Using Psychology to Become a Better Web Designer

Using Psychology to Become a Better Web Designer

We’re all human and yet, despite all of our knowledge about the world around us, the one thing we just can’t seem understand are other humans. What is she thinking? How come when I said that he reacted in that why? Why do those kids like my competitor’s product more than mine?

Human behavior is influenced by a large number of factors, from the presence of others to the color of shirt they’re wearing that day. One thing that will make you a better web designer is understanding what makes people tick — or click. Within academic research little is known about what makes some websites more effective than others; we mostly work off of anecdotal evidence. What’s important is learning what theories you can apply to your work, and I’m going to show you how based on the research that’s already out there.

Color Psychology

In research published in a peer-reviewed journal, Satyendra Singh demonstrated that it takes just 90 seconds for a buyer to form an opinion about a product and 62-90% of that opinion is based on the color.

Graeme Winchester, designer at Soap Agency, emphasizes the importance of color psychology in his designs. “Color schemes can influence moods and feelings, and are critical to website design (and brand) success. It’s the key to keeping the right type of customer on your site. We go through this research with every website to ensure that it performs as well as it possibly can.”

Psychology of Color

  • Blue is better
    Blue makes people feel calm and secure, and both men and women choose blue as their favorite color. Avoid blue when marketing food products — the color has been shown to decrease appetite . People tend to eat more in the presence of red.
  • Go easy on yellow
    Yellow seems to represent happiness and a lot of brands use the color to show that they are fun and approachable. The color stimulates the brain’s excitement center but that can mean different things for different people. For some, it will be a euphoric, heightened sense of emotion; for others, that heightened emotion will manifest itself as anxiety.
  • Green with creativity
    Green will forever be associated with the outdoors and organic products, but a psychological study showed that green can also boost creativity.
  • Black is back
    While debatably not a color, incorporating black into a color scheme shows elegance, power, and luxury. It’s sleek and clean, and people associate it with high-end, timeless classic products.

Getting Customers to do What You Want

Persuasion is power, and getting buyers to do what you want is of the utmost importance. The theories:

  • Interactivity
    In a new study researchers showed that a website is more effective when there are multiple types of media. They found that media richness increased the likelihood that college students would visit their local fitness center; meanwhile the more interactive the website was, the more likely the center would be recommended.The takeaway? If you’re optimizing for the share, make your website interactive—get users used to clicking around. If you want customers to buy, offer more than one type of media: videos, photos, and so on.
  • Decision Fatigue
    Psychology research has found that when people are given too many options, they choose to do nothing. If your website is too busy you’ll see a high bounce rate. Decrease options, calls-to-action, and clutter to improve website conversion rates.
  • Text Layout
    Research shows that people prefer to read shorter lines even though long line lengths makes reading easier. To incorporate this into your web design start with a short column that leads to a normal width line to help them read faster.Jennifer Cooper, President of marketing research company BuyerSynthesis, suggests adding a right-aligned image to shorten the line length. “With short attention spans, a picture is truly worth a thousand words. A picture that communicates positive, brand-specific attributes will encourage people and keep them on the site longer,” Cooper says.

    “Once they are motivated to understand something, though, they will read quite a bit of content so make sure it’s available should they want it.”

  • Gaze Cueing
    Want someone to look at something? Include arrows pointing at it or a photo of someone looking at it. Humans are social creatures and this research demonstrated that we automatically react to the gaze others by looking at where they are focusing. It can’t be helped, so be sure that when you use a photo of a human face it’s looking at something important.
  • Priming
    You can influence people’s short-term thoughts and actions by introducing relevant cues, a process called priming. For example, products that are orange are more likely to be chosen near Halloween because the decorations around that time make the color more mentally salient.In this experiment, researchers used website background images to prime participants into thinking that products were of more value and of higher quality than they truly were. For your websites, consider how small details can influence your users.
  • Gestalt psychology
    Gestalt research studies how we process large amounts of information into one cohesive whole. A website design is never perceived by its pieces: the header, the menu, content, and so on. Users look at the whole page. Start with wireframes — the big picture and overall structure — and from there the individual components will fall into the place.
  • Foot-in-the-door phenomenon
    This theory has shown time and time again to be effective in getting people to oblige. It involves asking for a small favour to increase chances of being successful later. Get customers saying yes from the beginning, with a ‘Click Here’ or ‘Read This’.“People are increasingly commitment-phobic and prefer to get comfortable with the information and value from a brand before giving away information,” Cooper explains based on her research. If you get customers on the yes train, you will be more successful upon bigger asks.

    “When they do commit they want to start slow so give them a way into your services that can be ramped up later.”

Working with Clients

Explain Why
The most powerful thing you can do to get clients on your side is to explain why you have taken that action or why you want a certain thing from them. Humans are always looking for answers and explanations. We want to attribute meaning to everything

In the famous Xerox experiment, researcher Ellen Langer found that people will do more for you if them a reason—even if it’s completely meaningless. People waiting to use a photocopier were 34% more likely to let someone go ahead of them, even when the reason was as arbitrary as “because I have to make some copies.”

Finding and Interpreting this Research

You don’t need a psychology degree to incorporate this research into your website designs. All it takes is a little ingenuity and paying attention to the right information. Here are a few tips to help you find research you can use to become a better web designer:

  • Google Scholar is your friend. This is the best place to look up research. Once you have a design in mind just start searching your question: “What do women think of the color pink?” or “How does typeface influence perception?”
  • Always read the original research. If you see a “new study” article be sure to head to the source — articles tend to overstate the importance of certain conclusions.
  • Don’t read the whole paper. Unless you have a background in the research, most of the information in an academic paper will be meaningless. Focus on the method (so you know who the demographic is and how big the sample size was), discussion (where you’ll find interesting implications and limitations on the research), and the conclusion (to find out what they have determined from the research).
  • Consider the sample size and who was in it. Did they sample a bunch of college students? If so, the results may not be targeted to your demographic. If the research only consisted of 20 people, can it really be applied to the general population? Think critically about what you read.
  • Be aware of cultural differences. Have a look at where the research was produced. Some things, such as emotions, are universal. However, as evidenced in this research, interpretations can be different cross-culturally. Try to look for research that applies to who you are designing for.


From the above information and suggestions, it is clear that psychology can be used to play a big part in effective website design for the particular niche, trade, service or business in question. Do you knowingly use psychology in your designs? Does an article such as this one show you that you unknowingly use psychology in your projects? Please share your opinions with us in the section below.


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