Designing for the mind


Designing for the human mind

Designing for the human mind

By Katie Thomas

Designing for the human mind

Designing a website is much more than creating a digital work of art. It is a combination of creating something that provides a meaningful experience for the user, but also excites and delights them. I recently joined a Norfolk Network MIXER event, led by the super knowledgeable Katie Fisher (Senior UX Strategist at The User Story), which got me thinking, how can I use psychology to improve the websites I design?

User experience (UX) design is the art and science of creating digital interfaces that feel intuitive and satisfying to users. It is heavily influenced by psychology, as understanding the human mind allows us, as designers, to create more effective and engaging experiences. Below are some key psychological ideas that I use to engage with users and enhance the websites I design.

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People are not rational

Unlike a computer, humans do not always make decisions logically. Emotions, habits, and subconscious influences drive much of our behaviour. For example, when a user encounters a new website, their first impressions are often driven by visual appeal rather than a detailed evaluation of features. Designers must therefore create interfaces that resonate emotionally, providing a sense of trust and pleasure at a glance. Unfortunately, people naturally judge a book by its cover so the first screen they see must connect with them as it sets the tone for the rest of their website journey.

Decision making and bias

Cognitive bias happens when a person deviates from rationality when making a decision. They base their choice on their preconceptions, emotions, and other mental shortcuts rather than objective reasoning. These biases often lead to errors in thinking and can significantly impact behaviour and decision-making. For example, the anchoring bias can lead users to rely heavily on the first piece of information they see. If the price of a product is shown as discounted, users perceive it as a better deal, even if the discount isn't significant. As UX designers, we need to anticipate these biases, presenting information in ways that guide users to the information/choice we would like them to see/make. Confirmation bias sees users seeking out information that confirms their preconceptions. They are more likely to engage with information that aligns with their existing beliefs and ignore or dismiss information that contradicts them. This is why content is so important - it must be relevant and engaging to connect with the user. As designers, we must understand who our users are to create personalised experiences that align with their preferences and beliefs.

Less is more?

In a world overflowing with options, choice paralysis becomes a significant challenge in many areas of our lives. When faced with too many choices, we can feel overwhelmed and unable to make a decision. This is particularly relevant in e-commerce websites, where too many similar products can lead to users abandoning their carts. Simplifying choices and offering clear, curated recommendations can help avoid this paralysis. For example, Netflix’s recommendation algorithm narrows down viewing options based on user preferences, making the decision process easier and more enjoyable. This limited choice theory can be applied to all websites, not just those selling products. We can ensure that we direct the user around the site with clear calls to action and do not overwhelm them with too many options in one view.

People do not read on the internet

One of the most significant behaviours on the internet is that people do not read; they scan. Large blocks of text are often skipped, with users looking for keywords and visual cues to find the information they need. It is very important to provide a website design that is clean, visually organised, and easy to navigate. Utilising bullet points, subheadings, and concise paragraphs can help convey information effectively. Visual elements also play a big role here with the use of icons and images to break up text and make content more digestible. As designers, we need to make sure that content is presented logically and in bite-sized chunks. This is a fine balance to achieve as content is great for search engine optimisation, but the way we present it is key.


Make it human!

Understanding these psychological principles allows us, as designers, to create interfaces that are not only functional but also deeply human. Here are some tips to make website designs more human-centric:

Empathise with users: Spend time understanding users’ needs, pain points, and behaviours. Use this insight to design experiences that resonate emotionally and functionally.

Simplify choices: Reduce complexity by offering fewer, more curated options. Guide users towards decisions with clear, straightforward pathways.

Design for scanning: Structure content in a way that accommodates users' scanning habits. Highlight key information and use visual hierarchies to guide attention.

Personalise content: Use research to create personalised experiences that align with users' preferences and behaviours, enhancing relevance and engagement.

By understanding and designing for the irrational, biassed, and often overwhelmed human mind, designers can create digital experiences that feel intuitive, satisfying, and most importantly, human. Integrating these psychological principles into our design work is not just about making our websites usable; it’s about making them genuinely delightful.