Web Design + Psychology = Satisfied Users?

Web Design + Psychology = Satisfied Users?

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This article has been contributed by Brad of FinderMind.com.

What’s one word people associate with web design? Some may say creativity. Creativity is often described as “making something that has value”. That’s one definition. Another one is “recognizing ideas and concepts and using them in solving a particular problem.”

Let’s just define ‘being creative’ as ‘producing something useful’. The next question would be: How do web designers know they are producing something useful? Many rely on intuition to tell them that. We know, however, that intuition can be deceiving. Not convinced? Maybe this list of cognitive biases will enlighten you. The truth is, we are not perfectly logical creatures. That’s why, I think, it’s useful to gain knowledge from multiple scientific disciplines and apply those principles to our professions. Web design is not an exception.

Web designers can learn a lot from some psychological principles and research on how the human mind works. This article will mention a few studies / theories and how to apply them in your overall design framework.

Do People Visit Websites to Achieve Particular Outcomes?

Ever heard of the term “market segmenting”? Marketers often use ‘focus groups’ or ‘segmenting by demographics’ in order to gain better insights into how to sell their products better. This approach is wrong, according to Clayton Christensen, who is a Harvard Business Professor and an author of several best-selling books on marketing and innovation.

A better way to understand what people want is to understand the tasks they are trying to get done. This theory is supported by research by James J. Gibson, one of the most important psychologists of the 20th Century. Gibson mentions a concept he calls “affordances”, asserting that people view the world in terms of outcomes. Let me explain.

Let’s say you want to buy a bike. Why are you doing that? Some old theories imply you might do that because of the color of the bike. Or maybe it is because of a wish you had in childhood wish of driving a bike. Gibson’s theory, however, offers a different answer: You don’t actually want to buy the bike, but hire the bike to get something done. You might “hire” the bike to get from one location to another. The job you’re trying to get done is to get faster to a desired location. You might even ‘hire’ the bike to fulfill an emotional task, maybe you didn’t have a bike in childhood and all your peers did and now you want to feel better by you too owning this vehicle.

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Take another example on the web, the people search industry. There are over 100.000 searches per month on terms like ‘people search’, ‘people search engines’ and so on. A while ago I got an idea about writing a free people search post (which contained 25 websites for finding people). The post later got over 160.000 views from StumbleUpon and other social networking sites!

I never thought this type of article  would be so appealing to the majority of the population. Who would be interested in a bunch of people search sites, anyway? I later discovered, however, that people actually HIRE those sites to find/reconnect with long-lost family members/friends and so on. They are not interested in the sites themselves, but in the tasks those sites accomplish.

Another good example mentioned often by Christensen is about milkshakes. It’s a bit long to explain here, so take a look at this video for an explanation from himself directly.

How Is This Relevant To You As a Web Designer?

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Guess what, people often come to websites for the same reason people are coming to buy something: They want to get something done. Maybe it’s to inform themselves about a particular company. Maybe it is to research about a product. It’s your job to find that out before you start designing. That’s the best way to make the site useful for the visitors.

You can find what visitors are trying to accomplish on the site with various usability tools like KISSMetrics, 4Q and so on. There are a huge number of web tools that can help discover what are people trying to do on a website.

Use the Psychology of Persuasion to Make People do Something

Dangling Carrot

So you’ve now learned what visitors are trying to do on the site. What’s the next thing to do? Make them more likely to do those things!

Research on this topic comes from psychologist Robert Cialdini and his best-selling book “Influence – Science and Practice” (highly recommended read).

He mentions several principles which can be used to influence people no matter where they live. Some of them include  “social proof” (a person is more likely to do a thing if he sees other people do the same thing) or “likeability” (we are more likely fulfill requests of someone we know and like.

How Is This Relevant To You As a Web Designer?

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These principles can be (and already are) used online. Social proof = testimonials. Likeability = making the site ‘likable’. Another principle is “reciprocity”, we are ‘wired’ to reciprocate to a favor.

Neuro Science Marketing

This is a very new branch of neuro science which can help marketers design better messages. However, it can also help you, the web designer, design better pages.

For example, there was a recent study on how “websites that suck” increase stress. Brain wave analysis results concluded that 50% more concentration was required for participants on confusing sites. What’s the lesson here? Design sites that accomplish outcomes and eliminate unnecessary and ‘fancy’ stuff (although your temptation might make you do otherwise).

Another research concluded that attractive women make men impatient. This resulted in men thinking more ‘short-term’ or in a mating frame of mind. What’s the lesson here? You don’t want to put pictures of beautiful women on products/services with a long-term reward like life insurance or a product for saving money. Putting beautiful women there can have the opposite effect.

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is how web designers can benefit from these new and exciting developments in psychology. What do you think? Feel free to leave your opinion in the comment section below.

Photo Credits: Shutterstock

27 thoughts on “Web Design + Psychology = Satisfied Users?”

  1. Interesting question Kara.
    Short answer – not much… not in terms of marketing advantage anyway. The psychology behind it is this…

    According to Wilson and Daly – men who viewed photos of women judged to be attractive showed a significant increase in their discount rate, i.e., they became more attracted by short-term rewards. The reverse test showed no significant change on the women.

    This is likely because “successful reproduction typically requires more prolonged parental investment by women, rather than short-term reward”

    Thanks for the excellent article though Jacob! =)
    Definitely helps put the means and the purpose of a website back into perspective. Something we often forget as designers.

  2. great article,the way you explained the topic of the article with examples is just making the point so simple and actually easy to agree.
    “A better way to understand what people want is to understand the tasks they are trying to get done.”
    this line is the essence of the article

  3. Thanks for posting this! I’m looking for a medium that can help us to get a good amount of promotion for my websites which in return gave me a business too through websites and I must say this has definitely helped me in this process.

  4. Good information, it’s nice to see someone talking about the psychology of web design as it is vital in my opinion!

  5. I learnt about user-centred and goal-oriented design 10 years ago. And my brain has always thought of design in terms of goals.

    I suppose I’m just very surprised that this is a revelation. Then again, I work as a User Interface Designer…
    Thanks for writing the article, it’s good to get some thinking going out there!

  6. I love the idea of “hiring.” It’s great way of thinking not only about designing your site, but writing for it as well. Interesting post, Jacob, given me some thing to think about.

  7. You are so right about stress levels going through the roof on badly designed sites. It can be the worst experience covered in expletives from start to bounce when you’re required to search for information on a site only to find it’s not there! The web is no longer just a place to stick bills and brochures, nowadays it needs to be functional and applicable that means providing what people are looking for or…next!
    Great article, thanks.

  8. It’s so true that there is a hi stress factor involved when viewing bad websites. I always, literally grind my teeth and twitch my eye a little when I see bad designs. I don’t do it on purpose, but I just can’t help it. Thanks for the article!

  9. I couldn’t agree more in the idea that people go to sites for a specific reason, whether to buy or find out something. It’s also true that badly designed sites, or even sites where it’s hard to find the information you are looking for, just increase frustration and stress. In this instance, the site usually fails in its goals and needs to be redesigned or ceases to exist.

    Working as a Web Designer for Creare Communications, this is something that I take into account throughout the entire design process. It’s key to ensure that you not only produce what the client requires, but a site that will be clear, useful and easy to navigate for the user.

    I do though, have trouble accepting the idea that people only want to buy something for a specific reason. Your initial example of people wanting to buy a bike, albeit not your own but a psychologists idea, is a prime example of over analysing a situation. Sometimes people just want a bike to have for the long term, whether it be to be able to use whenever it takes their fancy, be able to customise etc. It’s a very objective view to think that people only ever want something because they need to have it for a reason. There have been many occasions where I’ve wanted to buy something, but for no good reason at all, I just wanted it.

    Sure, perhaps you can then say it’s a subconscious need for it for acceptance or something along those lines, but like I said, sometimes psychologists go a little far with their analysis of situations and fail to see things on face value.

  10. Hmmm… So lets say after studying psychology, you study web designing? Would it be that chances are you would have a better imagination for your design? I know psychology is the study of other human being, so if you are one and you design a webpage, you could know what you should design so that people would love the web page.

  11. Good article Jacob!

    Understanding the problems, needs, and goals of your website visitors is vital to the success of your business online.

    As you’ve pointed out, the best way to approach modern web design is from the customers’ perspective. This means having a thorough understanding of the tasks people need to complete in order to reach (and effect) a buying decision.

    A good start for anyone starting out with these concepts would be Steve Krug’s “Don’t make me think” or Susan Weinschenk’s “Neuro Web Design”.

  12. I consider website as an online platform for marketing, thus information should be direct, clear, and concise. I really do not want to sweat-it-out trying to get details. So keep it simple!

  13. I think at the end of the day- content is king. Super flashy websites are nice, but as stated in this article, if it does not contain relevant information and help me accomplish my goal for being there quickly… I’m gone.

    Excellent article, good video as well. Thank you for sharing this information! I’d love to read more from you about call to action buttons and what factors drive a user make that leap to convert.

  14. This was a rather stimulating read! I’ve always wondered…but never quite made the connection between psychology and web design. This gives me a good launching point for further learning.

    Thank you so much!

  15. Interesting article. I’ve studied psychology, marketing, print design, product design, database construction. And finally web design. What i love about web design is incorporating all kinds of skills and knowledgedge into the finished design.

    Looking forward to more articles.

  16. Color impression can account for 70% of the acceptance or rejection of a product. I have seen an article a while ago saying that: impulse shoppers respond best for eksample to red-orange or black, shoppers who stick to budgets respond best to pink, teal, light blue and navy and traditional people respond to pastel colors – pink, rose, sky blue. This would be a quite good think to know before any packaging design.

    Ron @ webdesign oslo

  17. If designers don’t begin with “CUSTOMER POINT OF VIEW” firmly fixed as the subject of the site, they are missing the entire point of a website. It’s their site after all. We want them to use it, don’t we? Many designers treat sites like business cards and that’s where they fail miserably.

    Thank you for turning the corner, here. Much appreciation!

  18. We love reading articles which make us chuckle, “attractive women make men impatient” I think the post comments of “I wonder what attractive men do to women”? is a great answer lol. Just hate to think what would happen is someone is heavily stressed and looks at a por website! Ouch!

  19. Definitely a good angle on web design and the attitude of people. This is an interesting point of view which covers some strong arguments which could quite well easily be overlooked. I think I may have learned something here. Not hard to see why some designers are definitely doing it wrong. So many variables to take into account sometimes when reaching the right formula but most of the time it’s about balance. Good article. Thanks for sharing.

  20. A great angle of new aspects of website design and the possible attitude of people, very intertesting indeed, thanks again Jacob.

  21. good to see another article about the phychology of webwriting. There are an abundance of website I have stumbled upon that are glamourized magazine spreads when the content is so different

  22. Really nice article. But what is creative means in web and graphics design, we need to focus and if you can right article about to design site with creativity, that will be really great.

    Thanking You,

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