How Understanding Humans Can Improve Your Designs

While you might think that a great website or application comes down to great design, have you thought about what that means? While you might think it’s about the features and functionality, it actually has a lot more to do with how you communicate. A great design will be well-researched and will help users easily accomplish their goals. It is intuitive and shows a deep understanding of the user and, indeed, human psychology. 

How is Human Psychology Related to Design?

Design is all about understanding people and, ultimately, their problems. After all, the designs themselves aim to provide solutions to those problems. However, to understand people, it helps to have an understanding not just of your core users but of the human mind itself. To design something that will be intuitive, you need to understand why people act in a certain way, what motivates them, how their emotions will be affected and what their expectations are. 

Our brains are pretty complex. We are constantly training to make sense of everything we see and unconsciously work to organise visual information to give it meaning. We look to recognise patterns and create order from the seemingly chaotic. So, when it comes to design, trying to deliver information in a way that makes it easier for our brains to organise and understand what is in front of us is a big step in the right direction and can help us deliver more meaningful interactions. So, before learning to code, designers really need to learn how to decode the brain. 

Using Gestalt Principles in Design

While decoding the human brain may sound like a monumental task, fortunately, to be a great designer, you don’t need a degree in human psychology. However, there are some principles that can help you to make better-informed design decisions. 

Gestalt Principles are seven rules that help the brain create meaning through perception. And, helpfully, many of them can be used in the design of digital projects: 

  • Similarity – we can use this principle to group elements that have a similar meaning or function or to make certain elements stand out from the surroundings. Users will be able to identify items that don’t belong amongst a collection of similar items, which gives you an opportunity to grab their attention. 
  • Proximity – the closer things are, the more likely we are to think that they belong together. This is one of the reasons why white space is so important. By giving organised groups space, we give the brain less work and reduce cognitive load on the user. 
  • Familiarity – we are used to seeing patterns everywhere, and it is no different in websites and apps. By using accepted patterns, the positioning of menus and navigation, for example, users will feel more familiarity with your design and this will, again, reduce their cognitive load.
  • Symmetry – when elements are in a symmetrical arrangement, our brains tend to focus on the central point. By applying this principle to web design, we can use grid layouts to help users navigate more easily. 
  • Continuity – we tend to perceive elements in a constant form in a certain direction, even if there are objects in the way. In terms of a website or app, this relates to our tendency to scroll. We are used to scrolling or swiping to reveal more content, which means we don’t have to overload the first screen. 

By applying Gestalt Principles to your design, you can help users process visual information more easily. This means that they don’t have to work as hard, your design will be more intuitive and that they will have a better user experience as a result. 

Steps to Take in Your Next Design Project

By considering human psychology, including the Gestalt Principles, you will be much better placed to create a digital product that delights your users. When working on your next project, make sure you:

  • Understand user goals – whether making a purchase, gathering information or communicating with colleagues, applications enable people to get things done. If your users want to achieve something and your app helps them to achieve it as quickly as possible, you are on the right track. 
  • Put key information in a prime spot – we are all swamped with information every day, which means as a designer that you often have a limited time to get your message across. Eye-tracking studies have shown where people tend to look on websites. By understanding the way your users consume content and scan for information, you can make the key information stand out.  
  • Don’t overwhelm users – Hick’s law, which states that the more choices we have, the longer it will take to decide, can be applied to design by keeping things simple. While we think we want all the options in the world, if we’re given that it usually leads to confusion. By eliminating unnecessary steps we can keep the decision-making process simple.
  • Group related items – putting related things together enables users to quickly eliminate entire categories or sections that they don’t need. They can then select from a category which best describes their goal. 
  • Sequence information across screens – progressive disclosure allows people to do things one thing at a time. Let people know how many steps there are to complete a certain action and only enable them to do one at a time. 

Some websites are easier to browse, some apps you instantly love, some processes are easier than others, and it all comes down to human psychology. Design for humans, and you’ll have much more chance of delighting your users rather than confusing them. 

In summary, here is how you can apply human psychology to design to reduce cognitive load and improve user experience:

  • Understand user goals and help them to achieve them quickly.
  • Group similar elements to help users easily identify them.
  • Give organised groups space to make it clear that those elements belong together.
  • User standard patterns for menus and layouts, so your design feels familiar.
  • Use grid layouts to help focus attention on central areas of key information.
  • Keep things simple, so users don’t feel overwhelmed.
  • Sequence information across screens to simplify tasks.
Share on facebook
Share on twitter
Share on linkedin
Share on email
Share on whatsapp

About the author

Michael Ridland is the Co-CEO and Founder of Xam Consulting.

Design-led problem solving delivering digital solutions.

Learn more about us.

Good at what you do?

We’re looking for the right superstars to join our team and work on growing our clients’ businesses.