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UX: What Can Psychology Do for You?

Color palette signifying the psychology of color in UX design

Design is not synonymous with UX. UX, user experience, means generating elegant interfaces that promote a user-friendly experience. Design, however, incorporates function and visual appearance. Integrating the two requires an understanding of the mind and behavior; psychology.


Understanding how an individual, targeted demographic, responds to design is critical. Gestalt Psychology analyzes visual perception, or how the mind interprets stimuli. Gestaltism can be categorized into six components:

  1. Proximity How can objects be grouped together? 
  2. Similarity Do objects work together to achieve a goal?
  3. Figure-Ground Is there visual tension or contrast between an object (figure) and the background (ground)?
  4. Symmetry Are objects balanced?
  5. Common Fate Do design elements “move” in relation to another, that is, flow together?
  6. Closure Do designs or objects appear completely enclosed?

Generating an intuitive interface with limited visual or physical barriers can alleviate cognitive barriers. Cognitive barriers, or elements misinterpreted by a user, impede success. Users interpret content with bias, bias addressed by Gestaltism. We have limitations. Maintaining attention, utilizing pattern recognition and capacity to learn or remember information, is challenging. It is valuable to consider:

Simplify Tasks

Do not make an experience excessive or unnecessary. This could mean providing examples, utilizing less text or incorporating shortcuts for navigation.


We’re human! Predicting human error can prevent frustrating encounters, and likewise, promote good experience. 


Group together, or “chunk” your information. Chunking information generates mental associations, helping users remember information. 


Give your community a voice! Promote sociability, feedback and ideas.


Consider: B= f(PE)

That is Lewin’s Equation It states: behavior (B) is a function of a person (P) and their environment (E). We cannot change a person, but we can design an environment that elicits a behavior. That environment, design, can be inspired by the study of human behavior. Behaviorism, an approach to studying behavior, utilizes stimuli to generate desired responses. These responses can be reinforced by conditioning behavior, and are motivated by a user’s means to an end. Considering the user’s end, or goal, is critical for desired results. How can behavior be modified to optimize targeted user needs?

  1. Model User Performance Undergo testing procedures to distinguish what works.
  2. Improve Recognition Do not force an individual to recall information, but rather, expose important information easily and recognizably.
  3. Generate a Persona Understand your user. User research, like expert analysis, market knowledge or interviews can strengthen perspectives.
  4. Make Goals Attainable Do not force users through confusing information architecture, or excessive clicks to reach desired locations.


Cross-cultural design accommodates for international perspectives or cultural preferences. Cultural analysis analyzes biases or barriers to product quality. Utilizing an anthropological lens to consider cultural interpretations or values will strengthen user experience.


Addressing design and user experience with a psychological background encourages durable, efficient interface. Generating a usable, likeable environment utilizing the aforementioned concepts can instruct the success of a design.

Amy VanderZanden