Experimental Design: Types, Examples & Methods

Saul Mcleod, PhD

Educator, Researcher

BSc (Hons) Psychology, MRes, PhD, University of Manchester

Saul Mcleod, Ph.D., is a qualified psychology teacher with over 18 years experience of working in further and higher education. He has been published in peer-reviewed journals, including the Journal of Clinical Psychology.

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Olivia Guy-Evans, MSc

Associate Editor for Simply Psychology

BSc (Hons) Psychology, MSc Psychology of Education

Olivia Guy-Evans is a writer and associate editor for Simply Psychology. She has previously worked in healthcare and educational sectors.

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Experimental design refers to how participants are allocated to different groups in an experiment. Types of design include repeated measures, independent groups, and matched pairs designs.

Probably the commonest way to design an experiment in psychology is to divide the participants into two groups, the experimental group , and the control group, and then introduce a change to the experimental group, not the control group.

The researcher must decide how he/she will allocate their sample to the different experimental groups.  For example, if there are 10 participants, will all 10 participants participate in both groups (e.g., repeated measures), or will the participants be split in half and take part in only one group each?

Three types of experimental designs are commonly used:

1. Independent Measures

Independent measures design, also known as between-groups , is an experimental design where different participants are used in each condition of the independent variable.  This means that each condition of the experiment includes a different group of participants.

This should be done by random allocation, ensuring that each participant has an equal chance of being assigned to one group.

Independent measures involve using two separate groups of participants, one in each condition. For example:

Independent Measures Design 2

  • Con : More people are needed than with the repeated measures design (i.e., more time-consuming).
  • Pro : Avoids order effects (such as practice or fatigue) as people participate in one condition only.  If a person is involved in several conditions, they may become bored, tired, and fed up by the time they come to the second condition or become wise to the requirements of the experiment!
  • Con : Differences between participants in the groups may affect results, for example, variations in age, gender, or social background.  These differences are known as participant variables (i.e., a type of extraneous variable ).
  • Control : After the participants have been recruited, they should be randomly assigned to their groups. This should ensure the groups are similar, on average (reducing participant variables).

2. Repeated Measures Design

Repeated Measures design is an experimental design where the same participants participate in each independent variable condition.  This means that each experiment condition includes the same group of participants.

Repeated Measures design is also known as within-groups or within-subjects design .

  • Pro : As the same participants are used in each condition, participant variables (i.e., individual differences) are reduced.
  • Con : There may be order effects. Order effects refer to the order of the conditions affecting the participants’ behavior.  Performance in the second condition may be better because the participants know what to do (i.e., practice effect).  Or their performance might be worse in the second condition because they are tired (i.e., fatigue effect). This limitation can be controlled using counterbalancing.
  • Pro : Fewer people are needed as they participate in all conditions (i.e., saves time).
  • Control : To combat order effects, the researcher counter-balances the order of the conditions for the participants.  Alternating the order in which participants perform in different conditions of an experiment.


Suppose we used a repeated measures design in which all of the participants first learned words in “loud noise” and then learned them in “no noise.”

We expect the participants to learn better in “no noise” because of order effects, such as practice. However, a researcher can control for order effects using counterbalancing.

The sample would split into two groups experimental (A) and control (B).  For example, group 1 does ‘A’ then ‘B,’ and group 2 does ‘B’ then ‘A.’ This is to eliminate order effects.

Although order effects occur for each participant, they balance each other out in the results because they occur equally in both groups.

counter balancing

3. Matched Pairs Design

A matched pairs design is an experimental design where pairs of participants are matched in terms of key variables, such as age or socioeconomic status. One member of each pair is then placed into the experimental group and the other member into the control group .

One member of each matched pair must be randomly assigned to the experimental group and the other to the control group.

matched pairs design

  • Con : If one participant drops out, you lose 2 PPs’ data.
  • Pro : Reduces participant variables because the researcher has tried to pair up the participants so that each condition has people with similar abilities and characteristics.
  • Con : Very time-consuming trying to find closely matched pairs.
  • Pro : It avoids order effects, so counterbalancing is not necessary.
  • Con : Impossible to match people exactly unless they are identical twins!
  • Control : Members of each pair should be randomly assigned to conditions. However, this does not solve all these problems.

Experimental design refers to how participants are allocated to an experiment’s different conditions (or IV levels). There are three types:

1. Independent measures / between-groups : Different participants are used in each condition of the independent variable.

2. Repeated measures /within groups : The same participants take part in each condition of the independent variable.

3. Matched pairs : Each condition uses different participants, but they are matched in terms of important characteristics, e.g., gender, age, intelligence, etc.

Learning Check

Read about each of the experiments below. For each experiment, identify (1) which experimental design was used; and (2) why the researcher might have used that design.

1 . To compare the effectiveness of two different types of therapy for depression, depressed patients were assigned to receive either cognitive therapy or behavior therapy for a 12-week period.

The researchers attempted to ensure that the patients in the two groups had similar severity of depressed symptoms by administering a standardized test of depression to each participant, then pairing them according to the severity of their symptoms.

2 . To assess the difference in reading comprehension between 7 and 9-year-olds, a researcher recruited each group from a local primary school. They were given the same passage of text to read and then asked a series of questions to assess their understanding.

3 . To assess the effectiveness of two different ways of teaching reading, a group of 5-year-olds was recruited from a primary school. Their level of reading ability was assessed, and then they were taught using scheme one for 20 weeks.

At the end of this period, their reading was reassessed, and a reading improvement score was calculated. They were then taught using scheme two for a further 20 weeks, and another reading improvement score for this period was calculated. The reading improvement scores for each child were then compared.

4 . To assess the effect of the organization on recall, a researcher randomly assigned student volunteers to two conditions.

Condition one attempted to recall a list of words that were organized into meaningful categories; condition two attempted to recall the same words, randomly grouped on the page.

Experiment Terminology

Ecological validity.

The degree to which an investigation represents real-life experiences.

Experimenter effects

These are the ways that the experimenter can accidentally influence the participant through their appearance or behavior.

Demand characteristics

The clues in an experiment lead the participants to think they know what the researcher is looking for (e.g., the experimenter’s body language).

Independent variable (IV)

The variable the experimenter manipulates (i.e., changes) is assumed to have a direct effect on the dependent variable.

Dependent variable (DV)

Variable the experimenter measures. This is the outcome (i.e., the result) of a study.

Extraneous variables (EV)

All variables which are not independent variables but could affect the results (DV) of the experiment. Extraneous variables should be controlled where possible.

Confounding variables

Variable(s) that have affected the results (DV), apart from the IV. A confounding variable could be an extraneous variable that has not been controlled.

Random Allocation

Randomly allocating participants to independent variable conditions means that all participants should have an equal chance of taking part in each condition.

The principle of random allocation is to avoid bias in how the experiment is carried out and limit the effects of participant variables.

Order effects

Changes in participants’ performance due to their repeating the same or similar test more than once. Examples of order effects include:

(i) practice effect: an improvement in performance on a task due to repetition, for example, because of familiarity with the task;

(ii) fatigue effect: a decrease in performance of a task due to repetition, for example, because of boredom or tiredness.

psychology task design

Book cover

Task Design In Mathematics Education pp 19–81 Cite as

Frameworks and Principles for Task Design

  • Carolyn Kieran 6 ,
  • Michiel Doorman 7 &
  • Minoru Ohtani 8  

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Part of the New ICMI Study Series book series (NISS)

  • The original version of this book was revised. For details on rights and licenses please read the Correction https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-09629-2_13

This chapter gives an overview of the current state of the art related to frameworks and principles for task design so as to provide a better understanding of the design process and the various interfaces between teaching, researching, and designing. In so doing, it aims at developing new insights and identifying areas related to task design that are in need of further study. The chapter consists of three main sections. The first main section begins with a historical overview, followed by a conceptualization of current frameworks for task design in mathematics education and a description of the characteristics of the design principles offered by these frames. The second main section presents a set of cases that illustrate the relations between frameworks for task design and the nature of the tasks that are designed within a given framework. Because theoretical frameworks and principles do not account for all aspects of the process of task design, the third main section addresses additional factors that influence task design, as well as the diversity of design approaches across various professional communities in mathematics education. The chapter concludes with a discussion of the progress made in the area of task design within mathematics education over the past several decades and includes some overall recommendations with respect to frameworks and principles for task design and for future design-related research.

  • Task design frameworks in mathematics
  • Task design principles in mathematics
  • History of task design in mathematics
  • Task design and learning theory in mathematics
  • Mathematics task design communities
  • Approaches to task design in mathematics education

The natural sciences are concerned with how things are.

Design, on the other hand, is concerned with how things might be.

(Herbert. A. Simon, 1969 )

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Form Matters: Design Creativity in Positive Psychological Interventions

  • Pieter M. A. Desmet 1 &
  • Maria C. Sääksjärvi 2  

Psychology of Well-Being volume  6 , Article number:  7 ( 2016 ) Cite this article

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The current article explores the effect of design on the efficacy of behavioural intervention technologies (BITs). With a user-centred design process, colourful key ring coins were created as a means of introducing self-administered behavioural interventions.

A 6-week study tested whether the tangible objects contributed to the effectiveness of these interventions. Three groups were compared (N = 100): one group received happiness-enhancing activities printed on key ring coins, one group received the same activity tasks printed on paper, and one group served as a control. The outcome measure was the satisfaction with life scale (SWLS).

The group that received happiness-enhancing activities on key ring coins scored highest on SWLS. Participants mentioned that it was exciting to be reminded to do the task whenever they were using their keys. Others mentioned that the coins helped them to put their hearts into the project, trying their best to finish the tasks.


The findings support the proposition that design should be recognized as an important factor when developing effective means for disseminating positive psychology to a broad audience. This highlights the need for multidisciplinary approaches to the development of BITs, embracing active collaborations between psychologists, computer scientists, and (interaction) designers.

Research in the field of positive psychology has provided substantial evidence that individuals can increase and sustain their happiness (Lyubomirsky 2008 ; Diener 1999 ) and that the best way to do so is by aligning one’s behaviours with those of people who flourish (for an overview, see Schueller and Parks 2014 ). Inspired by these findings, a wide variety of interventions have been introduced that aim to help people to actively pursue greater levels of happiness (Parks and Biswas-Diener 2013 ). These so-called positive psychology interventions (PPIs) have been described as ‘treatment methods or intentional activities aimed at cultivating positive feelings, positive behaviours, or positive cognitions’ (Sin and Lyubomirsky 2009 , p. 468). PPIs are very diverse, including intentional activities such as writing gratitude letters, learning to forgive, and taking care of one’s body. Based on a literature review, Schuller and Parks ( 2014 ) identified five broad categories of evidence-based interventions: (1) savouring experiences and sensations, (2) cultivating gratitude, (3) engaging in kind acts, (4) promoting positive relations, and (5) pursuing hope and meaning. Although the study of PPIs is relatively new, there is growing evidence that they are effective in boosting long-term wellbeing (see two recently published meta-analyses: Bolier et al. 2013 ; Sin and Lyubomirsky 2009 ).

While traditional PPIs require a one-to-one interaction between a client and a coach or therapist, innovative modes of distribution can promote the flourishing of a broad population. One interesting direction is through self-help—providing resources directly to those who are interested without professional assistance (Parks 2015 ; Schueller and Parks 2014 ). Traditionally, such self-administered PPIs have reached an audience through self-help books. More recently, several technology-based interventions have been introduced. These behavioural intervention technologies (BITs) use digital media to introduce PPIs to a general public. A well-known example is the Live Happy iPhone app (USA, Signal Patterns) that was based on the work of Lyubomirsky ( 2008 ) and contains a variety of exercises, such as savouring the day, doing kind things, and making a gratitude journal. Another example is Psyfit (NL, Trimbos Institute), an online unguided self-help intervention that consists of six modules with four lessons each, which users can tailor to meet their personal needs.

Automated self-help BITs are scalable to reach hundreds of thousands of people worldwide (Muñoz 2010 ). They can be used repeatedly without losing their therapeutic power to help additional people and they can transcend space, time, culture, and language because they can be used simultaneously anywhere in the world, at a time of the person’s choosing. BITs can engage and empower participants to take charge of their own well-being; they can stimulate self-management skills by providing participants with tools to guide their behaviour, thoughts, and interactions (Bolier 2015 ). While this also applies to self-help books, BITs have several additional advantages. They can help in translating acquired insights into real life and provide support to users in devoting the time and effort required for sustainable behavioural change (McGonical 2011 ). BITs can be deeply integrated into people’s daily lives. As BITs are provided on devices that people access and carry throughout their day (such as computers, tablets, smartphones, and wearable computing), they can increase the user’s awareness in times, places, and situations to help cope with their daily issues (Schueller et al. 2013 ).

While BITs are increasingly recognized as promising means for disseminating positive psychology to a broad audience, Schueller et al. ( 2013 ) identified some key obstacles that should be overcome for BITs to realize their full potential. One of these obstacles is a general shortage of innovativeness in using the possibilities of technology. Many BITs are designed to mimic regular therapy-based PPIs. They are structured as sessions for weekly use and employ text to introduce interventions. BITs do not need to be constrained by such traditional structures, and (interaction) design is crucial for unlocking the possibilities for developing BITs that are effective and engaging. This implies that BITs will realize their full potential only with deliberate and thoughtful design. Design science offers several domains of knowledge that can help in developing successful BITs. These include traditional user-centred design approaches, co-design, experience design, gamification, usability, and aesthetics, and also recent developments in design research, such as design for subjective well-being (Desmet and Pohlmeyer 2013 ; Hassenzahl 2010 ) and positive computing (Sander 2011 ; Calvo and Peters 2014 ).

In this paper, we introduce a BIT that was developed with a user-centred design approach. The aim is to illustrate that BITs do not necessarily have to be restricted to screen-based interactions because design creativity can open up a broader notion of technology. The designed BIT uses tangible coins as a means for bringing activity interventions into the daily lives of users. We report a six-week study that tested the added value of tangible coins over a more traditional written means. This study provided evidence for the proposition that ‘form matters’: design qualities influence the effectiveness of a BIT. This finding supports the view that (a) design should be embraced as an important means for increasing the impact of future BITs, and that (b) exploring how BITs can optimally integrate digital and non-digital technology is a promising direction.

Design-Driven Positive Intervention: TinyTask

TinyTask is a BIT that uses tangible means to stimulate people to engage in happiness-increasing activities. The design was based on the ‘sustainable happiness model’ of Lyubomirsky et al. ( 2005 ), which proposes that the most effective way to increase and maintain one’s chronic happiness over and above the genetic set point is by changing one’s behaviour via intentional activities. These include activities that are behavioural (e.g. being kind to others), cognitive (e.g. counting one’s blessings), or volitional (e.g. devoting effort to meaningful causes). Shelden and Lyubomirsky ( 2006 ) proposed that such activities could combat the effects of hedonic adaptation because they are episodic (instead of continuous) and can be varied in terms of timing, approach, and content. As a consequence, intentional activities can have lasting benefits for our well-being (Lyubomirsky 2008 ; Layous and Lyubomirsky 2014 ; Lyubomirsky 2001 ). TinyTask was based on the 12 intentional activities detailed in the self-help book The How of Happiness (Lyubomirsky 2008 ), which have been recently shown to be effective for increasing life-satisfaction (Parks and Szanto 2013 ).

The TinyTask designer aimed to design a BIT that was (1) enabling, motivating, and engaging, and (2) at the same time unobtrusive, discreet, and aesthetically pleasing. These intentions were informed by two challenges. The first was that engaging in intentional activities is not necessarily easy. A person needs to ‘get over the hurdle’ of remembering to do them and overcome obstacles in initiating them, and this kind of self-regulatory effort requires considerable self-discipline and willpower (Sheldon and Elliot 1998 ; Lyubomirsky et al. 2005 ). In other words, effectively initiating and pursuing happiness-increasing activities requires commitment and effort. As a consequence, people often need external support to be able to invest the time and energy necessary for sustainable behavioural change, and to effectively translate acquired knowledge into practice (Bolier 2015 ). The second challenge was that people will only want to use BITs if they provide acceptable levels of privacy and are unobtrusive, aesthetically pleasing, and trustworthy; people do not accept BITs that rely on the use of complicated, invasive, or demanding interfaces (Consolvo et al. 2009 ; Montague et al. 2009 ).

Lyubomirsky et al. ( 2005 ) offered two suggestions to help people get over the hurdle of engaging in intentional activities. The first is to start with those activities that are intrinsically more appealing than others, and the second is to create a habit out of regularly initiating beneficial activities. These suggestions partly overlap with three conditions for successfully changing behaviour (i.e. motivation, ability, and triggers) that were proposed by Fogg ( 2009 ): people can only change their behaviour when they are motivated to do so, when they are able to translate their motivation into concrete action, and if there are well-timed triggers to initiate new behaviour. The findings of Parks et al. ( 2012 ) were also taken into consideration in the design process. They found that people get bored performing the same happiness-enhancing activities, and that happiness is improved more when people engage in a greater variety of activities. All these authors demonstrate the crucial role of intrinsic motivation in the development of effective BITs. Intrinsic motivation refers to doing something because it is inherently interesting or enjoyable, as opposed to being motivated by separable rewards or external pressures (Ryan and Deci 2000 ). These are activities that people do for the enjoyment of the activity itself, due to their appeal of novelty, challenge, or aesthetic value. Moreover, intrinsic motivation is facilitated by environments that support feelings of autonomy and competence (see Deci and Ryan 1985 ). Given these insights, TinyTask was designed with the intention to foster intrinsic motivation by integrating five key qualities:

Distil a range of general and abstract strategies into smaller (tiny), comprehensible tasks.

Provide an immediate sense of pleasure and achievement while (and after) fulfilling the task.

Offer several tangible and concrete triggers to stimulate the intended activities.

Offer a simple structure that enables people to form a habit of engaging in the activities.

Present a broad diversity of activities to stimulate interest, to keep the experiences fresh and to offer a sense of choice.

The result is a set of incrementally distributed, colourful key ring coins (Fig.  1 ), which was developed in an iterative design process, involving end-users in several stages of the project (for a report on the development, see Ruitenberg 2011 ). Every coin represents a small task, or ‘tiny task’, the accomplishment of which employs one of the twelve happiness strategies via a concrete, low threshold activity.

figure 1

Key ring coins

Figure  2 visualizes a basic usage scenario. Once registered, the user receives an initial envelope with six key ring coins (Fig.  2 a). Each coin face bears an inscription hinting at what the assignment is about, such as: ‘early bird’, ‘improvise your meal’, or, as in the example shown in Fig.  2 , ‘seclusion’. On the back of the coin is a symbol. With this, the user can locate the full assignment on the TinyTask website (Fig.  2 b; for the ‘seclusion’ example: ‘Find a place in nature that is secluded from traffic and buildings. Listen to the birds, wind, and surroundings.’). Users select one coin to commit to, and then attach the coin inscribed with the chosen task to their key ring (Fig.  2 c). By attaching the coin, they commit to the task, and are reminded about that commitment every time they pick up their keys. Once the task has been performed (Fig.  2 d), users can remove the coin (and save it or give it to a friend) and attach another one. When five out of six assignments are completed, the user will receive a new set of coins.

figure 2

TinyTask usage scenario. a Receiving ring coins; b select one and read task description online; c commit by connecting to keychain; d do the task

The assignments were formulated to be small, concrete, and original, ensuring a high level of capability. Users express their commitment to an assignment by attaching the related coin to their key rings, where it serves as a reminder of the commitment. The act of selecting a coin, attaching it to the key ring, and removing it once the task has been done is enjoyable and implicitly rewarding, increasing the motivation of users to engage in the behaviour. Moreover, the system of sending one small fresh set of coins at a time also increases motivation, because receiving a new envelope is like a small and exciting gift.

TinyTask Activities

An important step in the development was to translate the general happiness strategies into small (tiny) activities that could be implemented through everyday events. As a first step, the 12 categories were used as the basis for a brainstorming session with eight participants (four male, four female). This session generated an initial list of 243 activities. At the end of the brainstorm session, this list was reduced to 70 activities, according to the criteria of viability (i.e. the activity does not require special skills or tools), appeal (i.e. the activity is expected to be liked by a wide variety of people), and variety (i.e. very little overlap between activities). The second step in the development process was a pre-test. Over a period of 3 weeks, a group of 15 volunteers (six women, nine men; aged 21–60) tested the 70 activities. After the testing period, participants were interviewed to obtain feedback about their experiences. These results were used to reduce the set of activities further to a final set of 50 happiness-enhancing activities. As a final step, these 50 activities were reviewed by two experts in the field (one healthcare expert and one expert in health promotion). On the basis of their comments, some minor additional modifications to the activities were made. The final list of happiness-enhancing activities can be found in Appendix 1 .

The study was designed to empirically test the happiness effects obtained by using TinyTask. Our proposition was that it contributes to user happiness, not only thanks to the (intangible) activities that it stimulates, but also because of the material design qualities of the (tangible) key ring coins. In order to test this dual-natured proposition, we designed a six-week longitudinal experiment. Our two main hypotheses were that (a) engaging in happiness tasks has a positive effect on happiness, and that (b) when these tasks are communicated with physical key ring coins, the happiness effect is greater than when they are communicated with conventional means (written on paper). An additional aim of the study was to explore the timing of new task distribution. In the literature on PPIs, it is not yet known what kind of distribution frequency is optimal (i.e. distribute evenly or in batches). For optimization purposes, a distribution condition was included in the study. Three research questions were formulated:

Does performing the TinyTask assignments have an effect on the happiness of participants, compared to a control group that receives no assignments?

Do the physical key ring coins have an effect on the happiness of participants, compared to a group that receives the assignments on paper?

Does the timing of the tasks influence the happiness of participants? Is an intervention with a group that receives one task per day of the week more effective in generating happiness than an intervention with a group that receives five tasks at the start of each week?


The participant cohort was composed of 100 volunteer students enrolled in a major university in the Netherlands. They were recruited using in-class announcements, flyers, and social media. During the recruitment campaign, the general topic (happiness) of the study was mentioned. Before making their final decision regarding whether to participate in the study or not, prospective participants were informed of the study’s longitudinal nature, and told that they would need to set aside at least 15 min every day to perform specific activities and answer questionnaires. Participants’ ages ranged from 18 to 32 (M = 23; SD = 3.53) and the sample included the same number of females as males (50 men, 50 women). After completing the study, each participant was given a 20-euro gift voucher and an informative booklet about strategies to improve happiness as a token of gratitude for their contribution. The results of three participants were not included in the analysis because they had failed to complete all questionnaires.

We made a 2 × 2, between-subject experimental design (see Table  1 ). The first independent variable was ‘design’, with two levels: happiness activities written on paper (Paper) versus happiness activities printed on a key ring coin (Coins). The second independent variable was ‘intensity’, with two levels: one task a day for 5 days (Spread) versus five tasks on 1 day (Condensed). These variables combined to form four experimental groups. In line with other studies on happiness activities (e.g. Lyubomirsky et al. 2011 ), we also had a control group whose members did not engage in happiness-enhancing activities.

Participants were randomly assigned to one of the five groups. All participants (except those in the control group) received six happiness-enhancing activities (from here on called ‘tasks’) per week, for 5 weeks. The order and selection of tasks was randomized for each participant. Task selection was balanced so that each of the 50 tasks in Appendix 1 was given to the same number of participants, meaning that every participant received a randomized selection (30) of the total number of tasks (50). Participants in Groups B1 and B2 (Paper) received the tasks printed on paper. This is consistent with how happiness-enhancing activities are typically administered in the well-being literature (see Sin and Lyubomirsky 2009 ). Participants in Groups A1 and A2 (Coin) received the tasks printed on coins, which were made of brightly coloured hard plastic (see Fig.  2 ). Participants in Groups A1 and B1 (Spread) received the tasks spread out over the week: one task to be performed every day (except on Sunday). Participants in Groups A2 and B2 (Condensed) received five tasks on the first day of the week; all tasks to be performed in 1 day. Respondents received their tasks in batches of six, in neutral white envelopes.

The study was conducted over a time period of 6 weeks. In the first week, the participants filled out a pre-study questionnaire. In each of the remaining 5 weeks, all participants (except those in the control group) performed six tasks. They were instructed to spend as much time on performing the activities as they wished. In line with typical procedures followed by previous studies on happiness-enhancing activities, participants in the control group were asked to reflect on a daily event and write about it in a journal (for the procedure, see Sin and Lyubomirsky 2009 ). Data were collected on a daily and weekly basis, following the procedure of Lyubomirsky et al. ( 2011 ). Each day, participants answered a short questionnaire. They filled in a longer questionnaire on a weekly basis. In addition, they filled out one questionnaire before the start of the study (benchmark) and one at the end of the study. Participants in the control group responded to the same number of questionnaires as those who completed the happiness activities.

Following common practice in positive psychology intervention studies, we measured the well-being effect with the satisfaction with life scale (SWLS), a short 5-item method that requires about 1 min to fill out (Diener et al. 1985 ; Pavot et al. 1991 ). The pre-study questionnaire included general questions about age, gender, and nationality, and the first SWLS measurement. In the daily questionnaire, participants reported on the activity they had completed on that particular day. As it is common practice in positive psychology intervention studies to control for enjoyment and effort, participants reported how much they enjoyed doing that activity and how much effort they had put into the activity (on 7-point scales). The Sunday questionnaire was similar, but also measured SWLS and asked the respondents to report what task they had enjoyed the most that week, and to what degree they would like to do that task again in the future (on a 7-point scale). Participants in the control group filled out similar daily and weekly questionnaires in which questions about activities were changed to questions about the daily event that they wrote about in their journal.

To examine the research questions, we conducted a 3 (condition: control, coin, paper) × 2 (intensity: spread, condensed) mixed ANOVA with condition and intensity serving as between-subjects measures and SWL as a within-subjects measure. Our results revealed a significant three-way effect between condition, intensity, and SWL [F(4, 324) = 4.31, p = 0.002 (all other effects were non-significant: main effect of condition F(1, 81) = 0.49, p = 0.484, main effect of pacing F(1, 81) = 2.18, p = 0.144, main effect of SWL F(4, 324) = 2.23, p = 0.065, condition x pacing F(1, 81) = 0.01, p = 0.981, condition x SWL F(4, 324) = 0.63, p = 0.642, pacing x SWL F(4, 324) = 0.89, p = 0.469; see Table  2 for means and SDs)]. Including enjoyment and effort as covariates showed that participants’ enjoyment and effort varied over time (significant interaction between time and enjoyment and effort; F = 2.612, p = 0.036), but, consistent with expectations, it did not influence our experimental manipulation or its link to SWL. Our results show that participants who received coins in a spread out fashion reported the highest SWL level, and that their SWL, in general, increased over time. This effect can also be seen in Fig.  3 with the overall SWL level increasing until the last week when it starts to taper off, probably due to fatigue effects that are typically encountered in longitudinal studies. Note that it is the combination of condition and intensity that yields the greatest SWL; neither the condition nor the pacing on their own result in similar effects. For ease of readability and for incorporating participant feedback, we break the findings down per condition (design: coins versus paper) and intensity (spread versus condensed).

Satisfaction with life (SWL) means over time

Design: Coins Versus Paper

Participants who were given the tasks on coins reported higher SWL levels than those who were given the tasks on paper, which applied to those in both the spread and condensed groups (see Table  2 ). Feedback given by participants in the post-research questionnaire is congruent with these findings. All participants in the Coin condition who gave feedback were positive about the task being delivered on a key ring coin. Some mentioned that it was exciting to be reminded to do the task whenever they were using their keys. Others mentioned that the coins helped them to put their hearts into the project, trying their best to finish the tasks. Some mentioned that they did not attach the coin to their key ring, but kept it in another visible place (e.g. one stuck the coin to his laptop, another put it in her wallet). Several participants mentioned that they had given (or wanted to give) some of these coins to friends or family members in order to share their pleasant experiences. In addition, several participants in the Paper condition mentioned that they found it hard to remember their tasks and had to develop a procedure to remind themselves, like writing the task in a notebook or creating a note on their phone.

Intensity: Spread versus Condensed

Participants who performed one task a day reported higher SWL levels than those who did all six tasks on one day, which applied to those in both the Coin and Paper conditions (see Table  2 ). The feedback given by participants in the post-research questionnaire provides some insight into how they experienced having to do what amounted to a week’s worth of tasks in 1 day. Several explicitly mentioned that they found it very challenging to do six tasks in 1 day. They mentioned two reasons: firstly, they did not have much time to prepare, because they were informed about the tasks on the evening before the day they did all six activities; and secondly, they found it difficult to take the time away from their other duties to perform all six tasks. Several respondents mentioned that the challenges caused them to experience negative emotions like stress or dissatisfaction. Conversely, several participants who were asked to do one task a day mentioned that they experienced positive emotions like excitement and enjoyment during the six-week period.

Intentions for Post-Study Usage of Coins

In the post-study questionnaire, respondents in the Coin condition were asked if they had kept the coins, and, if so, what they did (or intended to do) with them. All 20 respondents who answered this question mentioned that they had kept the coins. Most of them mentioned that the coins would serve as a reminder of their experiences (e.g. ‘ I keep them as reminders and inspiration to do something just for fun’ ; ‘ I kept them to remember them ’) or because they want to reuse them in the future (e.g. ‘ I want to reuse them next year, after the summer holiday’ , ‘ I wish to use them some time in future. Periodically, I take stock of how things are going on in my life. In one of those reflections, I may start using the key ring coins in some way again. ’). Some mentioned that they had kept a selection of coins that had a special meaning for them (e.g. ‘ I kept the ones that inspired me’ , ‘ I kept only the key ring coins that reminded me of tasks that, after completing them, gave me a very satisfied feeling or really changed something in my life. For example, the key ring coin linked to the task in which I had to admit my feelings to someone; this led to me and my boyfriend getting together, something I am very happy about! ’). Several mentioned that they planned to give them to other people (e.g. ‘ I will give them to someone else in the future’ ; ‘ I think they will be a good present. ’). Others mentioned that they did not have a clear reason for keeping them (e.g. ‘ I kept them, but I don’t really know why; I think as some sort of remembrance of the tasks I did ’, or ‘ I just could not throw them away, but there is not really a reason for that. ’) or because they simply liked the design (e.g. ‘ I like their design, and they are colourful. I don’t want to throw them away. ’).

This study examined the happiness-effect of using tangible coins for communicating self-administered happiness activities. It was hypothesized that TinyTask can contribute to user life satisfaction, and that this contribution is caused not only by the assignments (happiness-enhancing activities) but also by the physical key ring coins used in the TinyTask procedure. In a six-week long study, we found a three-way interaction effect between design (tasks on coins versus tasks written on paper), intensity of performance (six tasks a week: one task a day versus six tasks on 1 day), and time. More specifically, the study indicated that happiness-enhancing activities presented through a tangible coin lead to greater SWL levels (than when presented on paper), and that this effect increases over time (RQ2). Respondents kept the coins as a reminder of their experiences, to explore the possibility of doing the activities again, or to give them to someone as a present. Also, the data showed that these activities had the strongest influence on SWL if they were spread out during the week instead of being intensively performed on a single day (RQ3). Furthermore, and consistent with previous literature, we found that performing happiness-enhancing activities increases people’s SWL levels as compared with a control group (RQ1).

General Discussion

In 2000, Ken Sheldon and his colleagues published a ‘Positive Psychology Manifesto’, in which they defined positive psychology and explained its objectives, applications, and implementation goals. In the final part of the document, they discussed their vision of what the optimal conditions are for the flourishing of positive psychology itself. One piece of advice they offered was to produce ‘useful and inspiring products, such as articles, books, and effective interventions’ (Sheldon et al. 2000 , p. 1). This advice intends to explicitly promote spreading positive psychological principles and perspectives to a broad audience. Many of the most influential positive psychologists have written books that aim to reach this broad audience (e.g. Lyubomirsky 2013 ; Seligman 2011 ). The limitation of these self-help books, however, is that they reach only a select group of people—those who love to read (Wilson and Cash 2000 ). Moreover, it is not clear how effective these books are. In a review paper, Bergsma ( 2007 ) concluded that although there is some evidence that reading problem-focused self-help books is useful for people with specific problems, there is no evidence for the effectiveness of reading growth-oriented books. In search of more efficient alternatives, interactive technology has been discovered as a means to make positive psychology known to a greater number of people (Sander 2011 ). Bolier ( 2015 ) showed that online interventions provide scholars and practitioners working in positive psychology with many opportunities to develop enjoyable, engaging interventions that are scalable. Likewise, Morris and Picard ( 2014 ) indicated that BITs offer exciting new ways to disseminate PPIs. Self-guided BITs can reach populations that may not have the resources or motivation to pursue traditional, therapist-led interventions (Schueller et al. 2013 ; Mohr et al. 2013 ). In that sense, new technologies can ‘democratize’ positive psychology (Sander 2011 ). Even though they are promising, currently available self-guided BITs are not always effective (Sin and Lyubomirsky 2009 ; Bolier 2015 ). One important restraining factor is a lack of user engagement and motivation (Morris and Picard 2014 ). The success of PPIs depends on whether users put forth sufficient effort when doing the activities (Lyubomirsky et al. 2011 ), and the motivation to put forth this effort quickly drops when computer-based interventions are self-administered (Christensen et al. 2009 ; Eysenbach 2005 ). Morris and Picard ( 2014 ) and Schueller et al. ( 2013 ) therefore proposed that careful attention should be paid to the design of BITs: when poorly designed and unengaging, they will be of little benefit for the wider population. In this paper we demonstrated that one promising opportunity for improving the design of self-guided BITs is to include tangibility . Tangible products form the material context of our daily lives. They affect us; they inspire us, they frustrate, delight, and annoy us (Desmet 2012 ), and they can demotivate or inhibit us, but also uplift and enable us (Manzini 2005 ; Morelli 2007 ). While all currently available BITs rely on screens (computers, tablets, phones), our study demonstrates that tangible products represent an untapped potential for bringing positive psychology to the everyday lives of many people.

The ‘activity advice’ in positive psychology and the ‘experience recommendation’ in consumer research equally suggest that it does not pay off to seek happiness in material objects (Nicolao et al. 2009 ; Van Boven 2005 ; Dunn et al. 2011 ). Indeed, there is an impressive amount of evidence that happiness achieved with newly purchased consumer products quickly wears off (Patterson and Biswas-Diener 2012 ; Carter and Gilovich 2012 ). However, this shows only one side of the coin. Our study demonstrates that material objects can be designed deliberately to facilitate and enable meaningful activities and experiences that increase happiness. Thus, rather than being objects of happiness themselves, tangible objects can contribute to our happiness by helping us to engage in meaningful activities, by serving as reminders of our past experiences, and by serving as tokens that can be used to share these experiences with others. Design has gained a great deal from working with psychologists. These collaborations can lead to products and services that evoke experiences that are enjoyable and meaningful and that contribute to well-being (for examples, see Desmet and Pohlmeyer 2013 ). Likewise, psychology can benefit greatly from collaborating with designers. Schueller et al. ( 2013 ) proposed that in order to create effective BITs, psychologists, by necessity, must team with developers, such as technologists, engineers, and computer scientists. These authors stressed that this teaming up should involve active collaboration that spans the development, implementation, and dissemination of research. We foresee that such multidisciplinary collaborations will stimulate the development of a varied repertoire of (online and offline) technologies that can empower a broad audience to integrate principles of positive psychology in their everyday interactions. Design focuses by nature on daily practices and routines, and designers are trained to create solutions that are relevant and meaningful in these practices. Whereas traditional (screen-based) BITs can be perceived as demanding or challenging, these new solutions might support people in adopting a more natural and individual approach to self-guided personal growth.

The results presented here were robust, but it should be noted that our argument in this paper is based on but a single study. Moreover, given the relatively small sample size of the study, one should be cautious about the generalizability of the three-way interaction. Therefore, we invite initiatives aiming to replicate the results across samples, stimuli, and situations. We especially encourage research that further investigates the antecedents, nature, and consequences of the interplay between tangible and intangible components in offerings across contexts. An interesting additional question to be addressed by future research is why tangible elements enhance the effects of happiness-enhancing activities. Several explanations are possible: it could be that tangibility helps people to recall the experience (as was mentioned by some of the respondents), or that thanks to the tangibility the experience becomes deeper and more profound. Although the focus of our study was on the use of tangible coins, it should be explored how tangible and digital means can be combined to increase efficacy and effectiveness.

Although a six-week study qualifies as longitudinal research, the long-term effects of TinyTask (or other forms of positive activity interventions) on one’s chronic happiness level are not yet known. Are these effects sustainable, or will they wear off after several months or years? Our study results show that the happiness effect of TinyTask increases over time, but we also found a dampening effect at the end of the study. This effect may have been stimulated by methodological causes. For example, participants may have gotten tired of having to fill out daily questionnaires, or the fact that they did not engage in the activities on their own initiative but because it was part of a study may also have had a negative effect on their intrinsic motivation and subsequent SWL measures. However, the dampening effect may also have been influenced by the TinyTask design itself. Perhaps respondents lost some of their interest once the novelty effect of the intervention had worn off. The colourful coins may not have a long-lasting motivating effect. The decreasing motivation to commit to interventions is a general challenge in intervention technology, and our study does not provide indications that the TinyTask design addressed this challenge. It is therefore interesting to explore the optimal conditions for stimulating long-term usage motivations for initiatives like TinyTask. For example, coins could be administered for some months every year to keep the experience fresh, or perhaps the frequency of coins could vary or gradually deintensify after longer usage. Another opportunity would be to explore how the design can facilitate experiences of relatedness over longer usage periods, which (next to autonomy and competence) can stimulate one’s intrinsic motivation (Ryan and Deci 2000 ) to engage in the activities. These design explorations may contribute to the development of sustainable behavioural intervention technologies with longer-term contributions to user happiness.

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Authors’ contributions

Both authors contributed to the design and coordination of the study. PD was involved in the development of the TinyTask design. MS performed the statistical analysis. PD drafted the manuscript and MS helped to revise the manuscript. Both authors read and approved the final manuscript.


This research was supported by the MAGW VIDI grant number 452-10-011 of The Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research (N.W.O.) awarded to Pieter Desmet. TinyTask was designed by Hans Ruitenberg. We express our gratitude to Walter Aprile for his contribution to the TinyTask project, to Hesther van Zuthem, Muryani Kasdani, and Hans Ruitenberg for their contribution to the TinyTask study, and to copyeditor Jianne Whelton. Linda Bolier was a valuable help for improving the TinyTask activities that were developed for the main study. We acknowledge the Delft Institute of Positive Design and Emotion Studio for supporting the further development and validation of the TinyTask concept.

Competing interests

The authors declare that they have no competing interests.

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Pieter M. A. Desmet

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Correspondence to Pieter M. A. Desmet .

Overview of 50 tasks used in main study.

Acts of kindness /Perform acts of kindness to three strangers in 1 day. Give up your place in a queue to someone behind you, give someone your seat on the bus, etc.

Barefoot /Walk around at work without shoes for 1 h. You may also go outside if you dare.

Be a reporter /Be a reporter for a day and write a short news report about something good that has happened to you. Print the report and hang it on your wall or send it to a friend.

Break it down /To make progress towards a large goal (such as finding a new job or home); break it down into smaller steps. Plan how and when you will complete these small steps.

Clean up /Clean something that has been bothering you; e.g. your mouse, keypad, door handles, mirror, windows, etc.

Donate /Find a product (e.g. a piece of clothing or a book) you don’t use anymore and donate it to a friend, neighbour, or the local charity shop. Do it today or schedule it in your agenda.

Early night /Go to bed an hour earlier than you normally would.

Family tree /Draw a family tree. Use your own knowledge as a starting point, you can ask a relative to help you out.

Favourite song /Play your favourite song out loud, sing and dance along with it.

Forgive /Forgive someone by writing
a statement of forgiveness. Keep it private for a week. You may then keep the statement to yourself, burn it, or present it to the one you’ve forgiven, do whatever you feel is best.

Get involved /Get involved in a movement or a cause that is new to you. You can participate in a flash mob, follow an interesting blog or join an evening class.

Good ol’ times /Find a picture that brings back fond memories, print it out and hang it on the wall, or set it as your computer background image.

Green light /Obey all the traffic signs and regulations for 1 day.

Guerrilla florist /Be a guerrilla florist by secretly planting some flowers in your neighbourhood. Don’t forget to look after them after they’re planted.

Happy moments /Think about three truly happy moments in your past. Write them down on cards, and hang them on the wall or on the fridge.

Healthy meal /Prepare a truly healthy meal for yourself and take the time to enjoy it.

In good company /Write a thank you letter or e-mail to a company whom you think delivers a good service, and send it.

Inspiring stories /Read or watch one inspiring story (e.g. http://www.ted.com ) about people who managed to make their dreams come true due to their persistence and high spirit. You can also ask a friend who inspires him or her.

Keep a tally /Choose something you like (small dogs, red cars, men with moustaches), and keep a tally: For 1 day, count how many times you encounter the thing you’ve chosen. You can write it down in a notebook or on the back of your hand.

Kind words /Pay at least three people you encounter today a genuine compliment.

Learn a language /Learn a new language for 1 day. Learn ten new words, write them down and hang them on your wall.

Listen up /Be a listening ear to a friend who needs you, offer your shoulder if he/she needs it.

Look up /Look up (at the sky, the clouds, and high buildings), discover something new and make a drawing or photo of it.

New friend /Make a new friend by talking to someone you don’t know very well, and find out something interesting about his/her life.

New room /Redecorate your room by shifting your furniture, or buy a new bed sheet, pillowcase or poster.

New way home /Travel home today using a completely new route or use a different means of transportation.

Next door /Post a kind letter to a neighbour you haven’t met to introduce yourself. Attach your address so they can write back.

Pick up litter /Pick up litter from the street you live in, to benefit you and your neighbours.

Plan a date /Plan a date with someone you haven’t spoken with for a long time.

Plan a holiday /Plan a holiday with a friend. Your destination can be expensive or cheap, nearby or far away, depending on your possibilities.

Positive future /Make a drawing of your best possible future to visualize your dream situation: where would you live, what would you do for a job?

Prepare a meal /Prepare a meal for someone to thank him/her. Don’t forget to actually say thanks.

Project /Write down a plan for a small project to which you want to commit, but haven’t found the time for.

Read it? Share it! /Wrap up any recent magazine issues you’ve already read, and post them at neighbour’s houses. Don’t use issues that are dirty or old.

Repair /Find a problem in your house and solve it. Changing a bulb, fixing a hole in the wall; anything goes!

Seclusion /Find a place in nature that is secluded from traffic and buildings. Listen to the birds, wind, and surroundings.

Share a joke /Share a joke with at least one person today.

Share your goals /Share your goals with your friends or family, so they can remind or motivate you to pursue your goals.

Share your insight /Share your knowledge about a topic of your expertise. For instance; teach a friend how to use a camera. You can also blog about your knowledge or make a small instruction pamphlet.

Small stroll /Take a walk for 10 min by yourself, on a moment that suits you.

Smiling mirror /Smile to yourself in the mirror and draw your smile on it with non-permanent marker or lipstick, so you will run into your own smiling face again.

Stair master /Avoid all elevators and escalators, and take only the stairs for 1 day.

Start saving /Acquire a piggy bank and save money to buy something you really want.

Stretch /Stretch in the morning or evening for 5–15 min.

Surprise yourself /Write down your qualities or positive characteristics on post-its. Hide them somewhere in your home so you will face them later again.

Sweet notes /Leave sweet messages for your family or colleagues at random places (e.g. in someone’s’ bag, or at someone’s desk) to surprise them.

Take notice /Just breathe and take notice of your body and feelings for 5–15 min.

Time out /Take a time out. For 15 min, don’t communicate, listen to music or watch the TV.

Treat /Give a good friend or colleague a treat with some sweets or a cup of coffee.

Write a letter /Write a letter to thank someone you’ve never properly thanked and send it.

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Desmet, P.M.A., Sääksjärvi, M.C. Form Matters: Design Creativity in Positive Psychological Interventions. Psych Well-Being 6 , 7 (2016). https://doi.org/10.1186/s13612-016-0043-5

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New NPM integration: design with fully interactive components from top libraries!

UX Design Psychology Tricks for Design Excellence

ux design psychology

User experience design is a process of understanding human psychology. It’s why terms like user-centered design and user experience govern the design thinking process.

UX design psychology is about understanding the behaviors of the people whose problems you’re trying to solve and designing the user experience to align with those human behaviors.

Table of contents

1. cognitive load and ux design, 2. three types of cognitive load, gestalt principles and visual design, 1. von restorff effect, 2. hick’s law, 3. the principle of least effort, 4. the serial positioning effect, 5. the principle of perpetual habit, 6. the principle of emotional contagion, psychology principles takeaways, improving usability testing with uxpin.

UXPin provides designers with ready-to-use prototype examples that follow UX psychology and the Gestalt principles of visual perception. 

Sign up for a 14-day free trial to explore UXPin’s innovative design editor and advanced prototyping features to create a better user experience for your customers.

Understanding Cognitive Psychology in UX Design

Cognitive psychology studies human mental processes, including attention and perception, memory, problem-solving and creative thinking—the foundation for user experience design.

Great UX designers understand these human mental processes and how cognitive psychology can help overcome the mental barriers to improve:

  • Readability
  • Accessibility

The human brain constantly searches for patterns and recognizable objects to make sense of the surrounding environment, including digital products.

Cognitive load is the mental effort required to process and learn new information – human processing power.

Good UX design understands the limits of cognitive load to optimize user interfaces and present content so users can absorb and process information fast.

If the processing power required to absorb and process information in a digital product exceeds the user’s cognitive load, they’re unlikely to continue using it.

Here are the three types of cognitive load and how they affect UX design.

  • Intrinsic cognitive load is the inherent difficulty of a task. How do users absorb information while staying focused on the task at hand? A good example is an eCommerce checkout. Designers remove all navigation and only provide the content necessary for the user to complete a purchase. By reducing the intrinsic cognitive load, designers increase the likelihood that a user will complete the task at hand.
  • Extraneous cognitive load is how the brain processes the task’s non-essential problems—for example, fonts, microinteractions , or instructions. A user struggling to read a font or understanding instructions are examples of exceeding extraneous cognitive load in UX.
  • Germane cognitive load is the processing, construction, and automation of schemas. How users organize categories and relationships of information. When learning something new, the human brain will look for familiarities in the content to build schemas.

Gestalt principles describe how the human brain perceives visuals to create familiar structures.

A famous example of Gestalt psychology is the Young Woman or Old Woman illustration by a British cartoonist in the late 19th century. This “Gestalt switch” provides a fascinating insight into how the mind interprets elements on a canvas and the impact this can have on visual design.

These are the six primary Gestalt principles that apply to visual design:

psychology task design

1. Figure-Ground – how the brain differentiates the foreground from the background. UX designers must clearly distinguish the foreground and background to minimize cognitive load.

psychology task design

2. Law of Proximity – grouped objects appear to be more related than objects spaced further apart. If you have several categories of information, creating space between these categories will allow users to differentiate the content faster.

psychology task design

3. Law of Similarity – similar objects appear related—for example, objects with similar shape, color, shading, size, and other qualities.

psychology task design

4. Law of Closure – the brain’s ability to see a complete shape by filling in the missing information. 

psychology task design

5. Law of Continuity – the human eye naturally follows paths, lines, or curves of a design. Like proximity, continuity can help users identify related content.

psychology task design

6. Law of Symmetry – the brain’s preference for dividing objects into an even number of symmetrical parts.

6 UX Design Psychology Principles Every Designer Must Know

The Von Restorff effect predicts that in a group of objects, the one that differs stands out or is most likely to be remembered. The Von Restorff effect is one of the most critical principles in UX design psychology because it helps provide the user with clarity and direction.

UX designers apply the Von Restorff effect whenever they’re trying to highlight a prominent call to action button—for example, enlarging the CTA or making it a different color.

The Von Restorff effect is also helpful in other parts of a user interface. For example, if you have a series of tabs, you might indicate which tab the user is currently on by making it a different color. The same is true for highlighting the current page in navigation or the current step in a user flow.

Hick’s Law estimates that the more choices you give someone, the longer it’ll take them to make a decision—because you’re increasing their cognitive load.

Hick’s Law is a crucial psychological principle for eCommerce design. Firstly, if shoppers have too much choice, they may take multiple visits before deciding what to buy. The experience might be too overwhelming, meaning they never purchase anything!

UX designers must also pay attention to Hick’s Law during the checkout process. The steps it takes to complete a sale, and the number of form input fields can severely impact a store’s conversion rate.

UX teams must continually evaluate designs to ensure they only provide users with the least number of choices to complete a task or goal.

The principle of least effort states that users will make choices or take action requiring the least amount of energy. If a product is too complicated or there’s a steep learning curve, users are less likely to use it.

The principle of least effort is also critical when making layout or user interface changes. Changing how users interact with your product might annoy them to learn a new process—do this too many times, and you’re likely to lose users.

The principle of least effort is not something that designers consider once to solve the problem. It’s an ongoing process of user testing and iterating to look for improvements continually.

The serial positioning effect states that people are most likely to remember the first (primacy effect) and last (recency effect) items in a list, sentence, or piece of content. 

Psychologists suspect the serial position effect occurs because people expect the most meaningful information to appear at the beginning and end.

UX designers can use the serial position effect to create better user experiences. For example, placing the most important or most-used navigational links first and last.

The serial position effect is also effective for screen layouts by displaying critical information at the top and bottom.

The principle of perpetual habit states that people rely on familiar routines and habits. If you design a new car, you don’t put the steering wheel in the trunk because you want a clean, minimalist dash. 

There are areas where you can exercise creativity and innovation, but there are some universal standards you should never change.

For example, users expect to find navigational links in the header and footer. The hamburger icon indicates where to find the navigation for mobile users. If you change this structure, users will have trouble with basic navigation resulting in a poor user experience.

Good product design goes as far as recognizing the different user habits across devices, from mobile devices to desktop, iOS to Android—and tweaking the product to align with the user needs.

The principle of emotional contagion or chameleon effect states that humans will mimic or empathize with the emotions and behaviors of others, including animals and animations.

UX designers can use the principle of emotional contagion to create engaging and immersive user experiences. 

A good example is how Duolingo uses the Language Bird to encourage users to return to the app. If a user misses a lesson, Language Bird is upset and crying. But when you complete a class, Language Bird is cheerful and excited.

UX designers have an obligation not to abuse the principle of emotional contagion by shaming or manipulating users into taking actions that could harm them.

By understanding UX psychology, you can build better products for your users. Design psychology also helps us understand the why behind product and interaction design. 

We derive many UX design principles from human behavior to enhance the user experience. But these are powerful psychological tools that can do as much harm as good.

A good example is how social media companies use design psychology to manipulate people and compete for users’ attention in the name of profits.

Familiarize yourself with design psychology so you can learn to recognize these principles in participants during usability testing. There may be non-verbal cues you observe, allowing you to engage with users to get more meaningful feedback.

Another way to get meaningful feedback is by creating high-fidelity prototypes that look and function like the final product. UXPin lets you turn ideas into experiences with sophisticated yet intuitive all-in-one prototyping software .

Take the UX principles from this article and apply them to your next project in UXPin. Sign up for a 14-day free trial and start designing better customer experiences today!

by UXPin on 8th November, 2021

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🧠 The Psychology of Design 106 Cognitive Biases & Principles That Affect Your UX

Every time users interact with your product, they:

  • 🙈 Filter the information
  • 🔮 Seek the meaning of it
  • ⏰ Act within a given time
  • 💾 Store bits of the interaction in their memories

So to improve your user experience , you need to understand the biases & heuristics affecting those four decision-cycle steps.

Below is a list of cognitive biases and design principles (with examples and tips) for each category. Let’s dive right in.

PS: Don’t have time to read the whole list?  Get the cheat sheet

🙈 Information

Users filter out a lot of the information that they receive, even when it could be important.

👀 Hick's Law

More options leads to harder decisions

💼 Confirmation Bias

People look for evidence that confirms what they think

Previous stimuli influence users' decision

🚛 Cognitive Load

Total amount of mental effort that is required to complete a task

⚓️ Anchoring Bias

Users rely heavily on the first piece of information they see

Subtle hints can affect users' decisions

🍰 Progressive Disclosure

Users are less overwhelmed if they're exposed to complex features later

🎯 Fitts's Law

Large and close elements are easier to interact with

🕶 Banner Blindness

Users tune out the stuff they get repeatedly exposed to

🕺 Decoy Effect

Create a new option that's easy to discard

The way information is presented affects how users make decisions

🐠 Attentional Bias

Users' thoughts filter what they pay attention to

💔 Empathy Gap

People underestimate how much emotions influence user behaviors

⛵️ Visual Anchors

Elements used to guide users' eyes

🌶 Von Restorff Effect

People notice items that stand out more

🎖 Visual Hierarchy

The order in which people perceive what they see

🔭 Selective Attention

People filter out things from their environment when in focus

✈️ Survivorship Bias

People neglect things that don't make it past a selection process

🍒 Juxtaposition

Elements that are close and similar are perceived as a single unit

🚦 Signifiers

Elements that communicate what they will do

Users' attention is drawn to higher visual weights

🚨 External Trigger

When the information on what to do next is within the prompt itself

🎪 Centre-Stage Effect

People tend to choose the middle option in a set of items

🍣 Law of Proximity

Elements close to each other are usually considered related

🍬 Tesler's Law

If you simplify too much, you'll transfer some complexity to the users

🧨 Spark Effect

Users are more likely to take action when the effort is small

🥏 Feedback Loop

When users take action, feedback communicates what happened

😻 Expectations Bias

People tend to be influenced by their own expectations

🚆 Aesthetic-Usability Effect

People perceive designs with great aesthetics as easier to use

When users try to give sense to information, they make stories and assumptions to fill the gaps.

👥 Social Proof

Users adapt their behaviors based on what others do

People value things more when they're in limited supply

💭 Curiosity Gap

Users have a desire to seek out missing information

🖲 Mental Model

Users have a preconceived opinion of how things work

👨‍👩‍👧‍👦 Familiarity Bias

People prefer familiar experiences

🕹 Skeuomorphism

Users adapt more easily to things that look like real-world objects

🎁 Reciprocity

People feel the need to reciprocate when they receive something

🤝 Singularity Effect

Users care disproportionately about an individual as compared to a group

🎰 Variable Reward

People especially enjoy unexpected rewards

🎉 Aha! moment

When new users first realize the value of your product

🥅 Goal Gradient Effect

Motivation increases as users get closer to their goal

💈 Occam’s Razor

Simple solutions are often better than the more complex ones

🎗 Noble Edge Effect

Users tend to prefer socially responsible companies

🧿 Hawthorne Effect

Users change their behavior when they know they are being observed

👼 Halo Effect

People judge things (or people) based on their feelings towards one trait

☎️ Miller’s Law

Users can only keep 7±2 items in their working memory

🍱 Unit Bias

One unit of something feels like the optimal amount

🌊 Flow State

Being fully immersed and focused on a task

👑 Authority Bias

Users attribute more importance to the opinion of an authority figure

🏺 Pseudo-Set Framing

Tasks that are part of a group are more tempting to complete

🎊 Group Attractiveness Effect

Individual items seem more attractive when presented in a group

🚰 Curse of Knowledge

Not realizing that people don't have the same level of knowledge

📮 Self-Initiated Triggers

Users are more likely to interact with prompts they setup for themselves

✏️ Survey Bias

Users tend to skew survey answers towards what's socially acceptable

🎭 Cognitive Dissonance

It's painful to hold two opposing ideas in our mind

💫 Feedforward

When users know what to expect before they take action

🏒 Hindsight Bias

People overestimate their ability to predict outcomes after the fact

🎏 Law of Similarity

Users perceive a relationship between elements that look similar

🌓 Law of Prägnanz

Users interpret ambiguous images in a simpler and more complete form

🐘 Streisand Effect

When trying to censor information ends up increasing awareness of that information

🔦 Spotlight Effect

People tend to believe they are being noticed more than they really are

🗓 Fresh Start Effect

Users are more likely to take action if there's a feeling of new beginnings

Users are busy so they look for shortcuts and jump to conclusions quickly.

🧗‍♂️ Labor Illusion

People value things more when they see the work behind them

🚶‍♂️ Default Bias

Users tend not to change an established behavior

🏦 Investment Loops

When users invest themselves, they're more likely to come back

🕯 Loss Aversion

People prefer to avoid losses more than earning equivalent gains

👞 Commitment & Consistency

Users tend to be consistent with their previous actions

🏝 Sunk Cost Effect

Users are reluctant to pull out of something they're invested in.

🌋 Reactance

Users are less likely to adopt a behavior when they feel forced

🔨 Law of the Instrument

If all you have is a hammer, everything looks like a nail

🍭 Temptation Bundling

Hard tasks are less scary when coupled with something users desire

🎩 Dunning-Kruger Effect

People tend to overestimate their skills when they don't know much

🔍 Discoverability

The ease with which users can discover your features

🐍 Second-Order Effect

The consequences of the consequences of actions

🌛 Decision Fatigue

Making a lot of decisions lowers users' ability to make rational ones

🥽 Observer-Expectancy Effect

When researchers' biases influence the participants of an experiment

🌱 Weber's Law

Users adapt better to small incremental changes

🎈 Parkinson’s Law

The time required to complete a task will take as much time as allowed

🌤 Affect Heuristic

People's current emotions cloud and influence their judgment

📉 Hyperbolic Discounting

People tend to prioritize immediate benefits over bigger future gains

⌚️ Chronoception

People's perception of time is subjective

💳 Cashless Effect

People spend more when they can't actually see the money

🌚 Self-serving bias

People take credits for positive events and blame others if negative

🥬 Pareto Principle

Roughly 80% of the effects come from 20% of the causes

🔫 Backfire Effect

When people's convictions are challenged, their beliefs get stronger

🌈 False Consensus Effect

People overestimate how much other people agree with them

🚋 Bandwagon Effect

Users tend to adopt beliefs in proportion of others who have already done so

🧙‍♂️ Barnum-Forer Effect

When you believe generic personality descriptions apply specifically to you.

🛋 IKEA Effect

When user partially create something, they value it way more

🧚‍♂️ Planning Fallacy

People tend to underestimate how much time a task will take

Users try to remember what's most important, but their brain prefers some elements over others.

🏕 Provide Exit Points

Invite users to leave your app at the right moment

🎢 Peak-End Rule

People judge an experience by its peak and how it ends.

👅 Sensory Appeal

Users engage more with things appealing to multiple senses

🧩 Zeigarnik Effect

People remember incomplete tasks better than completed ones

🧤 Endowment Effect

Users value something more if they feel it's theirs

People remember grouped information better

💚 Delighters

People remember more unexpected and playful pleasures

💛 Internal Trigger

When users are prompted to take action based on a memory

📸 Picture Superiority Effect

People remember pictures better than words

📌 Method of Loci

People remember things more when they're associated with a location

Incrementally reinforcing actions to get closer to a target behavior

💾 Recognition Over Recall

It's easier to recognize things than recall them from memory

🏰 Storytelling Effect

People remember stories better than facts alone

👹 Negativity Bias

Users recall negative events more than positive ones

⏰ Availability Heuristic

Users favor recent and available information over past information

🌌 Spacing Effect

People learn more effectively when study sessions are spaced out

🏁 Serial Position Effect

It's easier for users to recall the first and last items of a list

Product Psychology Resources

If you want to learn more about behavioral psychology and mental models , we recommend these resources:

📓 Cognitive Biases Codex

The four categories of our list come from Buster Benson's work

📘 Super Thinking

The big book of mental models and cognitive biases (Gabriel Weinberg)

How to build habit-forming products (Nir Eyal)

📕 Influence

The psychology of persuasion (Robert Cialdini)

📔 Predictably Irrational

The hidden forces that shape our decisions (Dan Ariely)

Cognitive Biases Cheat sheet

We took the time to summarize each principle in one line.

They are all in a free cheat sheet of cognitive biases principles .

You can  download this cheatsheet as a PDF here .

Use it as a user empathy reminder while you build a feature.

Nir Eyal

“ We all have a responsibility to build ethically-designed products and services to improve people’s lives. Growth.Design’s list of cognitive biases and psychological principles is a great reference for any team committed to improving their customers’ user experience. Dan & Louis-Xavier’s comic book case studies show you how. ” — Nir Eyal, bestselling author of Hooked and Indistractable

Now It’s Your Turn

So which principle are you going to try next?

Are there missing elements we should add to the list?

You can reach us at [email protected] , we reply to everyone!

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Psychology for ux: study guide.

Summary:  Unsure where to start? Use this collection of links to our articles and videos to learn about some principles of human psychology and how they relate to UX design.

By Tanner Kohler

  • Tanner Kohler

on 2022-12-16 December 16, 2022

  • Psychology and UX Psychology and UX , 
  • Study Guides , 
  • Persuasive Design , 
  • Behavior Patterns
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Bringing psychology and technology together is at the heart of UX design because UX is people . However, you do not need a degree in psychology to understand the basics of how humans function. Most psychological principles that are relevant to UX are easy to understand but make a big difference when applied correctly. Since the beginning, NN/g has always preached that the best designs are built for people as they really are — not who we wish they were.

Don Norman (one of our principals) calls himself a cognitive designer because regardless of the type of products you are working on, what matters is that you design systems for how people think. The following resources will help you explore and understand many of the psychological principles that help create the best user experiences and achieve an organization’s goals.

Resources in this study guide are grouped under the following topics:


  • Decision making and choice
  • Motor processes and interaction
  • Cognitive biases
  • Persuasion and influence
  • Emotion and delight
  • Attitudes toward technology
  • Additional paid resources

Although most people feel like they notice everything going on around them, their ability to do so is very limited. Humans cannot focus their attention on everything at once — their brains automatically filter out anything that doesn’t seem useful.

Items that are close together are perceived as being related.

Human memory is limited and imperfect. The limits of human memory affect people’s ability to process information and shape the way information is stored for long periods.

People are not like cameras. They do not objectively capture information and process it the same way as anyone else would. People constantly try to make sense of the world by relying on their own experiences and understandings. However, sometimes these perceptions are accurate and sometimes they are not.

Decision Making and Choice

Having more options does not always lead to greater satisfaction. Making choices (especially complex ones) is difficult and requires significant mental effort. Guiding users through decisions by making things simple will improve their experience in every context.

Motor Processes and Interaction

Interactions between humans and technology are inherently limited by human abilities and their willingness to act. To create the best user experiences, systems need to adapt to people, not people to systems.

UX designers must create usable designs, but they must also create designs that people are motivated to use. However, leveraging what we know about human motivation in ways that harm people is both unethical and harmful for a business.

Cognitive Biases

Patterns that describe systematic ways in which people deviate from rational thinking are often called biases or heuristics . These biases are mental shortcuts people use to save themselves from doing extra mental work when making sense of the world.

Persuasion and Influence

Although they may not realize it, many people are not firmly decided on a course of action until they take it. Psychology describes how people give weight to certain types of information as they choose courses of action and the factors that can nudge their decisions.

Trust is foundational to all relationships — including relationships between users and websites. It is important for designs to establish credibility and win users’ trust to develop a long-term relationship.

Emotion and Delight

Don Norman said, “without emotions, your decision-making ability would be impaired.” Emotions play a critical role in daily functioning and determine which experiences will delight people.

Attitudes toward Technology

The way people use technology affects their lives. Designers must take care to impact people in positive ways through the designs they create.

Additional Paid Resources

Full-day courses:

  • The Human Mind and Usability
  • Persuasive and Emotional Design
  • Emotional Design: Why We Love (Or Hate) Everyday Things
  • Human Information Processing: Introduction to Psychology
  • Explorations in Cognition
  • Learning and Memory: A Primer

(An earlier version of this article was originally published October 16, 2022. The article was last updated and revised on December 16, 2022.)

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About the Author

Tanner Kohler is a User Experience Specialist with Nielsen Norman Group. Tanner's studies have focused on social psychology, and he has researched theories of human motivation and the gamification of learning. He has developed, taught, and evaluated curricula for thousands of full-time volunteers for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. He has an MS degree in instructional psychology and technology.

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Watch Basic Psychology Is Essential for UX Practitioners , 4 minute video with Tanner Kohler :

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The Science Behind Design: 8 Psychology Principles to Apply to Your Next Project

Bethany Cartwright

Updated: August 26, 2022

Published: June 23, 2016

When it comes down to it, design is all about making choices. Each color, shape, line, font, text, and graphic you use will ultimately influence the message you're trying to get across.


I’ve often been in conversations with people who know they should get better at design, but they don’t feel they have a “natural sense” for creativity. However, I argue that learning to design well has as much to do with psychology and user behavior as it does creativity.

But learning the " psychology of design " doesn’t mean picking up a playbook that'll tell you the right and wrong way to design something. That's just not the way it works.

Access hundreds of Website Themes & Templates on HubSpot

What brushing up on psychological principles (as they relate to design) will do is help you understand what goes into the creation of intuitive, intentional design experiences. 

Want to learn more? We'll dive into a handful of psychological principles below to help you get the wheels turning.  

8 Psychological Principles That'll Change the Way You Design

1) mental models.

Computer scientists and UX designers think and talk a lot about mental models, because the process of designing something new -- like a website layout or a new app -- requires trying to uncover and act on what users might find to be intuitive.

Mental modeling is the process of mapping out what a person understands about the real world through experience and replicating those models in the design of something in the virtual space. This is all about trying to uncover your audience’s intuitive process.

Think of your computer files and folders. They’re based on the same old-school method of organizing hard files, so it’s easy for the user to understand -- despite the visual looking rather different.

Desktop Files.

For designers, understanding what mental modeling is and why it’s important comes down to simply designing with your users’ experience in mind.

Throughout your design process, do an “intuitive check.” Are your visuals moving right to left, top to bottom? Is your message clear and easy to understand, or is it unintentionally hidden?

A gut check with a friend or coworker is a great way to keep an eye on whether your mental modeling is working well in your designs.

2) The Von Restorff Effect

The Von Restorff effect is, quite simply, the idea that the oddball out is the one that gets remembered.

When designing, sometimes you want your audience’s eye to be drawn to one spot --even if there are other design elements around it. This might mean using a different color, font, size, etc.

In this example, Target Jobs, a UK-based career and job-searching tool, used this image to illustrate how one might stand out from the crowd in the job market. By placing a group of similar elements next to one different element (the red shoes), this image uses the Von Restorff effect to show how it’s the different idea that really stands out to the viewer.

Von Restorff Effect Example.

Image Credit: Target Jobs

While this example’s idea is fairly straightforward, you can also use the Von Restorff effect throughout your site pages to draw your users’ eyes to certain spots on a page.

For instance, in CTA creation, you can use the Von Restorff to create contrast on your page and draw your users’ attention, like this:

conversion lab landing page

3) Gestalt Principles

Gestalt psychology  explores how elements are perceived in relation to each other visually. The gestalt principles, or gestalt laws, focus specifically on how design elements are grouped together.

  • Proximity: The idea that when objects are placed in close proximity to one another, those objects are seen as a group rather than seen individually. Although there are lots of shapes within the “U,” in the Unilever logo, the eye still recognizes those objects as a group making up the "U" figure.

Unilever Logo.

Image Credit: Unilever

  • Similarity: Objects that look similar will be perceived as one object or as a part of the same group. In the NBC logo, the similar cones are perceived as a group because they look similar to one another.


Image Credit: NBC

  • Closure: Closure occurs when a shape is still perceived as a whole even when the object is not fully closed in reality. In the Girl Scout logo, the shapes and whitespace are used to create a perceived series of silhouettes even though only some of the shapes are actually enclosed.

Girl Scouts.

Image Credit: Girl Scouts

  • Continuity: Occurs as the eye moves naturally from one object to the other. This often happens through the creation of curved lines allowing the eye to flow with the line. In the Olympic logo, the eye can see that the objects are continuous as they link with each other, creating a grouped visual.

olympics logo

Image Credit: Olympics

  • Figure & ground : When the eye notices an object as an object, it separates the object (figure) from the surrounding area (the ground). In this logo-tribute to Steve Jobs, the viewer either see the white space as the figure or the ground, depending on whether the eye looks at the apple or the silhouette of Steve Jobs.

logo tribute to steve jobs

Image Credit: Jonathan Mak Long (via The Next Web)

4) Visceral Reactions

Have you ever come across a website, picture, or anything visual that you just instinctively loved but couldn’t necessarily explain why? You probably had a visceral reaction -- the kind of reaction that just comes from the gut.

Designing for visceral reactions is essentially designing to create a positive aesthetic impression. To some extent it takes just knowing what looks pleasing to people and what doesn't.

Airbnb Visceral Reactions.

Airbnb uses visceral designs to capture the beauty and exotic aesthetic of travel. Although most Airbnb’s for rental probably don’t have beachside views or colorful accommodations, Airbnb uses design to connect their audience with the excitement and possibility of traveling the world.

Designing for the visceral can be as a simple as using beautiful photography and colorful imagery to capture the attention of your audience.

5) The Psychology of Color

We often associate different colors with feelings or thoughts , so designers have done a lot of research to find out which colors humans associate with different moods.

For a more in-depth look at which colors are used for different moods, here’s a great infographic on the psychology of color. Otherwise, here’s the basic rundown:

Blue: Secure, calm, honest, trustworthy, strong, caring

Corporate businesses often use blue to convey a neutral sense of trustworthiness. Facebook’s blue color scheme, for example, helps convey to users that it’s a secure, strong social network. This helps users feel a sense of privacy and security even when sharing and displaying lots of personal information.

Facebook blue.

Red: Energy, love, exciting, action, bold, passionate

Coca-Cola is one of the classic examples of how a company has used red in its branding to communicate how exciting and energetic it is as a product.

Coca Cola Red.

Orange: Happy, sociable, friendly, affordable

At HubSpot, orange is our favorite color. And it’s no wonder why we love it so much -- it communicates to our audience how happy we are to be helping our customers do better marketing.

HubSpot Orange.

Yellow: Logical, optimistic, forward-thinking, confidence, playful

Bzzy, an app that let’s you easily auto-reply your friends when you’re busy, uses a yellow color scheme to communicate its innovate style while still maintaining a sense of playfulness.

Bzzy Yellow.

Purple: Imaginative, creative, nostalgic

Kaleidoscope’s purple color scheme helps communicate the imaginative, helpful nature of its app: an app that helps you do quick and easy file comparison when you need to merge changes across different versions.

Kaleidoscope Purple.

Green: Growth, organic, natural, caring, fresh, earth

For companies, like Whole Foods, that want to highlight an obvious connection to nature and freshness, using green as a basis in their color scheme is a no brainer. Green helps communicate the natural, organic feeling that Whole Foods strives to tie into its branding.

Whole Foods Green.

Black: Sophistication, luxury, seductive, formal, authority

Want to travel in VIP style? 212 Supercars, a luxury car rental and driver service, uses a sleek black-and-white design to communicate it’s luxurious and exclusive branding.

Multi-color: Multi-channel, positive, playful, bold, boundless

Google, the classic example of a multi-channel, playful company communicates it effectively through its use of the multi-color scheme.

Google Multicolor.

6) The Psychology of Shapes

Like colors, humans associate different shapes with certain emotions and characteristics.

Although less of a principle itself, the psychology of shapes boils down to studies that have shown which characteristics people match with certain shapes.

Circles, Ovals, and Ellipses: Positive emotional messages attached to community, friendship, love, relationships, unity, and femininity.

AT&T’s circular logo helps its brand communicate a universality feel. As a wireless network, this makes sense. The use of shape helps connect the audience with a recognizable pattern.

at and t logo.

Image Credit: AT&T

Squares and Triangles: Stability and balance, strength, professionalism, efficiency, power, and masculinity.

Microsoft and Delta both use triangles and squares in their logos. This helps establish feelings of stability and efficiency when viewing the logo, which are positive feelings to associate with brands.

Microsoft White Logo.

Image Credit: Microsoft

Delta Logo.

Image Credit: Delta

Vertical Lines: Masculinity, strength, and aggression.

While the basic cloud shape of SoundCloud’s logo might communicate emotions associated with dreaming and creativity, the vertical lines create a more aggressive feel. It’s the combination of the lines and the overall cloud shape that helps communicate the duality of the creative and the strength of SoundCloud as a tool.

soundcloud logo

Image Credit: SoundCloud

Horizontal Lines: Community, tranquility, and calm.

As a civil rights organization, the Human Rights Campaign is a great example to consider when thinking about building community and peace. And the horizontal lines/rectangles used in the logo really help to communicate both equality and tranquility. 

Image Credit: Human Rights Campaign

7) Dual-Coding Theory

You’ve probably heard the statistic before that our brains process visual information 60,000X faster than text. Well, dual-coding theory  is the idea that both visual and verbal cues can represent ideas, but using both can help the brain recall those ideas faster.

In other words, we need visual and verbal information to digest and remember information.

When designing, this means illustrating ideas as much as possible, while still using verbal messages to fully explain ideas.

In the example below, the graphic shows a visual, literal representation depicting primary, secondary, and tertiary colors. But to fully grasp the concepts, it’s necessary to pair the visual information with written (verbal) information. The dual-coding is what helps the reader truly understand the concept.

Primary Secondary Tertiary Colors.

8) Cost-Benefit Analysis

Whether we consciously think it or not, every decision we make goes through a cost benefit analysis , which is simply the process of weighing the costs and the benefits of an action before we take it.

If the costs outweigh the benefits, we don’t take action.

As designers, our job is to make sure whatever we have designed has benefits that outweigh the costs . This means making our content as simple as possible for the audience while still fulfilling the goal of the content.

Think of a form submission on your landing pages. Say you want to offer your audience some top-of-the-funnel content like a template or high-level ebook.

When you strategize about getting users to fill out a form to claim this content, you have to remember to design your conversion process with your audience’ cost-benefit analysis in mind. In other words, don't ask for more than you need.

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The Psychology of Design

There are a number of debates about which additional skills designers should learn. Should designers code, write, or understand business? These skills are incredibly valuable but perhaps not essential. However, I would argue that every designer should learn the fundamentals of psychology. As humans, we have an underlying “blueprint” for how we perceive and process the world around us, and the study of psychology helps us define this blueprint. As designers, we can leverage psychology to build more intuitive, human-centered products and experiences. Instead of forcing users to conform to the design of a product or experience, we can use some key principles from psychology as a guide for designing how people actually are.

But knowing where to start can be a challenge. Which principles from psychology are useful? What are some examples of these principles at work? In this article, I’ll cover the basics, and discuss the ethical implications of using psychology in design.

Key principles #section2

The intersection of psychology and design is extensive. There’s an endless list of principles that occupy this space, but there are a few that I’ve found more ubiquitous than others. Let’s take a look at what these are and where they are effectively leveraged by products and experiences we interact with everyday.

Hick’s Law #section3

One of the primary functions we have as designers is to synthesize information and present it in a way that it doesn’t overwhelm users—after all, good communication strives for clarity . This directly relates to our first key principle: Hick’s Law. Hick’s Law predicts that the time it takes to make a decision increases with the number and complexity of choices available . It was formulated by psychologists William Edmund Hick and Ray Hyman in 1952 after examining the relationship between the number of stimuli present and an individual’s reaction time to any given stimulus.

It turns out there is an actual formula to represent this relationship: RT = a + b log2 ( n ) . Fortunately, we don’t need to understand the math behind this formula to grasp what it means. The concept is quite simple: the time it takes for users to respond directly correlates to the number and complexity of options available. It implies that complex interfaces result in longer processing time for users, which is important because it’s related to a fundamental theory in psychology known as cognitive load.

Cognitive load #section4

Cognitive load refers to the mental processing power being used by our working memory. Our brains are similar to computer processors in that we have limited processing power: when the amount of information coming in exceeds the space available, cognitive load is incurred. Our performance suffers and tasks become more difficult, which results in missed details and even frustration.

Examples #section5

Three photos of television remotes where the majority of buttons have been covered, leaving only holes for the channel, volume, and number buttons.

There are examples of Hick’s Law in action everywhere, but we’ll start with a common one: remote controls. As features available in TVs increased over the decades, so did the options available on their corresponding remotes. Eventually we ended up with remotes so complex that using them required either muscle memory from repeated use or a significant amount of mental processing. This led to the phenomenon known as “grandparent-friendly remote.” By taping off everything except for the essential buttons, grandkids were able to improve the usability of remotes for their loved ones, and they also did us all the favor of sharing them online.

A photo of the Apple TV remote, which has a gesture-friendly touch pad and only six buttons.

In contrast, we have smart TV remotes: the streamlined cousin of the previous example, simplifying the controls to only those absolutely necessary. The result is a remote that doesn’t require a substantial amount of working memory and therefore incurs much less cognitive load. By transferring complexity to the TV interface itself, information can be effectively organized and progressively disclosed within menus.

Screenshots of Slack's onboarding experience where users learn the system by chatting with Slackbot before being introduced to the rest of the UI.

Let’s take a look at another example of Hick’s Law. Onboarding is a crucial but risky process for new users, and few nail it as well as Slack. Instead of dropping users into a fully featured app after enduring a few onboarding slides, they use a bot (Slackbot) to engage users and prompt them to learn the messaging feature consequence-free. To prevent new users from feeling overwhelmed, Slack hides all features except for the messaging input. Once users have learned how to message via Slackbot, they are progressively introduced to additional features.

This is a more effective way to onboard users because it mimics the way we actually learn: we build upon each subsequent step, and add to what we already know. By revealing features at just the right time, we enable our users to adapt to complex workflows and feature sets without feeling overwhelmed.

Key takeaways #section6

  • Too many choices will increase the cognitive load for users.
  • Break up long or complex processes into screens with fewer options.
  • Use progressive onboarding to minimize cognitive load for new users.

Miller’s Law #section7

Another key principle is Miller’s Law, which predicts that the average person can only keep 7 (± 2) items in their working memory . It originates from a paper published in 1956 by cognitive psychologist George Miller, who discussed the limits of short-term memory and memory span. Unfortunately there has been a lot of misinterpretation regarding this heuristic over the years, and it’s led to the “ magical number seven ” being used to justify unnecessary limitations (for example, limiting interface menus to no more than seven items).

Chunking #section8

Miller’s fascination with short-term memory and memory span centered not on the number seven, but on the concept of “chunking” and our ability to memorize information accordingly. When applied to design, chunking can be an incredibly valuable tool. Chunking describes the act of visually grouping related information into small, distinct units of information. When we chunk content in design, we are effectively making it easier to process and understand. Users can scan the content and quickly identify what they are interested in, which is aligned with how we tend to consume digital content.

Examples #section9

Two example numbers side by side, one a single unbroken string of ten digits, the other with parentheses around the first three digits, and a dash after the second three digits (resembling a phone number much like Jenny's from Tommy Tutone's classic song).

The simplest example of chunking can be found with how we format phone numbers. Without chunking, a phone number would be a long string of digits, which increases the difficulty to process and remember it. Alternatively, a phone number that has been formatted (chunked) becomes much easier to interpret and memorize. This is similar to how we perceive a “wall of text” in comparison to well-formatted content with appropriate headline treatments, line-length, and content length.

A screenshot of Bloomberg's homepage with visually grouped blocks outlined in blue to show how they have been chunked together.

Another example of chunking being used effectively in design is with layout. We can use this technique to help users understand underlying relationships and hierarchy by grouping content into distinctive modules. Especially in information-dense experiences, chunking can be leveraged to provide structure to the content. Not only is the result more visually pleasing, but it’s more scannable.

Key takeaways #section10

  • Don’t use the “magical number seven” to justify unnecessary design limitations.
  • Organize content into smaller chunks to help users process, understand, and memorize easily.

Jakob’s Law #section11

The last principle we’ll look at is Jakob’s Law (short for Jakob’s Law of Internet User Experience), which states that users spend most of their time on other sites, and they prefer your site to work the same way as all the other sites they already know . In 2000, it was put forth by usability expert Jakob Nielsen , who described the tendency for users to develop an expectation of design patterns based on their cumulative experience from other websites. This principle encourages designers to follow common design patterns in order to avoid confusing users, which can result in higher cognitive load.

Mental models #section12

I know what you’re thinking: if all websites followed the same design patterns, that would make for quite the boring web. The answer is yes, that is probably true. But there is something incredibly valuable to be found in familiarity for users, which leads us to another fundamental concept in psychology that is valuable for designers: mental models.

A mental model is what we think we know about a system, especially about how it works. Whether it’s a website or a car, we form models of how a system works, and then we apply that model to new situations where the system is similar. In other words, we use knowledge we already have from past experiences when interacting with something new.

Mental models are valuable for designers, because we can match our user’s mental model to improve their experience . Consequently, users can easily transfer their knowledge from one product or experience to another without taking time to understand how the new system works. Good user experiences are made possible when the designer’s mental model is aligned with the user’s mental model. The task of shrinking the gap between our mental models and those of our users is one of our biggest challenges, and to achieve this we use a variety of methods: user interviews, personas, journey maps, empathy maps, and more. The point of all this is to gain a deeper insight into not only the goals and objectives of our users but also their pre-existing mental models, and how that applies to the product or experience we are designing.

Examples #section13

Have you ever wondered why form controls look the way they do? It’s because the humans designing them had a mental model for what these elements should look like, which they based on control panels they were already familiar with in the physical world. Things like form toggles, radio inputs, and even buttons originated from the design of their tactile counterparts.

Two images side by side: one showing buttons and radio inputs on a physical control panel and the other showing form inputs on the web.

As designers, we must close the gap that exists between our mental models and that of our users. It’s important we do this because there will be problems when they aren’t aligned, which can affect how users perceive the products and experiences we’ve helped build. This misalignment is called mental model discordance , and it occurs when a familiar product is suddenly changed.

Screenshots from before and after Snapchat's redesign show a drastically different interface that confused many users.

Take for example Snapchat, which rolled out a major redesign in early 2018. They launched a reformatted layout, which in turn confused users by making it difficult to access features they used on a daily basis. These unhappy users immediately took to Twitter and expressed their disapproval en masse. Even worse was the subsequent migration of users to Snapchat’s competitor, Instagram. Snapchat had failed to ensure the mental model of their users would be aligned with the redesigned version of their app, and the resulting discordance caused major backlash.

By contrast to Snapchat, Google allowed users to explore and test YouTube's redesign ahead of time which lead to a more successful launch.

But major redesigns don’t always have to result in backlash—just ask Google. Google has a history of allowing users to opt in to redesigned versions of their products like Google Calendar, YouTube, and Gmail. When they launched the new version of YouTube in 2017 after years of essentially the same design, they allowed desktop users to ease into the new Material Design UI without having to commit. Users could preview the new design, gain some familiarity, submit feedback, and even revert to the old version if they preferred it. As a result, the inevitable mental model discordance was avoided by simply empowering users to switch when they were ready.

Key takeaways #section14

  • Users will transfer expectations they have built around one familiar product to another that appears similar.
  • By leveraging existing mental models, we can create superior user experiences in which the user can focus on their task rather than learning new models.
  • Minimize discordance by empowering users to continue using a familiar version for a limited time.

Recap #section15

You might be thinking, “These principles are great, but how do I use them in my projects?” While nothing will replace actual user research and data specific to our projects, we can use these psychological principles to serve as a guide for designing more intuitive, human-centered products and experiences. Being mindful of these principles helps us create designs that consider how people actually are, as opposed to forcing them to conform to the technology. To quickly recap:

  • Hick’s Law can help guide us to reduce cognitive load for users by minimizing choice and breaking long or complex processes into screens with fewer options.
  • Miller’s Law teaches us to use chunking to organize content into smaller clusters to help users process, understand, and memorize easily.
  • Jakob’s Law reminds us that users will transfer expectations they have built around one familiar product to another that appears similar. Therefore, we can leverage existing mental models to create superior user experiences.

We’ve covered some key principles that are useful for building more intuitive, human-centered products and experiences. Now let’s touch on their ethical implications and how easy it can be to fall into the trap of exploiting users with psychology.

A note on ethics #section16

On the one hand, designers can use psychology to create more intuitive products and experiences; on the other, they can use it to exploit how our minds work, for the sake of creating more addictive apps and websites. Let’s first take a look at why this is a problem, and then consider some potential solutions.

Problem #section17

One doesn’t have to go far to see why the well-being of users being deprioritized in favor of profit is a problem. When was the last time you were on a subway, on a sidewalk, or in a car and didn’t see someone glued to their smartphone? There are some that would argue we’re in the middle of an epidemic , and that our attention is being held captive by the mini-computers that we carry with us everywhere.

It wouldn’t be an exaggeration to say that the mobile platforms and social networks that connect us also put a lot of effort into how they can keep us glued, and they’re getting better at it every day. The effects of this addiction are beginning to become well-known: from sleep reduction and anxiety to deterioration of social relationships, it’s becoming apparent that the race for our attention has some unintended consequences. These effects become problematic when they start to change how we form relationships and how we view ourselves.

Solution #section18

As designers, our responsibility is to create products and experiences that support and align with the goals and well-being of users. In other words, we should build technology for augmenting the human experience, not replacing it with virtual interaction and rewards. The first step in making ethical design decisions is to acknowledge how the human mind can be exploited.

We must also question what we should and shouldn’t build. We can find ourselves on quite capable teams that have the ability to build almost anything you can imagine, but that doesn’t always mean we should—especially if the goals of what we are building don’t align with the goals of our users.

Lastly, we must consider metrics beyond usage data. Data tells us lots of things, but what it doesn’t tell us is why users are behaving a certain way or how the product is impacting their lives. To gain insight into why, we must both listen and be receptive to our users. This means getting out from behind a screen, talking with them, and then using this qualitative research to inform how we evolve the design.

Examples #section19

Google's Digital Wellbeing initiative website details how they're helping users spend less time staring at screens.

It’s been great to see companies taking the right steps when it comes to considering the digital well-being of users. Take for example Google, which just announced tools and features at their latest I/O event that focus on helping people better understand their tech usage, focus on what matters most, disconnect when needed, and create healthy digital habits. Features like an app dashboard that provides a usage overview, additional control over alerts and notifications, and Family Link for setting digital ground rules for the little ones all are geared towards protecting users.

Facebook released a video detailing how they're defining new success criteria around meaningful connections.

Some companies are even redefining their success metrics. Instead of time on site, companies like Facebook are defining success through meaningful interactions . This required them to restructure their news feed algorithm to prioritize the content that people actually find valuable over the stuff we mindlessly consume. Content from friends and family now takes precedence, even if the result means users spend a little less time in their app.

These examples are just a glimpse into the steps that many companies are taking, and I hope to see many more in the coming years. The technology we play a part in building can significantly impact people’s lives, and it’s crucial that we ensure that impact is positive. It’s our responsibility to create products and experiences that support and align with the goals and well-being of users. We can make ethical design decisions by acknowledging how the human mind can be exploited, consider what we should and shouldn’t build, and talk with users to gain qualitative feedback on how the products and experiences we build affect their lives.

Resources #section20

There are tons of great resources we can reference for making our designs more intuitive for users. Here are a few I have referenced quite frequently:

  • Laws of UX : A website I created for designers to learn more about psychological principles that relate to UX/UI design.
  • Cognitive UXD : This hand-selected publication curated by Norbi Gaal is a great resource for anyone interested in the intersection of psychology and UX.
  • Center for Humane Technology : A world-class team of former tech insiders and CEOs who are advancing thoughtful solutions to change the culture, business incentives, design techniques, and organizational structures driving how technology hijacks our brains.
  • The Design of Everyday Things: Revised and Expanded Edition : An absolute classic that explores the communication between object and user through design, how to optimize this communication, and ultimately how psychology plays a part in designing for how humans actually are.
  • Designing for Emotion : A look at the importance of emotion when expressing a brand’s personality, and how designers can go beyond functionality, reliability, and usability to design for humans as opposed to machines.
  • Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products : A guide that provides insight into the behavioral techniques used by companies like Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest.

10 Reader Comments

Great analysis & great resources. Thanx!

Jon, thank you for this writeup! I’ll add this article to our list of learning resources at Center Centre. Our students learn a lot of this material in the Interaction Design course. 🙂

Design is definitely important!

— Leo at https://carpetcleaningop.com

The innovation we have an influence in building can altogether affect individuals’ lives, and it’s pivotal that we guarantee that get assignment help online effect is sure. It’s our obligation to make items and encounters that help and line up with the objectives and prosperity of clients.

Good insight about the design psychology, considering the design sense of end user too can help more likely to result a better user experience business website with all ease.

Agree!! The basic principles of psychology, if applied properly to online web designing projects, can alter the web surfing experience of your visitors and increase your websites business potential. http://yeekoksiong.strikingly.com/

Enjoyed the article. So many people interpret Miller’s Law incorrectly, it’s refreshing to see it written correctly here.

I do have a slightly different view on Hick’s Law however. I agree with the fundamental principal, but think that good design can mitigate some of the issues. Simple (or fewer options) is not always better. It needs to match the complexity of the problem. For some tasks (logging in especially), smart tv remotes are very poor interfaces.

I enjoyed the article. Most people draw the wrong conclusions from Miller’s Law so it is refreshing to see someone write about it correctly.

I do have a slightly different perspective on Hick’s Law. I feel it is often overused to limit choices, when I think it is a design problem about how to present the choices to support decision-making. The goal is not to take away complexity but to design in a way that the complex can be understood.

Well written and informative! I appreciate the callout to ethics and building things that benefit us using these laws. I know in marketing campaigns, they will exploit these psychological laws to make sales and unfortunately marketing and design have some overlap. I hope more companies latch on to this and realize that as technologists, we have a big impact on people today.

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Sally Augustin Ph.D.

Workplace-Design Research for Today’s Workplaces

A dei research breakthrough..

Posted December 1, 2023 | Reviewed by Abigail Fagan

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A team of psychology and engineering researchers from Stanford (Douglas and colleagues) probed how multiple aspects of the physical environment influence the psychological experiences of people at work. They consider not only some of the usual topics—such as the use of natural materials on furniture and elsewhere and the presence of windows (which influences views of nature and being in natural light)—but they also break important new ground by investigating how artwork (specifically photographs) representing diverse identities (i.e., race and gender ) influence stress levels. Their findings are broadly applicable, across all industries and job functions where knowledge workers are employed, for example.

Developing workplaces that foster diversity, equity, and inclusion is top-of-mind for many designers. Before this study was published, there was not much research available to guide their efforts. The Douglas-lead team’s findings on the implications of using natural materials and having access to windows are fairly predictable; their consistency with those of previous studies add credibility to the DEI-related data collected.

The research team had participants spend time in simulated work environments with or without natural materials, windows to the outdoors, and artwork presenting diverse identities. Each participant experienced one of eight different rooms, with all data gathered in less than an hour.

Self-report and physiological data were collected. The physiological data were for skin conductance levels.

Details were provided on study settings:

  • In the natural materials condition, surfaces on furniture and elsewhere primarily featured stained natural wood. In the artificial materials condition, the same surfaces were white plastic laminate.
  • Participants in the window condition experienced natural light and had a view of nature while those in the no window condition did not see either. The window view included the sky, another building, and a few trees.
  • Three photographs were visible to study participants and they were either of groups of white men (non-diverse condition) or sets of people of various races and genders. These photos were what was used to vary the apparent DEI profile of a setting. The images used were in color, wall-mounted, and framed, measuring 16 inches by 20 inches.

People familiar with the research literature will not be surprised to learn that “participants exposed to natural materials and windows during a stress-inducing task had lower negative stress impacts across various metrics.”

This study makes a more distinctive contribution to both research and practice by revealing that participants in the study who were exposed to that artwork representing diverse identities reported lower stress levels than others.

The study findings include:

  • Self-reported stress increases were lower in the natural materials than the artificial materials condition and in those seeing the diverse representations than the nondiverse ones.
  • “Results suggest that in the presence of no window (or artificial materials), having natural materials (or a window) can buffer against some of the negative impacts” following a stressful task.
  • When the SCR data were analyzed it became clear that during the stressful task people experiencing natural materials had significantly lower physiological stress levels than study participants in the artificial materials condition.
  • So, the people in rooms with natural materials had significantly lower increases in stress levels, whether those stress levels were measured physiologically or via self-reports after a stress generating task—all compared to people in the rooms featuring artificial materials.
  • When study participants could see the window they had significantly lower negative arousal scores than those who could not see the window.
  • Interestingly, “participants who identified as male and white had significantly higher divergent creativity scores when exposed to natural materials compared to artificial materials.”

The research by Douglas and colleagues makes it clear that it is particularly important to include natural materials in spaces where people will experience stress and that windows to the outdoors are also a positive addition to these areas. The finding that diverse representations can indeed have desirable psychological effects supports their use and buttresses what had previously been largely anecdotal reasons for including them.

Isabella Douglas, Elizabeth Murnane, Lucy Bencharit Basma Altaf, Jean Costa, Jackie Yang, Meg Ackerson, Charu Srivastava, Michael Cooper, Kyle Douglas, Jennifer King, Pablo Paredes, Nicholas Camp, Matthew Mauriello, Nicole Ardoin, Hazel Markus, James Landay, and Sarah Billington. 2022. “Physical Workplaces and Human Well-Being: A Mixed-Methods Study to Quantify the Effects of Materials, Windows, and Representation on Biobehavioral Outcomes.” Building and Environment, vol. 224 , 109516, https://doi.org/10.1016/j.buildenv.2022.109516

Sally Augustin Ph.D.

Sally Augustin, Ph.D. , is an environmental psychologist and the author of Place Advantage: Applied Psychology for Interior Architecture .

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How to Conduct a Psychology Experiment

Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

psychology task design

Emily is a board-certified science editor who has worked with top digital publishing brands like Voices for Biodiversity, Study.com, GoodTherapy, Vox, and Verywell.

psychology task design

Conducting your first psychology experiment can be a long, complicated, and sometimes intimidating process. It can be especially confusing if you are not quite sure where to begin or which steps to take.

Like other sciences, psychology utilizes the  scientific method  and bases conclusions upon empirical evidence. When conducting an experiment, it is important to follow the seven basic steps of the scientific method:

  • Ask a testable question
  • Define your variables
  • Conduct background research
  • Design your experiment
  • Perform the experiment
  • Collect and analyze the data
  • Draw conclusions
  • Share the results with the scientific community

At a Glance

It's important to know the steps of the scientific method if you are conducting an experiment in psychology or other fields. The processes encompasses finding a problem you want to explore, learning what has already been discovered about the topic, determining your variables, and finally designing and performing your experiment. But the process doesn't end there! Once you've collected your data, it's time to analyze the numbers, determine what they mean, and share what you've found.

Find a Research Problem or Question

Picking a research problem can be one of the most challenging steps when you are conducting an experiment. After all, there are so many different topics you might choose to investigate.

Are you stuck for an idea? Consider some of the following:

Investigate a Commonly Held Belief

Folk knowledge is a good source of questions that can serve as the basis for psychological research. For example, many people believe that staying up all night to cram for a big exam can actually hurt test performance.

You could conduct a study to compare the test scores of students who stayed up all night with the scores of students who got a full night's sleep before the exam.

Review Psychology Literature

Published studies are a great source of unanswered research questions. In many cases, the authors will even note the need for further research. Find a published study that you find intriguing, and then come up with some questions that require further exploration.

Think About Everyday Problems

There are many practical applications for psychology research. Explore various problems that you or others face each day, and then consider how you could research potential solutions. For example, you might investigate different memorization strategies to determine which methods are most effective.

Define Your Variables

Variables are anything that might impact the outcome of your study. An operational definition describes exactly what the variables are and how they are measured within the context of your study.

For example, if you were doing a study on the impact of sleep deprivation on driving performance, you would need to operationally define sleep deprivation and driving performance .

An operational definition refers to a precise way that an abstract concept will be measured. For example, you cannot directly observe and measure something like test anxiety . You can, however, use an anxiety scale and assign values based on how many anxiety symptoms a person is experiencing. 

In this example, you might define sleep deprivation as getting less than seven hours of sleep at night. You might define driving performance as how well a participant does on a driving test.

What is the purpose of operationally defining variables? The main purpose is control. By understanding what you are measuring, you can control for it by holding the variable constant between all groups or manipulating it as an independent variable .

Develop a Hypothesis

The next step is to develop a testable hypothesis that predicts how the operationally defined variables are related. In the recent example, the hypothesis might be: "Students who are sleep-deprived will perform worse than students who are not sleep-deprived on a test of driving performance."

Null Hypothesis

In order to determine if the results of the study are significant, it is essential to also have a null hypothesis. The null hypothesis is the prediction that one variable will have no association to the other variable.

In other words, the null hypothesis assumes that there will be no difference in the effects of the two treatments in our experimental and control groups .

The null hypothesis is assumed to be valid unless contradicted by the results. The experimenters can either reject the null hypothesis in favor of the alternative hypothesis or not reject the null hypothesis.

It is important to remember that not rejecting the null hypothesis does not mean that you are accepting the null hypothesis. To say that you are accepting the null hypothesis is to suggest that something is true simply because you did not find any evidence against it. This represents a logical fallacy that should be avoided in scientific research.  

Conduct Background Research

Once you have developed a testable hypothesis, it is important to spend some time doing some background research. What do researchers already know about your topic? What questions remain unanswered?

You can learn about previous research on your topic by exploring books, journal articles, online databases, newspapers, and websites devoted to your subject.

Reading previous research helps you gain a better understanding of what you will encounter when conducting an experiment. Understanding the background of your topic provides a better basis for your own hypothesis.

After conducting a thorough review of the literature, you might choose to alter your own hypothesis. Background research also allows you to explain why you chose to investigate your particular hypothesis and articulate why the topic merits further exploration.

As you research the history of your topic, take careful notes and create a working bibliography of your sources. This information will be valuable when you begin to write up your experiment results.

Select an Experimental Design

After conducting background research and finalizing your hypothesis, your next step is to develop an experimental design. There are three basic types of designs that you might utilize. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses:

Pre-Experimental Design

A single group of participants is studied, and there is no comparison between a treatment group and a control group. Examples of pre-experimental designs include case studies (one group is given a treatment and the results are measured) and pre-test/post-test studies (one group is tested, given a treatment, and then retested).

Quasi-Experimental Design

This type of experimental design does include a control group but does not include randomization. This type of design is often used if it is not feasible or ethical to perform a randomized controlled trial.

True Experimental Design

A true experimental design, also known as a randomized controlled trial, includes both of the elements that pre-experimental designs and quasi-experimental designs lack—control groups and random assignment to groups.

Standardize Your Procedures

In order to arrive at legitimate conclusions, it is essential to compare apples to apples.

Each participant in each group must receive the same treatment under the same conditions.

For example, in our hypothetical study on the effects of sleep deprivation on driving performance, the driving test must be administered to each participant in the same way. The driving course must be the same, the obstacles faced must be the same, and the time given must be the same.

Choose Your Participants

In addition to making sure that the testing conditions are standardized, it is also essential to ensure that your pool of participants is the same.

If the individuals in your control group (those who are not sleep deprived) all happen to be amateur race car drivers while your experimental group (those that are sleep deprived) are all people who just recently earned their driver's licenses, your experiment will lack standardization.

When choosing subjects, there are some different techniques you can use.

Simple Random Sample

In a simple random sample, the participants are randomly selected from a group. A simple random sample can be used to represent the entire population from which the representative sample is drawn.

Drawing a simple random sample can be helpful when you don't know a lot about the characteristics of the population.

Stratified Random Sample

Participants must be randomly selected from different subsets of the population. These subsets might include characteristics such as geographic location, age, sex, race, or socioeconomic status.

Stratified random samples are more complex to carry out. However, you might opt for this method if there are key characteristics about the population that you want to explore in your research.

Conduct Tests and Collect Data

After you have selected participants, the next steps are to conduct your tests and collect the data. Before doing any testing, however, there are a few important concerns that need to be addressed.

Address Ethical Concerns

First, you need to be sure that your testing procedures are ethical . Generally, you will need to gain permission to conduct any type of testing with human participants by submitting the details of your experiment to your school's Institutional Review Board (IRB), sometimes referred to as the Human Subjects Committee.

Obtain Informed Consent

After you have gained approval from your institution's IRB, you will need to present informed consent forms to each participant. This form offers information on the study, the data that will be gathered, and how the results will be used. The form also gives participants the option to withdraw from the study at any point in time.

Once this step has been completed, you can begin administering your testing procedures and collecting the data.

Analyze the Results

After collecting your data, it is time to analyze the results of your experiment. Researchers use statistics to determine if the results of the study support the original hypothesis and if the results are statistically significant.

Statistical significance means that the study's results are unlikely to have occurred simply by chance.

The types of statistical methods you use to analyze your data depend largely on the type of data that you collected. If you are using a random sample of a larger population, you will need to utilize inferential statistics.

These statistical methods make inferences about how the results relate to the population at large.

Because you are making inferences based on a sample, it has to be assumed that there will be a certain margin of error. This refers to the amount of error in your results. A large margin of error means that there will be less confidence in your results, while a small margin of error means that you are more confident that your results are an accurate reflection of what exists in that population.

Share Your Results After Conducting an Experiment

Your final task in conducting an experiment is to communicate your results. By sharing your experiment with the scientific community, you are contributing to the knowledge base on that particular topic.

One of the most common ways to share research results is to publish the study in a peer-reviewed professional journal. Other methods include sharing results at conferences, in book chapters, or academic presentations.

In your case, it is likely that your class instructor will expect a formal write-up of your experiment in the same format required in a professional journal article or lab report :

  • Introduction
  • Tables and figures

What This Means For You

Designing and conducting a psychology experiment can be quite intimidating, but breaking the process down step-by-step can help. No matter what type of experiment you decide to perform, always check with your instructor and your school's institutional review board for permission before you begin.

NOAA SciJinks. What is the scientific method? .

Nestor, PG, Schutt, RK. Research Methods in Psychology . SAGE; 2015.

Andrade C. A student's guide to the classification and operationalization of variables in the conceptualization and eesign of a clinical study: Part 2 .  Indian J Psychol Med . 2021;43(3):265-268. doi:10.1177/0253717621996151

Purna Singh A, Vadakedath S, Kandi V. Clinical research: A review of study designs, hypotheses, errors, sampling types, ethics, and informed consent .  Cureus . 2023;15(1):e33374. doi:10.7759/cureus.33374

Colby College. The Experimental Method .

Leite DFB, Padilha MAS, Cecatti JG. Approaching literature review for academic purposes: The Literature Review Checklist .  Clinics (Sao Paulo) . 2019;74:e1403. doi:10.6061/clinics/2019/e1403

Salkind NJ. Encyclopedia of Research Design . SAGE Publications, Inc.; 2010. doi:10.4135/9781412961288

Miller CJ, Smith SN, Pugatch M. Experimental and quasi-experimental designs in implementation research .  Psychiatry Res . 2020;283:112452. doi:10.1016/j.psychres.2019.06.027

Nijhawan LP, Manthan D, Muddukrishna BS, et. al. Informed consent: Issues and challenges . J Adv Pharm Technol Rese . 2013;4(3):134-140. doi:10.4103/2231-4040.116779

Serdar CC, Cihan M, Yücel D, Serdar MA. Sample size, power and effect size revisited: simplified and practical approaches in pre-clinical, clinical and laboratory studies .  Biochem Med (Zagreb) . 2021;31(1):010502. doi:10.11613/BM.2021.010502

American Psychological Association.  Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association  (7th ed.). Washington DC: The American Psychological Association; 2019.

By Kendra Cherry, MSEd Kendra Cherry, MS, is a psychosocial rehabilitation specialist, psychology educator, and author of the "Everything Psychology Book."

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How to Become a Design Psychologist – Schooling and Career Guide

Sometimes, you walk into a room and you immediately feel at home. Other times, you enter a space and it feels impersonal, cold, and maybe even sterile. Perhaps you can pinpoint one or two things that make the difference between such different feelings – a paint color or the height of the ceilings, for example.

But by and large, most people only recognize that a space is or isn’t comforting, but can’t quite put their finger on why that is. Though the way that a space feels has a lot to do with principles of construction, interior design, color theory, lighting, and architecture, there are also psychological principles at work.

That means that there is an entire field of study dedicated to understanding how the principles of design and the principles of psychology intersect and how they can be used to improve how people live, work, and even how they feel.

What is Design Psychology?

Design psychology can be defined as the practice of using psychology to make decisions regarding architecture, interior design, and space planning. It is a fairly new discipline, but one that has close ties to other areas of psychology, particularly human factors psychology , environmental psychology , and industrial-organizational psychology . Naturally, design psychology also has close ties with the fields of architecture and interior design as well.

What Does a Design Psychologist Do?

A design psychologist strives to help people design spaces – homes, offices, and so forth – that enhance their relationship to their surroundings. In that regard, design psychologists use the principles outlined above – architecture, interior design, and space planning – as well as teaming up with professionals in those fields to explore the ways in which living and working spaces can be maximized.

Design psychology isn’t just about designing spaces that allow for people to improve their family functioning or work environment. Instead, design psychologists also seek to study, examine, and explain how one’s surroundings impact their behavior in the first place.

For example, a design psychologist might explore the topic of small spaces and how to design them in a way that helps prevent people that live or work in small spaces from feeling claustrophobic. This might entail designing a light color palate to brighten up the space or working with designers to ensure the space has tall ceilings and a lot of natural light, both of which help small spaces to feel much larger.

Additionally, design psychologists work to create spaces that elicit positive emotional responses from people that utilize those spaces. This might take the form of designing more aesthetically pleasing work environments in order to promote improved worker productivity. As noted earlier, it might also involve working on designing home spaces that enhance the openness and brightness of the space to prevent feelings of being closed in.

These principles can even be used in a therapeutic setting as well. For example, a design psychologist might work with a counseling psychologist or psychiatrist to design a therapy space that’s comforting, warm, and calming. These sort of features are obviously helpful for a space in which patients work through difficult life events with their therapist.

There is a practical side to design psychology as applied to larger systems, too. For example, a design psychologist might consult with an urban planner to provide insights into how to move people in the most efficient manner. This is important for designing spaces like train stations and airports, as well as designing crosswalk systems, highway systems, intersections, and so forth.

Why Do We Need Design Psychologists?

We need design psychologists because the spaces in which we live and work are not just utilitarian. Instead, the spaces we surround ourselves with can have a marked impact on our mood and emotions and on the way that we experience day-to-day life.

This is an extremely important point, especially for individuals that have some sort of mental, emotional, or behavioral illness. That is, what we’ve come to expect in terms of design in hospitals, mental institutions, and mental health clinics is something very sterile and unwelcoming.

However, design psychologists can change that and create spaces that help facilitate improved mental and emotional health through simple techniques like the color of paint, the type of furniture, and the type and quantity of lighting in a space. And as noted above, design psychologists can even help streamline the way that we move both as pedestrians and as part of motorized transport.

Where Do Design Psychologists Work?

Like many other psychologists, design psychologists can work in a wide variety of fields. Some, for example, choose to work in private practice, where they might consult with individual clients, organizations, or even government entities to provide their services to improve the relationship between people and their surroundings.

The advantage of working in private practice is that the pay is typically higher and one can choose the hours they work. The drawback, of course, is that being self-employed means being responsible for everything from managing the books to hiring employees to marketing the business to the buying public.

Another area where design psychologists work is in the research and development sector. Here, design psychologists usually work in more of a lab-based capacity, developing hypotheses, devising experiments, and conducting research on topics related to this field. For example, a company that specializes in creating products for interior design might hire a design psychologist to study different colors, textures, and patterns and how they impact how someone feels or how they behave.

Some design psychologists also work in the education sector, particularly at the collegiate level. In that environment, design psychologists would be expected not only to teach courses in design psychology but likely also to conduct original research for publication.

What is a Design Psychology Degree?

Since design psychology is all about using psychology to design indoor and outdoor spaces, the coursework in a design psychology degree program tends to focus on environmental psychology, human factors psychology, and even industrial-organizational psychology. These courses are designed to help students develop an understanding not just of individual human behavior but also how the environment and man-made institutions influence how we behave.

These courses would build upon the basic psychology courses taken in a typical undergraduate psychology program. Once in a master’s program – and later in a doctorate program , if desired – students would begin to build a deeper understanding of how psychology can be used to design spaces and objects.

For example, design psychology degree programs typically have components that include studies of architecture, space planning, interior design, and so forth. Again, this is to help inform students of the interrelationship between how people behave and feel and the surroundings in which they find themselves.

As another example, students in a design psychology program might learn how the color and intensity of overhead lighting can impact not just a person’s mood but also their productivity. Given an understanding of those factors, students could design home or business spaces that make people feel comfortable, happy, and productive.

Like other degrees in psychology, to be a design psychologist, you typically must have at least a master’s degree, if not a doctorate. That means that design psychology degree programs are usually 2-3 years of graduate study after the completion of a bachelor’s degree in a related field, and then another 3-5 years of post-graduate study if a doctorate is desired.

What are the Requirements to Become a Design Psychologist?

Educational requirements.

If you’d like to be a design psychologist, you need to start by obtaining a bachelor’s degree in a related field. A good place to start would be a major in psychology with a minor in architecture or interior design. Bachelor’s degree programs in psychology usually require about 120 credit hours of coursework that typically takes four years to complete.

In the course of study, students are challenged to develop strong interpersonal communication skills, develop an understanding of human behavior and how it can be manipulated, and how to conduct proper scientific research.

More specifically, students would be expected to take courses in general psychology, the psychology of learning, the history of psychology, biological psychology, and introductory coursework in environmental psychology or industrial-organizational psychology.

To open up the most job opportunities in this field, one must complete either a master’s degree , or even better, a doctoral program . Master’s programs give students advanced opportunities to develop the knowledge and skills required to be a design psychologist.

Specifically, programs in environmental psychology would be recommended as it is a discipline that is most closely related to design psychology and because design psychology programs are so rare.

Environmental psychology graduate programs might take just a year or two to complete, or they might require three or four years to finish depending on the number of credit hours required. At the master’s level, students might study topics like research psychology, environmental psychology, and environmental science, with extended learning opportunities in design-related fields as well.

Doctoral programs in this area are not common, but there are closely related disciplines like environmental psychology and human factors psychology that offer a close substitute.

Studies at the doctoral level shift from classroom-based learning to more professional and practical learning experiences. Some programs focus heavily on conducting research while others focus on getting students practical experience through internships or fellowships.

Doctoral programs vary widely in terms of the length of the program and the number of courses that are required. Likewise, the topics of study vary depending on the specialty. Nevertheless, most doctoral programs require three to five years to complete after the completion of a master’s degree.

Licensing Requirements

At this point in time, there are no specific requirements for licensure as a design psychologist. However, depending on the state in which one works, there might be state or local requirements for licensure or certification as a psychologist in general. Typically, licensure is only required if one will be working directly with clients, much as a design psychologist that works in private practice would do.

It’s prudent to check with local or state licensing boards to determine if licensure is required. If it’s necessary to be licensed or certified, the process usually involves a lot of paperwork to document your educational and work histories, taking a competency exam, and completing a specified number of hours of work under the supervision of an experienced psychologist.

What Does it Take to be a Design Psychologist?

If you’re interested in becoming a design psychologist, it’s helpful if you have some of the following personality traits and skills:

  • Empathy – Design psychologists might not work with clients in the traditional therapeutic sense, however, they still need to have the ability to put themselves in others’ shoes to better understand how they can help someone overcome difficulties in their lives through better design.
  • Communication skills – Not only to design psychologists need to be able to listen effectively to hear what others are saying, but they also need to be able to have strong written and verbal communication skills.
  • Spatial skills – Workers in this field must be able to imagine spaces in the abstract. Having strong spatial skills will help design psychologists understand the relationship between objects within a space as well as how people interact with one another within that space.
  • An eye for aesthetics – Because much of a design psychologist’s job is helping to design spaces that are visually appealing, it’s necessary to have an understanding of basic design skills as they pertain to architecture, interior design, product design, and so forth.
  • Detail oriented – Both design and psychology rely on an astute sense of detail. This includes, but is not limited to, having strong mathematics skills for designing and developing spaces.
  • Creativity – Given the scope of work, it’s helpful for design psychologists to have strong creative skills that help them address problems in a particular space in unique and effective ways.

How Much Does a Design Psychologist Make?

Because design psychology is a fairly new field with relatively few workers, it’s difficult to provide precise insights into the income potential this field offers. Having said that, the Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates that psychologists (irrespective of their areas of specialty) make an average of $100,130 per year (May 2020 data).

A closer examination of income statistics shows that some subfields of psychology offer higher average annual wages. In fact, industrial-organizational psychology, which is a field closely aligned with design psychology, offers an average annual salary of $87,100. It stands to reason that design psychologists could expect an average annual salary in the same range as well.

It’s important to note that the pay for this field of work is heavily dependent upon several factors. That includes one’s educational level, the geographic area in which they work, and the work setting, to name a few.

What Careers are Similar to Design Psychology?

As noted earlier, because design psychology incorporates the principles of many different fields of work, there are a number of careers that offer a similar work experience. These include:

Human Factors Psychologist

Human factors psychologists , not unlike design psychologists, study how people utilize the spaces around them and how they interact with products and technologies in their home and work spaces. Human factors psychologists explore how to improve spaces, tools, and systems such that people can lead more efficient and satisfying lives.

Industrial-Organizational Psychologist

Industrial-organizational psychologists concentrate their efforts on studying how people behave in the work place. In that regard, they tackle many of the same issues as design psychologists, but specific to workplace and organizational settings. In particular, they seek to understand how individual and group behavior develops within an organization and using that knowledge to help minimize problems at work and improve the overall functioning of the organization itself.

Environmental Psychologist

Environmental psychologists study the relationship between our thoughts, feelings, and emotions and the physical spaces in which we live, work and play. In that regard, environmental psychology is quite closely aligned with design psychology because both disciplines seek to use architecture, design, and planning tools to create spaces that are comfortable, harmonious, and even therapeutic.

Interior Designer

Like design psychologists, interior designers work to create spaces that not only look good but also function well. This might include improving the functionality of a space by rearranging walls, improving the flow of people through a space through space planning, or selecting furniture, draperies, and other accessories to enhance the look and feel of a room. Additionally, interior designers often use basic principles of psychology to improve the design of their spaces, such as using color theory to select paint colors that trigger (or suppress) certain moods.

Related Reading

  • Research Psychologist Career Guide
  • How to Become an Industrial-Organizational Psychologist?
  • How to Become an Occupational Health Psychologist
  • Experimental Psychologist Career: Duties and Degree Requirements
  • What Can You Do With an Industrial-Organizational Psychology Degree?

Further Reading

  • IAAP: Division 4: Environmental Psychology
  • Ph.D. Degree in Human Behavior and Design
  • Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology
  • A Career in Human Factors and Engineering Psychology
  • Associate Degrees
  • Bachelors Degrees
  • Masters Degrees
  • PhD Programs
  • Addiction Counselor
  • Criminal Psychologist
  • Child Psychologist
  • Family Therapist
  • General Psychologist
  • Health Psychologist
  • Industrial-Organizational
  • Sports Psychologist
  • See More Careers
  • Applied Psychology
  • Business Psychology
  • Child Psychology
  • Counseling Psychology
  • Educational Psychology
  • Industrial Psychology
  • Sports Psychology
  • See More Programs
  • Clinical Psychology Degree
  • Cognitive Psychology Degree
  • Forensic Psychology Degree
  • Health Psychology Degree
  • Mental Counseling Degree
  • Social Psychology Degree
  • School Counseling Degree
  • Behavioral Psychologist Career
  • Clinical Psychologist Career
  • Cognitive Psychologist Career
  • Counseling Psychologist Career
  • Forensic Psychologist Career
  • School Psychologist Career
  • Social Psychologist Career

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Design Psychology: 8 Strategies to Use in Your Projects

Psychology, the study of the human mind, is a very complex subject that even the scientists struggle with. In fact, scientists and researchers are still trying to figure out why we have dreams when we sleep.

However, thanks to many studies, years of research, and the dedication of brilliant minds like Sigmund Freud, we now have a general understanding of how the human mind works.

As it turns out, our minds are pre-programmed to respond and react to certain things in certain ways. There are also specific patterns of how our mind reacts and the way we think. In psychology, these patterns are called “schemas”. Researchers have also found strategies that could influence these patterns to control our reactions.

Everyone from magicians to big brand corporations and the mass media have been using and taking advantage of these strategies for generations. To influence our behavior and sell products.

In this guide, we look at how you can apply the same psychological strategies they use for the good of others. And make better and more effective designs.

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What is Design Psychology?

The psychology of design can be defined in many different ways. Mainly, it’s the study of understanding the effects of design on the human mind and behavior. And the use of the patterns of our mind to create effective experiences.

Have you ever stopped to wonder why we associate the color green with nature? Or why coins are designed with rounded shapes? Or why “for sale” signs and “stop” signs are both designed with the color red?

If you take a closer look at the designs all around you, you’ll start to notice certain patterns. And they are all connected to schemas. We’ll try to explain a few of them in this guide.

How It Makes Your Designs More Effective

In 2008, a group of researchers conducted a study to test how the mind can be influenced by brand exposure. In a nutshell, the researchers showed two brand logos for two groups of people.

The logo of Apple was shown to the first group. A company well-known for its innovative products and its “think different” attitude. And the logo of IBM, a company well-known for technical products, was shown to the other group.

After showing these logos, the researchers asked the participants to complete a task. The group who were shown the Apple logo showed higher creativity in their results than the group who saw the IBM logo.

A short glimpse of a brand logo was enough to influence the minds of these people to perform and act in a certain way. But, can we apply this same strategy in our designs?

asana website

Well, you’ll see a real-life example of this strategy in action on the Asana website and on many others. On the top half of the Asana website, there are logos of the biggest brands that use the app. It helps establish trustworthiness and authority.

In psychology, this is known as priming the mind. And that’s the first strategy we’re going to talk about.

1. Prime the User’s Mind

A great example of priming can be seen in the movie Focus (2015). The main protagonist, played by Will Smith, uses priming to win bets and gamble. Will it work in real-life?

Magicians use this all the time to trick the audience. And even the TV industry has been using this same strategy for decades. You’re watching a TV show and there’s a scene of a car crashing into a truck or someone gets shot. And then immediately cuts into a commercial break. The first commercial you see is for car insurance or life insurance. Coincidence?

Priming is mainly about programming the mind with visual cues and then to influence action. For example, if you want a user to buy a product, you can start by priming the user’s mind by showing the benefits of the product, testimonials from existing users, product reviews, etc.


Lush website does this really well by using a product page design that starts with visual cues and gradually takes the user through customer reviews and by showing product ingredients with high-quality images.

2. Evoke Emotions With Color Psychology

Of all the strategies in design psychology, color has the most effect on the human mind. Especially when it comes to driving actions and evoking emotions.

In a case study done by Moz , the company tested different colors for a website “sign up” button. They tried changing the color from default green to the color yellow. And saw a 175% boost in conversion rates.

This is mainly a result of how we associate certain emotions and behavior with color. For example, the color red is commonly associated with danger and caution. Whenever we see this color, our attention goes directly towards it.

psychology of color

Brands use the psychology of color in very creative ways. It’s noticeably used in logo design.

3. Use Shape Psychology to Create Comfortable Designs

Geometric, organic, and abstract shapes also take a major role in design psychology. In general, shape psychology help improve the functionality of designs and make them user-friendly.

video player controls

Take the design of the online video player interfaces, for example. When we see that little triangle shape, we know it feres to the action “play” the video and we know the square is to “stop” playback.

There’s a reason why these shapes are used everywhere from the YouTube player to even on remote controls to refer to the same actions. It’s to make designs familiar and easy to understand. Or, in other words, make designs more comfortable and relatable.

shape psychology

In modern designs, the use of icons and symbols took this strategy to the next level. With icons, it’s easier to describe actions and concepts. As a result, they are quite effective in almost all types of designs.

4. Limit Distraction With Minimalism

In the digital age we live in, information overload is something that we all struggle with. You are constantly bombarded with so many ads, products, news articles, blog posts, and videos everywhere. There’s just not enough time to consume them all.

Most of the time, we just want to get to the point without having to read dozens of paragraphs. This is why minimalism has been quite effective in design. By removing all the unnecessary distractions from the design, you’re able to give the spotlight to what matters the most.

apple website

The greatest example of minimalist design can be seen on the Apple website . Apple sells so many different products yet the website homepage has nothing but a few fullscreen images and a few lines of text with links.

5. Encourage Interactions With Visual Cues

The text or the copy you use in a design can greatly help influence the end-users to take action. But, can we use visual cues to encourage users to take action as well?

deadpool billboard

The marketing team for the popular superhero movie, Deadpool put this strategy to the test. They designed a billboard to promote the movie using a few emojis to describe the title.

slack visual cues

The same strategy can be used to drive actions as well. It’s quite common in the onboarding process of digital products like mobile apps and web apps. It can be something as simple as a progress bar or illustrations showing the steps to follow.

6. Establish Trust Through Your Designs

Medalia Art, an online art store once conducted a test on its website. They replaced the pictures of paintings on the website with photos of the artists to see how well it would perform. This simple change resulted in a 95% increase in conversions.

Adding a photo of a person to a website is one of the most effective ways to establish trust. And make brands and companies look more human.

It’s no coincidence that you keep seeing smiling faces in every business and startup website your visit. There’s a psychology behind this as well and it’s an effective way to boost engagement.

human photos improve interaction

The biggest brands make the most of this schema. Next time when you’re about to insert an image of a product into your design, try replacing it with the photo of a human being.

7. Leverage Automated Habits & Behavior

Years of browsing websites, using apps, and software have already left a strong imprint on your brain that now you do most of the basic online tasks in automation.

Whenever you visit a website, you now immediately know what to expect. You scroll down to the “features” section to learn about the product. Go to the pricing page to learn about pricing plans.

You also know where to find the call to actions like the register and login buttons as well. And automatically scroll all the way down on the website to find additional links to other pages.

To craft designs that encourage these automated habits, you’ll have to make your layouts consistent and follow proper design principles. Get creative but stick to standards. The key is to make the main elements of your designs similar to other designs.

hamburger menu

There’s a reason why it took so long for designers and developers to adopt the new hamburger menu style for desktop websites. It broke so many standard design rules and it affected the effectiveness of website design in many ways.

8. Pick the Right Fonts for Effective Communication

The psychology behind font design has an interesting effect on human behavior as well.

For example, a serif font is well-known to be associated with traditional designs. But they also represent trustworthiness, formality, and respect as well. It’s why reputable brands like Time, Yale, and Rolex have been using the font for its logo and branding designs.

On the other hand, brands like Airbnb, Google, and Microsoft stick to sans-serif fonts to convey their casual and consumer-friendly products.

font psychology

(Source: CrazyEgg )

With the right font combination, you can convey your messages clearly and more effectively. Not just in logo design, but in all types of print and digital designs.

Every designer should have at least a basic understanding of psychology and how it plays a role in design. With the right knowledge and practice, you’ll be able to craft designs that perform way beyond expectations.

These were only a few strategies and examples of design psychology. If you want to be further convinced, get started by reading Methods of Persuasion by Nick Kolenda, Hooked by Nir Eyal, and Emotional Design by Don Norman.

psychology task design

Psychology in UI Design: The Key to Engaging User Experiences

psychology task design

When designing digital products or websites, a deep understanding of psychology in UI design can make a huge difference. It’s not just about making visually attractive interfaces but also about comprehending the underlying mindsets, behaviors, and needs of users. 

As a UI designer, you are responsible for crafting digital experiences, and your design choices can have a significant impact on how users perceive and interact with your product. Knowing the psychological principles can assist you in creating intuitive, user-friendly interfaces that keep users engaged and motivate them to take desired actions. 

This article will delve into the various psychological principles and cognitive biases that can aid you in UI UX design.

The Four Pillars of User Interaction

The process of interacting with a digital product can be broken down into four distinct stages:

  • Information Processing
  • Significance Attribution
  • Action Timing
  • Memory Retention

Let’s delve into each of these stages and explore the relevant design principles and cognitive biases that can help you enhance your UI design.

Information Processing: Making Sense of the Interface

During the first interaction stage, users process the information that is presented to them. To make effective design decisions at this stage, several psychological principles can be used.

Understanding Hick’s Law

Hick’s Law suggests that decision-making time increases with the number and complexity of choices. This principle is particularly critical in UI design, where users are often overloaded with information.

Design Recommendations:

  • Divide tasks into smaller steps for easier information processing
  • Present complex tasks towards the end of the user journey.
  • If reducing options isn’t feasible, ensure the content is easy to skim.

The Power of Priming

Priming is a psychological phenomenon that influences decision-making by triggering related information in a user’s memory. This principle can be effectively used in UI design to guide users towards desired actions.

Design Recommendation:

  • Use relevant images or videos that highlight the benefits of using your product or service.

Managing Cognitive Load

Cognitive load theory emphasizes that our memory has a limited capacity. Overloading users with unnecessary information can lead to task abandonment.

  • Eliminate redundant information.
  • Leverage both audio and visual elements to convey information.
  • Use familiar visual cues to minimize learning needs.
  • Organize information logically and intuitively.

Significance Attribution: Deciphering Meaning

Once users have processed the information, the next step involves making sense of it. Here are some psychological principles that can guide your design decisions at this stage.

Leveraging Social Proof

Social proof is a powerful psychological principle that can greatly influence user behavior. Users tend to accept actions as correct if they observe others performing them.

  • Incorporate social proof early on in your design.
  • Use video testimonials to enhance the effectiveness of social proof.

Utilizing Curiosity Gap

The curiosity gap is the difference between what users know and what they want to know. This gap can motivate them to seek additional information.

  • Use engaging titles that spark curiosity.
  • Use reassuring language to make users feel safe while making decisions.

Action Timing: Encouraging User Actions

The third stage of user interaction involves motivating users to take desired actions. Here are some strategies to achieve this.

Implementing Investment Loops

Investment loops are a powerful way to keep users engaged with your product. These loops involve a cycle of trigger, action, reward, and investment, encouraging users to use your product more frequently.

  • Reward users for taking desired actions.

Promoting Commitment and Consistency

Users are more likely to take desired actions if they feel committed and consistent with their previous actions.

  • Start with small, agreeable actions to build user confidence.
  • Break down complex tasks into smaller steps to ease the process.

Memory Retention: Making Lasting Impressions

The final stage of user interaction involves memory retention. Here are some strategies to ensure that users remember their interaction with your product positively.

Providing Exit Points

Always provide exit points at the peak of user experience. Delayed exits can be perceived as unnecessary detours and can negatively impact the overall experience.

  • Consider creating a queuing system similar to YouTube or Netflix.
  • Include success messages upon task completion.

Utilizing the Peak-End Rule

Users tend to remember the peak and end of their experiences. Hence, ending the experience on a high note can leave a lasting positive impression.

  • Celebrate user achievements upon task completion.
  • Provide clear starting and ending points.

Applying the Zeigarnik Effect

The Zeigarnik Effect suggests that users remember incomplete tasks more than completed ones. This principle can be leveraged to keep users engaged with your product.

  • Encourage users to discover additional content.
  • Use progress indicators to motivate users to complete tasks.

Harnessing the Power of Storytelling

Stories can create an empathetic bond with users, triggering strong reactions and deep memories. Meaningful stories can significantly enhance user engagement.

  • Use storytelling to convey your viewpoint to stakeholders.
  • Create a plot with a conflict to help users visualize how your design can solve their problems.

Incorporating the principles of psychology in UI design can lead to more engaging and user-friendly digital products. And when it comes to prototyping these designs, Visily – the best wireframing and prototyping tool, can be your go-to resource. Its intuitive interface and versatile features make it the perfect tool for bringing your UI designs to life. 

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  • Color Psychology in Visual Design: A Practical Guide to Impacting User Behavior

The role of color psychology in visual design should never be underestimated. When you implement the use of color correctly, you can transform merely aesthetic elements into powerful tools that effectively communicate your brand message, influence user behaviors, shape the user experience, and impact Web site–search rankings.

This article focuses on color psychology’s pivotal role in helping UX designers provide their target audience with a better user experience through their Web-site designs. You’ll discover some ways in which color can be an influential change driver. You’ll also learn how to influence buying behaviors and optimize Web site’s for search engines by applying some tips on using color in your visual designs.

By the end of this article, you’ll be better equipped to leverage color psychology in making informed design decisions that will boost your Web site’s performance on search engines and drive conversions for your clients.

The Importance of Color in Visual Design

In this digital age, the impact of color on brand perception and purchasing decision-making processes is as immediate as it is profound. It takes people only 50 milliseconds to form an opinion about a Web-site design , and these opinions are based primarily on color.

Color is more than merely a visual-design element. Color is a nonverbal storyteller that speaks to people subconsciously about a brand and its products. These silent messages influence people’s emotions, opinions, and decisions about the brand.

This is why, if you conduct brand research in specific industries, you’ll notice that they often use variations of the same color palette. For example, brands within the healthcare and wellness industries, such as Curamind , as shown in Figure 1, predominantly use colors within the blue and green spectrum because these colors convey trust and give people a sense of well-being. The color palette for this mental-health Web site combines the emotions and messages that blues and greens convey.

Curamind's blue-green color palette

On the other hand, it’s not uncommon to find bright, colorful brands within the education industry, especially brands targeting children such as ABCMouse , which is shown in Figure 2. These colors stimulate the brain and communicate fun, excitement, enthusiasm, and a positive learning environment.

Example of an education Web site catering to children and pre-teens

It’s the designers’ job to ensure that the colors of a brand’s logo and Web site convey the right message to shape positive perceptions toward the brand and strengthen its identity. This is crucial because it affects how people interact with a brand’s Web site and influences their purchasing decisions.

Understanding Color Psychology and User Behavior

Color psychology is all about understanding how colors trigger emotional responses that, in turn, influence people’s perceptions and behaviors. This is important because people make decisions based on their emotions—from something as mundane as choosing what to eat for dinner to life-changing choices such as starting an online business or who to marry.

The brain’s cognitive function can cause one to hold off on making a decision long enough to weigh pros and cons that are based on facts and logic. However, there are instances when emotions trump logic and significantly influence our decisions.

Colors have an uncanny ability to trigger emotional responses in people because of the messages they send and the associations that people have developed over the years. Some of the most commonly used colors have the following associated meanings and emotions:

  • red —passion, danger, urgency, excitement
  • blue —trust, loyalty, reliability, logic, calmness, security
  • yellow —positivity, happiness, cheerfulness, creativity
  • orange —friendliness, confidence, innovation, immaturity
  • green —growth, health, relaxation, organic elements, wealth
  • black —sophistication, power, elegance, mourning
  • white —clarity, purity, simplicity, sterility, emptiness

As a designer, it’s your job not only to choose colors that trigger the right emotions and send the proper messages but also to create a visual hierarchy that appeals to the eye and effectively influences user behaviors and actions. This visual hierarchy strategically arranges design elements to subconsciously direct and guide users to perform a desired action. Designers achieve this impact by employing color to highlight specific elements with vibrant, contrasting colors, making call-to-action (CTA) buttons, offers, and featured products stand out, capturing users’ attention, and encouraging them to take action.

Wrenly’s pricing page provides a perfect example of using color to prompt user action. Outlining the Premium plan information in bright yellow makes the section stand out against the other softer colors in the color palette and draws the user’s attention to it.

Wrenly's pricing page

Another way of creating a visual hierarchy using color is by varying the background or text color on a Web page. This subtle change can visually break a page’s content into sections, making it easier for users to navigate the page and find what they need. This technique is also helpful in breaking up text-heavy pages into more digestible chunks, making it easier for visitors to consume the content, even on small devices.

How Colors Influence SEO and Organic Visibility

For many designers, search engine optimization (SEO) is a distinct realm within the digital multiverse. After all, designers focus on creating a visually appealing Web-site design that delivers a great user experience and compels users to take the brand’s desired actions. In contrast, an SEO strategy is more technical and focuses on promoting brand awareness and organic visibility by improving a Web site’s search rankings. However, in reality, color is pivotal to the overall success of a brand’s SEO strategy.

In this digital age, implementing standard SEO best practices such as ensuring that the correct metadata is in place, using long-tailed keywords, and generating high-quality backlinks is not enough to get a high ranking on search-results pages (SERPs).

The algorithms of search engines such as Google and Bing determine a Web site’s ranking, using user-engagement metrics such as the following:

  • bounce rate —the percentage of people who leave a Web page without any form of interaction
  • engagement rate —the percentage of people who stay on a page longer than ten seconds or who interact with it—for example, by clicking a button

Using the right colors and a visual hierarchy that matches the brand’s customer journey contribute to improving such user-engagement metrics. In turn, search engines reward the brand with higher rankings, making it more visible to its target audience.

Color also significantly impacts the readability of a Web site’s content. In addition to making it easy for users to consume text-based content, designers must also ensure that the color scheme and overall Web-site design provide a great user experience for people with disabilities.

Indeed, the synergy between color and SEO is crucial in enabling brands to achieve their business objectives. Learning SEO basics and effective strategies can enable you to make more informed color choices so your designs appeal to both people and search engines.

Tips for Testing and Optimizing Colors for UX and SEO

So far, you’ve learned why and how the use of color can make or break the overall effectiveness of your Web-site designs.

Now, let’s consider six practical tips on how to test and optimize colors for both the user experience and SEO, enabling you to create Web-site designs that are visually appealing and effective in helping brands achieve their goals.

1. Align the Color Palette with the Brand Message

When choosing a color palette, the primary colors must match the company’s brand. Some quick brand research can provide you with this information and ensure consistency across the company’s collateral materials.

However, if a company doesn’t yet have a well-defined set of brand colors, it’s your job as a designer to create a color palette that accurately conveys the brand’s values and desired image.

Select secondary and accent colors that complement the primary colors you’ve chosen. Be sure to adhere to accessibility guidelines when selecting colors, so you can be confident that the color palette you’ve chosen won’t cause people to experience any discomfort when viewing a page.

Here are some tools that you can use in devising color palettes:

  • Coolors —Lets you generate and download color palettes that are based on a single primary color or choose a color palette from their database of pre-built color palettes.
  • Paletton —Provides color-palette options for monochromatic, complementary, and analogous color schemes.
  • ColorSafe —Enables you to create a color palette that adheres to the WCAG guidelines.

2. A/B Test Your Color Decisions

One of the biggest challenges designers face when getting brands to buy into their designs is convincing stakeholders of the reasoning behind their creative decisions. A/B testing strengthens your position by providing your clients with data on how your color decisions perform, thus helping them to reach their business goals.

3. Gather User Feedback on Color Choices

User feedback from surveys and focus groups enable you to gather candid insights about your visual design’s colors from the brand’s target customers. Some questions you might ask include the following:

  • What impressions did you have about the company before reading any of the Web site’s text?
  • What emotions or moods did you feel while you were on the Web site?
  • Were the text and content easy to read and understand against its background colors?
  • How easy was it for you to know which elements were interactive?

The insights you gain can help guide you in making well-informed revisions to your overall designs. The brand’s SEO specialist can use these same insights in writing the Web site’s metadata and in doing keyword research, increasing the Web site’s organic visibility on SERPs.

4. Ensure Consistency Across All Devices

Device screens vary in their size and resolution. Although differences in a color’s hue, value, and saturation might be negligible to the naked eye, they could be enough to distort the emotions and messages that the colors convey to the brand’s target audience.

Therefore, it is essential to verify that the colors you’ve chosen remain consistent across all device sizes and resolutions. Tools such as Adobe Creative Cloud have built-in color-management features that ensure the integrity of your color palette—and the emotions and messages you want to convey.

5. Take Advantage of Heat Maps

Heat maps are visual tracking tools that show the areas of a Web page on which users spent the most time and where their eyes focused, as shown in Figure 4.

Heat map showing users' engagement with a Web page

Image source: Hotjar

As with user feedback, the information you gather from these tools can help you make any necessary adjustments to your colors and edit a page’s overall design to improve click-through rates (CTR) and conversion rates.

6. Adjust Colors Based on Current SEO Metrics

Although UX designers aren’t expected to track and understand SEO metrics such as the numbers of high-quality backlinks a page generates and its bounce rates, it is still important to gain insights into these metrics because they show how effective your color choices and overall design are in helping a brand realize its goals. Schedule a meeting with the brand’s SEO specialist at least once every quarter, so you’ll know which metrics need improvement and you can adjust your color choices and designs accordingly.

When you use color strategically, it can provide a great user experience, boost a Web site’s search rankings, and convert visitors into loyal customers. By leveraging color psychology and the tips in this article, you can design a Web site whose user experience is capable of influencing and shaping user behaviors, enabling a brand to reach its goals.

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Marketing Manager at Teranga Digital Marketing Ltd

Mumbai, Maharashtra, India

Jaya Iyer

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Help Design Professional Development Courses for PSYC Majors

psychology task design

Dr. Kimberly Henderson from the Department of Psychological Science is seeking students to help develop a series of professional development courses for Psychology majors.

Students will work intensively with Dr. Henderson for 10 weeks during the Spring semester to develop the curriculum, syllabi, supporting materials, and course shells for a new series of professional development courses for Psychology majors. This is an excellent opportunity to gain experience collaborating with others, as well as envisioning and conducting a review of existing research on how to best support students transitioning from college.

Students participating in this project will enroll in PSYC 497: Curriculum Development for PDS. This is a 3-credit, in-person upper-division course. You must have the instructor’s permission to enroll. If you have questions or are interested in joining this course, email Dr. Henderson at  [email protected] .

The Unfiltered Voice: Understanding the Psychology of Cursing and Emotion | Richard Stephens | Professor of Psychology, Keele University | Episode 41 Re-Educated

In today's conversation with Dr. Richard Stephens, we explore the psychological aspects of cursing. Dr. Stephens breaks down his research, delving into the benefits of swearing for pain tolerance and performing physical tasks. We then explore the different methodologies for understanding and teaching the complexities of swearing. This is a continuation of our cursing series, starting with episode 39, with Dr. Kristy Beers Fagersten. Hope you enjoy!

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I made a GPT, a custom version of OpenAI's ChatGPT, and it only took me 15 minutes. Here's how.

  • In early November, OpenAI unveiled GPTs, customizable versions of its AI chatbot ChatGPT.  
  • GPTs can be customized to focus on specific tasks like coding, creative writing, and tech support. 
  • It took Business Insider's Aaron Mok only 15 minutes to make a GPT, with satisfactory results. 

Insider Today

You can now create your own version of OpenAI's ChatGPT — and it can take as little as 15 minutes.

In early November, OpenAI unveiled a slate of updates to its conversational AI chatbot, one of which includes GPTs — spinoff versions of ChatGPT that users who pay for ChatGPT Plus can build to perform specific tasks like coding, creative writing, and tech support.

The aim for GPTs, according to OpenAI, is for users to create tailored versions of ChatGPT that can be more helpful in their personal and professional lives than the basic, generalist version of ChatGPT .

After all, anybody can build a GPT since no coding skills are required. Users can simply prompt the chatbot with instructions written in plain English on what they want the AI to look like, and the AI creates itself accordingly.

Less than a month after GPTs came out, curious ChatGPT users have jumped on the opportunity to play around with the feature. Some went to X , formerly known as Twitter, to share links to their custom AI chatbots that purport to do things like code websites , conduct research, and even turn photos of humans into Pixar characters.

But not everyone is excited about GPTs. After OpenAI announced its upgrades to ChatGPT, some founders expressed concerns that OpenAI will kill their AI startups as the capabilities of the AI giant's language models continue to reach new heights.

To understand how intuitive and powerful GPT can be, Business Insider made a GPT of a personal chef who specializes in high-protein recipes.

Here's how to create a GPT.

1) Open ChatGPT, then press the "Explore" button located on the left sidebar. Click "Create a GPT" on the right to begin.

2) Write a prompt in the message box to the left telling GPT Builder what you want it to do.

3) Once you enter the prompt, GPT Builder will spend a couple seconds generating the GPT. It will suggest a name for the custom chatbot, as well as a picture, both of which can be tweaked with additional prompts until you're satisfied.

4) GPT Builder will then ask you to refine the context with specifics on what you want the chatbot to do.

5) After the GPT is generated, ask the chatbot questions to test its capabilities. Adjust the chatbot by feeding it more queries based on its responses.

Final takeaways

Overall, making a GPT is straightforward. The GPT builder gave me clear, step-by-step instructions on how to build the chatbot, which sped up the process. It took me around 15 minutes to create a GPT that met my expectations.

I was also impressed by the GPTs answers. The chatbot responds to queries like "What are some affordable, high-protein snacks?" and "Make me a recipe that has 40 grams of protein and takes less than 20 minutes to make," in great detail.

However, the chatbot isn't perfect. When I asked the GPT to include pictures along with the recipes, the photos didn't appear in subsequent recipes it generated. Additional prompting was required.

Nevertheless, I can see regular people making GPTs in an effort to automate time-consuming tasks. But if you don't have the patience to spend time tweaking the AI chatbot to your liking, you might as well stick to the free version of ChatGPT, as it will provide similar results.

psychology task design

Watch: What is ChatGPT, and should we be afraid of AI chatbots?

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