Psychology, the study of the human mind, is a very complex subject that even the scientists struggle with. In fact, scientists and researchers are still trying to figure out why we have dreams when we sleep.
However, thanks to many studies, years of research, and the dedication of brilliant minds like Sigmund Freud, we now have a general understanding of how the human mind works.
As it turns out, our minds are pre-programmed to respond and react to certain things in certain ways. There are also specific patterns of how our mind reacts and the way we think. In psychology, these patterns are called “schemas”. Researchers have also found strategies that could influence these patterns to control our reactions.
Everyone from magicians to big brand corporations and the mass media have been using and taking advantage of these strategies for generations. To influence our behavior and sell products.
In this guide, we look at how you can apply the same psychological strategies they use for the good of others. And make better and more effective designs.
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What is Design Psychology?
The psychology of design can be defined in many different ways. Mainly, it’s the study of understanding the effects of design on the human mind and behavior. And the use of the patterns of our mind to create effective experiences.
Have you ever stopped to wonder why we associate the color green with nature? Or why coins are designed with rounded shapes? Or why “for sale” signs and “stop” signs are both designed with the color red?
If you take a closer look at the designs all around you, you’ll start to notice certain patterns. And they are all connected to schemas. We’ll try to explain a few of them in this guide.
How It Makes Your Designs More Effective
In 2008, a group of researchers conducted a study to test how the mind can be influenced by brand exposure. In a nutshell, the researchers showed two brand logos for two groups of people.
The logo of Apple was shown to the first group. A company well-known for its innovative products and its “think different” attitude. And the logo of IBM, a company well-known for technical products, was shown to the other group.
After showing these logos, the researchers asked the participants to complete a task. The group who were shown the Apple logo showed higher creativity in their results than the group who saw the IBM logo.
A short glimpse of a brand logo was enough to influence the minds of these people to perform and act in a certain way. But, can we apply this same strategy in our designs?
Well, you’ll see a real-life example of this strategy in action on the Asana website and on many others. On the top half of the Asana website, there are logos of the biggest brands that use the app. It helps establish trustworthiness and authority.
In psychology, this is known as priming the mind. And that’s the first strategy we’re going to talk about.
1. Prime the User’s Mind
A great example of priming can be seen in the movie Focus (2015). The main protagonist, played by Will Smith, uses priming to win bets and gamble. Will it work in real-life?
Magicians use this all the time to trick the audience. And even the TV industry has been using this same strategy for decades. You’re watching a TV show and there’s a scene of a car crashing into a truck or someone gets shot. And then immediately cuts into a commercial break. The first commercial you see is for car insurance or life insurance. Coincidence?
Priming is mainly about programming the mind with visual cues and then to influence action. For example, if you want a user to buy a product, you can start by priming the user’s mind by showing the benefits of the product, testimonials from existing users, product reviews, etc.
Lush website does this really well by using a product page design that starts with visual cues and gradually takes the user through customer reviews and by showing product ingredients with high-quality images.
2. Evoke Emotions With Color Psychology
Of all the strategies in design psychology, color has the most effect on the human mind. Especially when it comes to driving actions and evoking emotions.
In a case study done by Moz, the company tested different colors for a website “sign up” button. They tried changing the color from default green to the color yellow. And saw a 175% boost in conversion rates.
This is mainly a result of how we associate certain emotions and behavior with color. For example, the color red is commonly associated with danger and caution. Whenever we see this color, our attention goes directly towards it.
Brands use the psychology of color in very creative ways. It’s noticeably used in logo design.
3. Use Shape Psychology to Create Comfortable Designs
Geometric, organic, and abstract shapes also take a major role in design psychology. In general, shape psychology help improve the functionality of designs and make them user-friendly.
Take the design of the online video player interfaces, for example. When we see that little triangle shape, we know it feres to the action “play” the video and we know the square is to “stop” playback.
There’s a reason why these shapes are used everywhere from the YouTube player to even on remote controls to refer to the same actions. It’s to make designs familiar and easy to understand. Or, in other words, make designs more comfortable and relatable.
In modern designs, the use of icons and symbols took this strategy to the next level. With icons, it’s easier to describe actions and concepts. As a result, they are quite effective in almost all types of designs.
4. Limit Distraction With Minimalism
In the digital age we live in, information overload is something that we all struggle with. You are constantly bombarded with so many ads, products, news articles, blog posts, and videos everywhere. There’s just not enough time to consume them all.
Most of the time, we just want to get to the point without having to read dozens of paragraphs. This is why minimalism has been quite effective in design. By removing all the unnecessary distractions from the design, you’re able to give the spotlight to what matters the most.
The greatest example of minimalist design can be seen on the Apple website. Apple sells so many different products yet the website homepage has nothing but a few fullscreen images and a few lines of text with links.
5. Encourage Interactions With Visual Cues
The text or the copy you use in a design can greatly help influence the end-users to take action. But, can we use visual cues to encourage users to take action as well?
The marketing team for the popular superhero movie, Deadpool put this strategy to the test. They designed a billboard to promote the movie using a few emojis to describe the title.
The same strategy can be used to drive actions as well. It’s quite common in the onboarding process of digital products like mobile apps and web apps. It can be something as simple as a progress bar or illustrations showing the steps to follow.
6. Establish Trust Through Your Designs
Medalia Art, an online art store once conducted a test on its website. They replaced the pictures of paintings on the website with photos of the artists to see how well it would perform. This simple change resulted in a 95% increase in conversions.
Adding a photo of a person to a website is one of the most effective ways to establish trust. And make brands and companies look more human.
It’s no coincidence that you keep seeing smiling faces in every business and startup website your visit. There’s a psychology behind this as well and it’s an effective way to boost engagement.
The biggest brands make the most of this schema. Next time when you’re about to insert an image of a product into your design, try replacing it with the photo of a human being.
7. Leverage Automated Habits & Behavior
Years of browsing websites, using apps, and software have already left a strong imprint on your brain that now you do most of the basic online tasks in automation.
Whenever you visit a website, you now immediately know what to expect. You scroll down to the “features” section to learn about the product. Go to the pricing page to learn about pricing plans.
You also know where to find the call to actions like the register and login buttons as well. And automatically scroll all the way down on the website to find additional links to other pages.
To craft designs that encourage these automated habits, you’ll have to make your layouts consistent and follow proper design principles. Get creative but stick to standards. The key is to make the main elements of your designs similar to other designs.
There’s a reason why it took so long for designers and developers to adopt the new hamburger menu style for desktop websites. It broke so many standard design rules and it affected the effectiveness of website design in many ways.
8. Pick the Right Fonts for Effective Communication
The psychology behind font design has an interesting effect on human behavior as well.
For example, a serif font is well-known to be associated with traditional designs. But they also represent trustworthiness, formality, and respect as well. It’s why reputable brands like Time, Yale, and Rolex have been using the font for its logo and branding designs.
On the other hand, brands like Airbnb, Google, and Microsoft stick to sans-serif fonts to convey their casual and consumer-friendly products.
With the right font combination, you can convey your messages clearly and more effectively. Not just in logo design, but in all types of print and digital designs.
Every designer should have at least a basic understanding of psychology and how it plays a role in design. With the right knowledge and practice, you’ll be able to craft designs that perform way beyond expectations.
These were only a few strategies and examples of design psychology. If you want to be further convinced, get started by reading Methods of Persuasion by Nick Kolenda, Hooked by Nir Eyal, and Emotional Design by Don Norman.