding users are essential to be proficient in your job. And what can provide you with the necessary insights if not psychology?

    Of course, you don’t have to go and spend years getting your Master’s or Ph.D. at a prestigious college. Taking online courses and reading books can sufficiently widen your outlook and deepen your understanding of the industry and profession. Modern science accumulated vast information on human perception and decision making. Psychology, in particular, can provide powerful insights for designers and marketers.

    Here’s a list of concepts worth exploring:


    Scanning Patterns

    Before actually reading the content of a page, people usually scan it to see if the information can interest them. And most people scan pages in a quite specific way.

    The F-shaped scanning was identified back in 2006 but is still relevant. Users read the headline first, then the very first sentence of the text. After that, they scan the sub-headings moving their eyes down the page.

    So, make sure you fit some important and eye-catching information into this space. Make it work for you, not against you. Grab the customers attention from the first glance.


    Hick’s Law

    We make thousands of decisions every day, from easy ones, like choosing what kind of cereal to have for breakfast, to more specific important, that affect our relationships, work, and life. And, let’s face it, making choices all the time can be exhausting.

    Users might think they want as many choices as possible, but, according to the research of William Edmund Hick and Ray Hyman, they won’t enjoy it that much. Basically, the more options users have, the more time and effort it takes to choose, and, consequently, the less pleasant experience they will have with the product.

    So, keeping it simple is the way to go. Try to include only essential elements and avoid adding any unnecessary ones. Don’t make the lives of your users more difficult by extra decision-making.


    Gestalt Laws

    Unlike the previous law, this set of principles is not named after the researcher. “Gestalt” is a German word that means “form” or “shape”. Humans tend to organize the objects they see into patterns and groups. And Gestalt principles are aimed to formulate the ways our brains organize the visual information.

    Some of the principles you should take into account:


    • Proximity

    If elements are situated close to each other they tend to be perceived as a group even if they don’t have any common characteristics. Avoid placing the elements in close proximity if you don’t want them to be seen as related. And vice versa: if you want your user to see a set of elements as connected, place them close to each other.


    • Similarity

    Objects with similar visual characteristics (color, shape, size etc) are often perceived as individual elements of a group. And elements that look different are considered unrelated. This principle is widely used in the real estate photography, where similarity is the main way to organize different properties into one logical group. Remember, that principles of similarity and proximity can overlap depending on their combination and application.


    • Continuity 

    Objects that are aligned with each other tend to be seen as a whole. Placing objects in straight or curved lines makes users eyes go along the line smoothly and naturally.


    • Closure

    The human mind tends to see complete forms or figures even if the picture is incomplete or some elements are missing. It is rooted in our tendency to recognize familiar patterns. Our brain just fills in any missing elements.


    Weber’s Law

    Do you remember any major website (like Facebook, Amazon, Google or Twitter) doing a massive redesign, changing their color scheme and key elements? Probably, no. But if you do recall a case, you probably also remember the amount of negative reaction from customers.

    And there’s a good reason for it: people like familiar things and big changes make them feel uncomfortable.

    But sometimes a redesign just has to be done. And there’s a way to do it without annoying the customers. The answer is Weber’s law.

    The law states “Simple differential sensitivity is inversely proportional to the size of the components of the difference; relative differential sensitivity remains the same regardless of size.” What it means for us is that if the change is really small or insignificant, no one will notice it.

    If you need to redesign, make the transformation gradual. Change one thing at a time, subtly. This will help to minimize the negative feedback and make it easier for users to accept the new version of the product.



    Every designer knows how important color is. It can make users fall in love with the product from the first glance, or make them hate it forever, without actually using it.

    If your instincts and experience never fail to tell you what the perfect color scheme is, that’s great. But wouldn’t it be even greater to have some science and research to back it up?

    Actually, there’s a whole branch of psychology that deals with how colors affect people. Besides the typical color associations (red is seen as strong and aggressive, blue is identified as calm), color psychology studies how colors can influence our choices, alternate our perception of taste, or even make placebo work more effectively. Hard to believe, but colors can even enhance sports performance!

    People respond to color differently, depending on age, gender and culture. Men and women, for example, like and dislike different colors. Children prefer brighter colors than adults.

    So, do your research, know the audience you design for. For instance, if you’re creating a website for millennials it’s better to focus on bold, energetic colors. Rentberry, for example, makes the most of it. The website’s colors appeal to the young generation’s feelings of optimism and momentum.


    Visceral Reactions

    Have you ever felt butterflies in your stomach? Or, maybe, an emotionally unpleasant situation made you physically sick? Then, you are familiar with visceral reactions.

    Though we have a habit of seeing ourselves as absolutely self-aware and in-control beings, science proves otherwise. Our brain consists of two parts that are called “old brain” and “new brain”. And it’s the old brain that makes us physically react to visual stimuli.

    The old part of our brain is responsible for the most primal instincts and reacts much faster than the new one. It used to keep our ancestors alive and safe. It is triggered when food, danger, shelter, and reproduction are involved.

    Therefore, this reaction is subconscious and, as long as it is rooted deeply in our DNA, it’s predictable. It doesn’t matter what’s your race, ethnicity or age, we all have the same survival instincts. People all over the world associate blue with water and juicy colors with fruit.

    Knowing this, use the signals that can trigger the basic instincts. Use colors and pictures that can be associated with food, water, safety and so on. Trust your feelings, you’re a human too after all.


    Selective Disregard Phenomenon

    You might feel like everything that you see comes to your attention. But is it so? Every day you are surrounded by millions of stimuli. If you paid attention to all of them you would probably go mad in minutes.

    Your brain is actually very good at keeping you sane and ignoring things. It’s like an ad blocker installed right in your mind. This phenomenon is called selective disregard.

    It might sound like you miss out on some information because of this special feature of your mind. But, in fact, it helps you focus on the important things and overlook the meaningless information noise. Think about all those annoying banners on a website that you like, you probably don’t read each of them every time.

    How is it relevant to design? Let’s imagine, you use the same color scheme for a background of a website and for the key elements of it. The user’s brain will just tune out the most important components.

    Let the important information be noticed. Use something that will make the main elements stand out: a contrast color, a different shape. Make sure all elements are clearly labeled so they don’t stay neglected by the users.


    Dual-Coding Theory

    We all know that visual aspect is the moving force of marketing. And it makes total sense if you think about it. You probably already intuitively know that people process visual information much faster than text (to be precise, 60,000 times faster).

    Surely, it is a powerful source to draw attention and make customers like your product. But there’s a way to make it even more powerful. Combining both visual and verbal signals makes our brain process the information in a flash.

    Try to recall your own experience with information presented in a visual and verbal way at the same time. It definitely helped with understanding, didn’t it?

    Making words and images work together allows users to grasp ideas faster and easier. It also helps to deepen the understanding of concepts. If you decide to illustrate an idea, don’t ditch the verbal representation of it.


    What’s Next?

    To sum it all up, don’t ever forget that design is made for people. The deeper you understand your fellow humans, the more appealing and effective your design is. You don’t have to bury yourself in books and become an expert, but being familiar with key concepts can be very useful.

    Think about the ideas mentioned in this post, do your own research and try to find a practical application that will make your design a masterpiece.

    About the author: Shirley Lowe is an aspiring blogger and professional real estate marketer from Burbank, CA. She’s passionate about the innovative design and promotion approaches. Shirley blogs for Landlord’s Tips, and was featured on REAL Trends and RankWatch.

    Image credit: Pixabay

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    Ecbert Malcom
    Ecbert Malcom
    I am a resident author at Broodle.
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