How to Apply User Psychology to Web Design

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Designing your business’ website is not just about making it aesthetically pleasing and incorporating interesting, high-quality content. In reality, it is much more than that. In order to connect with your target consumers and achieve the desired outcome from them, you must dive into the psychology of how they think and how they act. 

As an often-overlooked discipline within user experience (UX), user psychology can dramatically increase website effectiveness and give a powerful competitive advantage to companies that learn its ins and outs. As it pertains to website design, user psychology is the study of how people interact with websites and how a site is engineered according to those findings. Forty-eight percent of respondents in a Blue Corona report said that a website’s design is the top factor in determining a business’ credibility, emphasizing the importance of user psychology

The industry has started to take notice of the impact user psychology has on website effectiveness; user psychology specialists are in high demand, with an expected job growth rate of 19% in the next ten years. These UX researchers are tasked with becoming user advocates through collecting information about user thoughts, behaviors and actions, distilling findings into insights, and sharing those insights with the rest of the organization. Researchers with prior backgrounds in psychology and similar human subject focuses often have experience mitigating bias through rigorous studies that conform to guidelines set by Institutional Review Boards (IRBs), ensuring that methods are both ethical and scientific.

Optimizing web design for user psychology starts with three basic principles — visual impact, choice engineering, and trust. 

Visual Impact

The first step is consistent and clear branding. Use your brand colors and typeface, and create a clean, well-ordered look. Content should be concise and placed for maximum readability, with the most important information at the top of the page and compelling subheadings and headlines that increase scrolling and keep your users’ attention further down the page.

People consume content quickly on websites, so economize on words and make thoughts easy to digest. Don’t overwhelm the visitor with too much information; provide mental, as well as visual, breathing room. 

Similarly, use thoughtful, relevant, and informational copy. Studies have shown that a generic button reading “Request Info” typically doesn’t resonate as well as content that is more specific, such as “Get a Quote.” Be meticulous. Every word counts.

Choice Engineering

The old adage that too many choices confuses rather than drives decision-making most definitely applies to websites.

Choices can give a site visitor the ability to personalize their experience, but only to a point. A study by researchers Sheena Iyengar and Mark Lepper explored the link between choice and motivation. In their study, visitors to a tasting booth at a grocery store were presented with six flavors of jam; a week later, the same booth was stocked with 24 flavors. The study found that passersby were 20% more likely to stop at the booth when more options were available; however, of those who had 24 choices, only 3% purchased jam. When only six options were available, 30% made a purchase.

While more choices can lead to less action, the rule isn’t so simple in practice. Before deciding on how many choices to provide, goals must first be examined. Is the goal to help people make quick choices or enjoyable choices? What are the objectives? Brand awareness? Brand credibility? More sales?

Sometimes people want to make a quick decision — but other times the decision-making process is part of the experience. Determine your true objectives, then pay attention to the choices offered and adjust as needed to produce the desired response.

Establishing trust

Trust is immensely difficult to regain, so take this principle seriously. Make sure all online practices are honest; don’t use dishonest or ambiguous copy, and don’t trick people into actions they don’t anticipate or intend.

How does one establish trust to begin with? In successful websites, every bit of content from button copy to promises of performance can establish trust. To engender trust, start small and work up. For example, if there is a statement at the bottom of an online form that promises a response within 24 hours, ensure that happens or the person will be less likely to provide other personal information in the future.

Trust is also built when visitors can find reliable ways to envision their own success when engaged with your brand. Blogs, white papers, user stories, and usage suggestions help the prospect foresee a successful outcome, especially at the decision phase of their journey. If social proof such as testimonials, statistics, and awards are posted on the website, attributing those proof points to reputable sources will also inspire confidence.

Psychology in Practice

The proper use of user psychology leads to the final point: applying principles effectively. Everyone in the marketing organization, from product managers and sales executives to graphic designers, UX developers, marketing analysts, and software developers, needs to be involved in optimizing the experiences we create for user behavior.

Excellence in web design happens at multiple levels, and aesthetics is just the start. Creating trust, employing smart page design, offering appropriate choices, and ensuring responsibility for implementation are all important. Together, they will create a website that keeps users engaged, strengthens customer relationships—and most of all, gets results.

Tony Vergara is Senior UX Architect at R2integrated.