The Psychology Of UX

March 21, 2019 - Posted By: CreateApe

When I first started as an intern at CreateApe, I was new to the UX/UI space. While I was familiar with some components of it, but understanding wasn’t fully developed. Now in my academic and professional career, I interact with the psychology of User Experience and User Interface design non-stop in daily life. As Cristina (our Director of Communications) and I were browsing blog topics for the month, one of the things we found really interesting were the blog topics on UX Magazine.

Why These Categories?

UX Magazines featured topics are under the categories: Accessibility, Data Visualization, Emotion, Empathy, Personas, and Storytelling. UX designers are familiar with all these categories, but I found some of them surprising. Why are things like emotion and empathy critical when talking about design?

Understanding UX/UI has changed the way I look at communication. At UC Berkeley, I’m seeing so many things I haven’t seen before, especially when connecting UX/UI to consumer behavior and human emotions. Upon deeper exploration, I’ve concluded that UX design goes beyond just the aesthetics, it’s the psychology behind the design in our lives.

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Data Visualization:

At Berkeley, it’s incredible the amount of emphasis that is put on numbers. “Big data” and “data analytics” are buzzwords that float through classrooms. It seems as if everyone is in a number crunch race, but for what reason? Numbers tell a story. Number’s tell stories, sometimes even better than words.

For example, in UX/UI, we use heat mapping to let the user tell us a story. We utilize reports on what users have been clicking on the most, where their eyes first land when browsing a landing page and more. This data helps interpret a path the user takes through a series of clicks. From the amount of time someone stays on a landing page, to what part of the website they frequently visit- all aid in the quest of understanding our actions and why we act in certain ways. When we see a perfume ad, our first instinct may be to look at the people in the ads. Why is that? It all boils down to psychology and it’s the UX designer and marketers job to explore and understand why.

Qualitative vs. Quantitive

Data can tell us where the future is moving. Both qualitative and quantitative data gives us valuable information about consumers and how they approach design. Although there is an emphasis on numbers, qualitative data is just as important.

This Ted Talk by Tricia Wang reveals why human insights in data are so crucial. Nokia had been conducting surveys about smartphones in rural Asia and receiving the data back. While the data stated that the demographics of the area had no interest or need for smartphones, Wang’s ethnography findings found just the opposite. She had talked to and observed those in rural Asia and found, in fact, that there was an increasing desire for smartphones within the community. Nokia refuted the data simply because it wasn’t rooted in the numbers and has been trying to catch up in the smartphone industry since.

The UX/UI designer is in many ways an ethnographer. They have to observe a user base, understand how they use their current tools and design accordingly. Like a 5-year-old, they must ask many ‘why’ questions and never stop re-evaluating, why? Both qualitative and quantitative data are essential in allowing designers to bring a human insight approach to design. Quantitative data can tell us about a demographic but qualitative data can extensively show us how the user is interacting with designs (like user testing).

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Story Telling

There’s no doubt that storytelling is crucial in the way designs are presented. Storytelling is a form of communication that’s designed to connect with the user. We tell stories to connect with others. It’s the same with UX. We create pathways and stories through designs that are impactful and connect with users on a personal level.

Good design limits choice. In consumer behavior, we talk a lot about decision fatigue. If a user is overwhelmed by a decision in which they have too many choices, they end up making no decisions at all or make a rash or spontaneous decision. This is why storytelling is so crucial. Users don’t want to make decisions 100% of the time, and if they do they want them to be easy. In order to create an impactful story, we must use anticipatory design.

Anticipatory Design

Anticipatory design eliminates choices for the user. We think we want a lot of choices, but psychology has proven we actually don’t. This is evident just within the In n’ Out menu. Its simplicity and limited choice have allowed the brand to flourish. There is a freedom in limited choices, like having your credit card information already on file rather than choosing which one to use and re-input every time you shop. There’s a reason why designers like Steve Jobs and Mark Zuckerberg wore the same thing every day.

When we have choices omitted from us, it’s easier to follow a path or a story. That’s what UX aims to do for the user. Designing simple and impactful illustrations is what makes using products and browsing interfaces that much more enjoyable. Good UX is supposed to anticipate our next move before we do, and it works. Designing stories and a path for users to take utilizes anticipatory design.

Accessibility:

When scrolling through UX Mag’s website, their articles about accessibility focus on availability. It’s about designing for everyone. UX/UI isn’t just about design, it’s about breakthroughs. It’s about that ah-ha moment that makes life just that much easier. It’s no surprise that great designs can change the world, but they can only change it if they’re accessible. A great example of this is the Apple Watch. Their interface is designed for an athlete, stay at home mom, student, chef, or virtually anyone. It’s designed for the everyday user and pushed the boundaries of design. The creators of the Apple Watch anticipated wearable tech that now has opened many possibilities for design and made it accessible and friendly for each user.

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Emotion:

Emotion in design is impactful. We see, think, and feel emotions every day. We make choices and design our life based on emotions. The world around us has the ability to influence user experience and design. Going back to the Apple watch example, it was designed to be worn on the wrist because of it’s psychological placement on the body. The design was made with emotions in mind, our wrist being associated with being delicate, often intimate and right on the pulse. We can now send our heartbeat to a loved one via our Apple watch and our Spotify recommends playlists are based on our moods. Emotions shape design.

Amanda O’Grady, the Design Strategist at Intuit says, “True emotional connections come from experiences that feel magical and meaningful.”

Even the actual design of emoji was made for us to convey emotion. Each emoji is based on a feeling, an emotion that is designed based on movements in facial features. Dr. Ekman, ranked among the most influential psychologists of the 21st century, is world-renowned for his research on facial expressions, emotion, deception, and compassion. His research has aided to furthering emotions in design and worked on movies like Inside Out. This inherently shows that we gravitate towards designs that help us convey or relate to emotions. This trait is crucial in UX/UI as the first step of design is understanding the emotions behind it.

Empathy:

I thought it was amusing that UX Mag’s image used for this topic was a man changing one foot into a heeled shoe. We see empathy in design everywhere. In the design world, and the real world, there aren’t any empathy filters. Designers aren’t going to wake up one day and think to start designing with empathy. But empathy allows us to consider how people are thinking and feeling. Being empathetic in design is to put yourself in the user’s shoes.

Most designers designed something because they have empathized with themselves. For example, the person who invented the bike probably hated the fact they had to walk miles and miles every day. Empathizing with users allows designers to gain a genuine understanding of how to solve users problems and build better products. Designing with empathy is human design. It’s not an algorithm made from a device, that’s why UX/UI is so crucial, it’s personalized designed built from human nature.  

“No one cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”- Theodore Roosevelt
Personas:

A persona is a group of users who all exhibit similar types of behavior. This is the ideal customer or user, the one who is going to have the most impact. In consumer behavior, personas are often used in targeting a certain demographic and usually require some research. Personas allow for perspective. Like empathy, personas put you in the user’s shoes and allow the designer to ask the crucial questions on how the user will perform while using their products. Understanding who you’re designing for is the first step to any design success.

Personas help teams find the answer of who they are designing for. Not only is this helpful for segmentation, but it’s helpful in understanding empathy. Creating personas makes designers understand that users have varying needs and expectations. A persona puts into perspective how a person interacts with a product, their patterns, and puts behaviors into context.

Psychology of UX: 

At the root of UX/UI is a question of why. UX is supposed to provoke questions. It’s supposed to ask why humans do things, why we do them the way we do. These blog categories encapsulate the core of UX design. UX is about combining data, regular human emotions, using empathy and accessibility to connect that to impactful storytelling. As a design field based on human nature, it has deep roots in psychology.

Additionally, there is a historical aspect to this type of design. It’s an example of who we are as a society at any given time and a peek into how we live our lives. Historically, you can look at UX/UI designs and know what society was like at any given time because designers were building for that society.

What’s ultimately successful in UX Mag’s blog titles is their ability to provoke questions. The purpose of UX design is to ask the questions. Why do we do this? Why is it purposeful? Could we function without it? The average person wouldn’t know what UX/UI design even was, so why is it so important?  UX marries both design and psychology, and in the end develops as a sort of sociological report on who we are, what we believe in and what we want. That’s why it’s important.