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Psychology in UX


Psychology in UX-design, to use or not to use?

Behind the scenes of customer’s research and analysis – behavioural and social psychology within UX – design

Every UX designing process needs to include a deep understanding of human psychology. Not only in UX, it is widely used it in UI, sales, marketing, designing products or services, customer support. Wherever we approach a human person we need to use psychology, to have good results, we should.

Understanding the importance of psychology is a solid foundation for every business activity and that is why its use needs to be emphasized. In order to perform any serious and effective UX design we need to determine and understand customers behaviours and perspective. It also needs to be explained that professional UX designing process consist of deep and complex research and analysis. The professional UX case study gives guidelines and explanations not only for proper UX prototyping but is the core source of information for sales and marketing, developers, product designers and after sales support. It is very often compared to a Business Plan document but from the UX point of view.

There are many experiments proving that using psychology can increase sales and profitability. It is a well-known fact. Mastering psychology for UX purposes gives skills to read, understand and persuade customers, to convince them and gain as much as possible in return keeping them satisfied at the same time.

„The top of the iceberg”

Since psychology plays important role in every UX process, I am about to share some of my favourite examples of its use below, just to show the top of the iceberg.

The rule of complexity and simplicity in design

The most obvious one, displaying many features and options when selling online will discourage most of the customers. Simplification of the process will, on the other hand, increase the number of purchases made. We get discouraged quickly, we are eager to look for easier ways to reach our destination. In this case, the customers will look for another online seller. Of course, this is not a rule that will be appropriate for all customers and for all products/companies. In many cases large number of options are necessary to attract the customers. A thorough analysis and profiling of the target customer will give us the answer whether it will be right to apply this rule in our case or not. This is very similar to the 80/20 rule where 80% users will use only 20% of features, also called as Pareto principle.

Pavlov’s dog – a conditioned response

One of the most spectacular and well known experiments. To make it simple, the dog was taught that hearing the particular sound it was identified with feeding, as a result of which the effect of salivation occurred automatically.

We can use this example to show the impact of learning and experience. Careful observation of the customer’s behavior will give us a clear and legible answer on how to adapt our offer to his needs. Usability testing or Crazy Egg are very often used tools here. It is necessary to answer the question whether the company is to adapt to the customer’s needs through observation or whether the customer should be taught behaviors desirable from the company’s point of view. Who should adapt to whom? This can be illustrated by the following examples.

  1. With the end of summer, most clothing stores withdraw summer collections and introduce winter clothing to their offer.

Here we are dealing with the observation of customer behavior and adapting the offer to his needs.

  1. Black Friday Sale – a term invented by trade and by the regularity of its use, customers have been taught that it is a very good time to shop. Opposite to the above. So the question is, Who is the dog?

Analyzing the UX survey data.

There is no UX design without gathering data. Interviews, online surveys, questionnaires etc. give us a wide option of the tools that can be used.  But even here understanding of psychology and implementing it increases the reliability of the results obtained.

Let’s start with the process of gathering survey answers. Robert Cialdini shows it in a perfect way. Asking random people on the street to take part in a survey is a hard work since most of them just don’t want to spend their time doing so. In other words the results are poor. But if we use psychology we might increase it dramatically. As experiment shows it is enough to ask one simple question before telling about the survey and most of responders will happily take part in it. “Do you consider yourself as a helpful person?” most will say “yes”. Our next question will be “Can you help me with the survey answering a couple of questions?”. This is how it works.

Do you like milk chocolate? People are biased.

Two responders were asked on a street survey if they like milk chocolate or not. One said “yes” and one said “no”. Simple question, simple survey but one can represent obvious results in many ways depending on what one wants to show. The one example showing the complexity of above is as follows – 50% of responders said “yes” and only one respondent said “no”.  There is no lie in it, but our brain reeds “50” as more than “one”.

White or black. Everybody lies, House MD.

Another example verifies finings and tells us our responders very often deliberately or not stray from the truth when giving the answers in a survey.  One of the most known experiments was conducted in 1980’ by one of the biggest hi-fi producers. The company was going to introduce a new model of a popular boom box radio. They were researching which color would be more popular among customers – white or black. To find so, they invited a group of responders into a room where two models were displayed, white and black. “Which color do you like best for the radio?” was the question. Most of the participants pointed to a white one. At the end, on the way out, the group of participants was told to take one of the radios piled up in the corridor as a gratitude, for free. Most of them took black one.

In many cases, when taking part in surveys and researches, people often do not tell the truth because they want their answers to indicate that they are better than they really are. In the case of choosing a radio color, a mechanism worked – “I don’t want to be like everyone else, I want to be original and I will choose white”

Above example shows how careful we need to be when performing UX research, both when gathering and analyzing data.

Background perception. Psychology in UX and UI

Two examples, first connected with ability to perform objective UX research.

The target was to achieve phone numbers from random women in a shopping mall by a man that was a complete stranger to them. In most cases he didn’t succeeded at all but surprisingly there was a place in the building where he had a lot of positive replies. That place was the Florists. And here comes psychology – human brain detects the surrounding, the background and influences our decisions. Flowers, roses, romance, charm, man asking for a phone number, why not?

The second example works really well with UI. Sofas online shop case. The experiment was to detect if the landing page background influences the site visitors and if so, how? First the background was blurred/Gaussian blur image of beautiful white, lazy clouds in the sky. After a month the background picture was replaced with the one representing coins. The results were as follows – in the clouds background version most visitors searched for comfortable and cozy sofas, these were the keywords used the most often. In the second, coins, case visitors were mostly interested in special price products, bargains, sale and value for money.

We all admire successful people, even if we do not admit it. CTA experiment

This time we are testing our customers trust. How? By giving them options to choose from, as usual. So, here we have a real estate agency landing page for house sellers with two CTA buttons. One is described as “contact with our sales team”. The second one has a slightly different text “contact Tom our best-selling agent”. Guess which one is almost never used? Right, the first one. Almost everyone wants to work with Tom, who gets the best prices when selling the house.

Analyzing customers behavior, UX design in the past

As the last example, I have chosen, is the shopping trolley invention. The trolley was invented in 1937 by supermarket owner Sylvan Goldman. Known as the ‘shopping cart’, it evolved from the wire hand-basket, when Goldman noticed that his customers stopped buying as their full baskets became too heavy to carry. It is one of the best examples of observing and analyzing the customer behavior on the journey, the tool we use in UX these days.


The fact you know how to use a hammer doesn’t make you a good carpenter.

As most of you know, professional UX designing process focuses on wide research and analysis. In order to gather and understand it, UX designer must be able to understand all the processes running in the company as well as represent human/customer approach. It combines knowledge covering psychology, finance, strategic planning, marketing, IT development and communication.

If you include such data in your case, you have a chance to perform a professional UX designing process. If you skip this part than you are left with nothing. The most common mistake for non-professionals is to describe final layouts without complete research as a UX case. Of course Figma or Adobe XD skills are essential in the process but only to represent, prototype and test findings from the research. In other words knowing Figma does not make you a UX designer. It only tells you know how to use a hammer.

Team work cooperation. The “must” skill of every professional UX designer

Working in an international environment is exciting since you have the chance to learn about different cultures but on the other hand you need to be aware of the differences between them. The following study is a very good example of it.

The experiment performed in global corporation – the Citi Bank

The researchers selected four societies for examination: the English originated – USA, UK, Australia, far Asia – China, Japan, Korea, Mediterranean culture – Spain, Italy, Greece and as the last one Germany and Scandinavia. They surveyed Citibank branches within each country and measured employees’ willingness to comply voluntarily with a request from a co-worker for assistance with a task. Although multiple key factors could come into play, the main reason employees felt obligated to comply differed in the four cultures. Each of these reasons incorporated a different fundamental principle of social influence.

Employees in the English group took a reciprocation-based approach to the decision to comply. They asked the question, “What has this person done for me recently?” and felt obligated to volunteer if they owed the requester a favour.

Asian employees responded primarily to authority, in the form of loyalties to those of high status within their small group. They asked, “Is this requester connected to someone in my unit, especially someone who is high ranking?” If the answer was yes, they felt required to yield.

Southern European Citibank personnel based the decision mostly on liking/friendship. They were willing to help on the basis of friendship norms that encourage faithfulness to one’s friends, regardless of position or status. They asked, “Is this requester connected to my friends?” If the answer was yes, they were especially likely to want to comply.

German and Scandinavian employees were most compelled by consistency, offering assistance in order to be consistent with the rules of the organization. They decided whether to comply by asking, “According to official regulations and categories, am I supposed to assist this requester?” If the answer was yes, they felt a strong obligation to grant the request.

In sum, although all human societies seem to play by the same set of influence rules, the weights assigned to the various rules can differ across cultures.

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