Leveraging principles of psychology for a better user experience.

Whether you’re changing the channel on a television, trying to find a phone number on a website, or exploring a new app on your smartphone, the difference between a pleasant and downright unpleasant experience hinges on user experience. By simple definition, user experience is the combination of messaging, interactivity, and design that together provide a purposeful experience. However, if we go beneath that surface-level definition, we find that human behavior and psychology are driving user experience. Great user experience persuades and influences on a subconscious level.

What are some ways to appeal to the subconscious mind to move a person seamlessly through the user experience? Here are few examples.


One of the most straightforward approaches is using symbols and colors to direct the user. Through years of conditioning, we’ve come to associate green with go and red with stop; a check mark is good while an X is bad; an image with a play button is a video; and a button shape makes us want to click or tap. The list is long, but using symbolism is key to willing the action you want users to take. For example, having a call to action as plain text will not yield the same result as a call to action that’s designed as a button.


We are a very emotional species, and we don’t turn those emotions off when we interact with a website or an app. Understanding the psychographic and behavioral makeup of your audience can help you make strategic image decisions, word choices, and content calls that engage your unique user at an emotional level.

Social proof.

We are more likely to find committing a particular action appropriate when we’ve already played witness to someone else doing that action, according to Robert Cialdini, author of Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion. We put a lot of stock in word of mouth, reviews, star ratings, and testimonials, and we tend to trust people like ourselves. For that reason, finding a way to integrate some level of social proof can persuade users to take the desired action.


Research shows we have a tendency to strongly rely on the first piece of information that’s presented to us when making a decision. This approach is also known as anchoring, which is a type of cognitive bias. We see this in a lot of retail settings, where we are shown the original price and then the sales price. We rely on the first piece of information as the true value and base for comparison with anything that comes next. With regard to user experience, you can anchor the initial value of something using particular statements and then follow it with statements demonstrating how much better something is than the perceived initial value.

Persuasive architecture.

The way you design and structure a website or a banner ad can assist in the art of persuasion. Below is one of my favorite examples: It shows that directing the gaze of the model in the advertisement (in this case, a baby) to look at the ad’s message is more effective in driving the user’s eyes to the message.

Eye tracking example

Source: https://blog.kissmetrics.com

User reading heat map when baby is not looking at the text.

User reading heat map when baby is looking at the text.
Eye tracking example

Persuasive architecture takes all the elements of an ad into consideration and finds a way for them to work together to guide the user through a specific journey.

In the end, a good user experience provides the path of least resistance for the user to take the action we want them to take. Applying a bit of psychology to persuade and assist users purposely down a path ensures they are engaged rather than frustrated, lost, and leaving. If you need help creating an amazing user experience, get in touch.

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