Best Design Practices to Learn From Psychology

Written by Daniel Pintilie on 22 Dec 2011
38,500 Views • Web Design


Many students, when they are entering a university, begin to ask themselves why they should study so many sciences that have nothing to do with design. After some years of practicing, the answer is found and some of them start to ask themselves why they study so few domains. Very few of us have the good luck to find a position in an agency/company where the things that have been learned in school can be actually practiced. Embracing freelancing as a profession has a more powerful effect on the individual: he or she must be able to do many, many other things that someone was expecting in the first months of school.

Psychology is a science that apparently has no connection to web design but the influences are too important not to observe! Yes, it’s true and by reading this post you will be convinced! Web designers have learned many tips from psychology and these were put into practice. The tips below are only few that prove the influence of psychology in web design, the list is perfectible, and hence I am really waiting for your interesting contributions.

1. Be original but don’t break the habits of the visitors

Many web designers, mostly at the beginning of the career, dream to build the most interesting websites, 100% original, ready to amaze any visitor. Am I wrong? Definitely not...

In spite of these beautiful dreams, reality is somehow cruel: an original layout, totally different from what we are visiting is almost a suicide. The ordinary Internet user appreciates the uniqueness but he has a predetermined layout in his head and any difference from it will certainly not be liked as much. I don’t want to offend anyone but the typical individual isn’t a web designer and he doesn’t spend some good hours only to admire the latest website design, he isn’t used to novelties. It’s paradoxical, but pretty true: a visitor enjoys what he can understand; anything too complicated is confusing and in the most cases disliked.

2. Make a scannable layout

There is no need of the most cultured psychologists to know that a user doesn’t have or want to waste time on a website that is difficult or simply he doesn’t like. Users have developed a self-defense strategy against wasting time and, with just a few blinks of an eye, he is forming a complete but superficial idea about any presence online. Thinking from this perspective, imagine yourself how a user reacts when he finds out that he will have to wait a few seconds Flash based website to load. It’s only a miracle to make him wait.

The web design community has understood the needs of users and adapted to this behavior (if you are in doubt, even in web design the evolution and natural selection is working). As a result, all the web designers attempt to create “scannable layouts”. What is a scannable layout?

A scannable layout is a webpage organized in such a wise manner that allows anyone to see and find the information needed in the fastest time possible. More pragmatically, it is built to offer the essence of the website in the most visible places. I am really sorry that I can’t offer precise recipes but you should know that web design is part science and part art. I could give you a clear answer about two colors making the perfect contrast in order to be read by anyone, but I can’t offer a clear solution about how to make a good design, there is art involved and here the personality of each one interferes.

3. Put what is more important in the screenful

Screenful is called the part of a webpage that is situated on top of fold; it is the region that anyone can access without scrolling. I don’t advise to make a layout that is not scrollable (it depends on the size of the monitor displayed) but if someone wants to have a visited website, that person must create eye-catching elements situated on the screenful. It’s the consequence of the same idea: people don’t want to waste time, they want everything immediately.

4. White space is vital

Another consequence of understanding and applying the principles of psychology in a website is the use of white space. It is as vital for any user as the written content is. The multiple elements on a layout will fatigue the eyes of anyone and will not allow a complete scan, which isn’t desired by the web creators (see tip number 2).

A common idea is to use the entire layout to express as web designer but once again, keep in mind the user when working and not the personal preferences. What would you want, to visit your website and be proud or to have a heavy visited website?

5. Let the colors speak for you

Any website is comprised of header, footer, background, logo, images, texts, but all these are making an entire entity because an individual perceives a message better when it’s coming from multiple directions. A very powerful component of a website are the colors, these have a great effect on anyone. To handle any situation, it’s highly recommended for designers to know the meanings of colors; pay attention, there are regions of the planet where the senses of nuances are different.

Let's suppose you need to create a website for a financial institution, by selecting an intense color scheme, having very powerful contrasts, or creating some tension between colors would it be enjoyed by someone? I am in doubt… I advise to check some official websites of the banks in your country and you will see that the preponderant color is blue combined with white because these are amplifying the idea of certitude, safety and trust.

6. An image does more than 100 words

The visual aspect is very important for every website and in the overall look of it; the images play a very important role. It’s very clear, these are the same with the colors, let them help you and not scare away your potential visitors.

7. Design with Gestalt principles in your head

The Gestalt theory is a super complex idea and a more complete approach is needed barely to make a decent idea about it. Very superficially thinking, Gestalt theory has as main topic the modality of organizing the visual information by the human brain. More exactly, it studies how we perceive what we are seeing. A web designer who knows the Gestalt principles and applies them is a step closer to perfection. In order to help all the readers I made here a selection of the best post about Gestalt principles, enjoy them! For more detailed explanation of Gestalt theory, read Gestalt Principles Applied in Design from sixrevisions.

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