The Psychology Behind the User Experience

May 20, 2024

Have you ever wondered why popular UX designs are so well loved by users? Or why a change in color scheme or a new call to action (CTA) on your site results in a sudden bump in traffic or conversions? While accessibility principles can explain some of these outcomes, because the best sites are operable by all, many successful UX design decisions come down to human psychology.

Understanding the psychology behind popular UX design choices can make a world of difference to your site or application. Even simple changes such as reconsidering your color scheme by applying color theory can lead to a reduction in a page’s bounce rate and an uptick in user engagement.

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Principles of Design Psychology

Understanding the psychology behind user behaviors can empower your design team to make strategic changes to your site. Psychology-based UX design quickly puts folks on the right path, which is key. Nothing detracts from conversions more than an awkwardly designed site that is tough to navigate. The core principles of psychology-driven UX design are as follows:

  • least effort—Users should be able to find the most important, relevant information easily. Therefore, instructions should be minimal and navigation tools should be easy to understand.
  • Von Restorff effect—What do you want to stand out most on your site? Usually, it’s a key CTA. Instead of burying the CTA, use the Von Restorff effect to make a single button or piece of information stand out from the rest.
  • perpetual habit—Web users don’t generally like change. So abide by industry constants when designing your site—such as placing a Contact Us link in a page’s footer.
  • emotionality—Eliciting emotions can help your site connect with users and keep folks on a page longer. Rather than ignoring this reality, consider depicting the kind of emotion you’re trying to elicit from users.
  • seriality—The most important information should always come first. So a link to your most-viewed marketing page should appear first in a megamenu, and you should answer your most-asked question first on your FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions) page.
  • identity—If you work with big brands, list them on your site. Your site can benefit from the co-branding, which convinces folks that your organization is reputable and experienced in your industry domain.

Embracing psychology-driven UX design is a great way to improve your appeal among users without jeopardizing the aesthetics of your site. Subtle changes—for example, abiding by the law of perpetual habit—can help engage folks who have come to your site for the first time and could result in an uptick in conversions.

These principles of design psychology can also help you better understand the folks who visit your site. By attending to design principles such as the Von Restorff effect, you can learn more about what motivates your users and can start building personality archetypes, or personas, that are based on the insights you gather from user research.

Personality Archetypes

You can’t expect to precisely understand the psychology of every user who comes to your site. However, you can build personality archetypes on the basis of general trends and Web analytics data. Then you can tweak your site’s design to better appeal to the folks who end up on your home page and improve your Web site’s overall user experience.

Discovering these archetypes requires a combination of qualitative and quantitative research. You’ll first need to look at your traffic data to ascertain where folks are coming from and what their intent is for visiting your site. Pair this data with data from feedback forms, surveys, and post-sales questionnaires. For example, this could help you to derive an insight such as the following:

“Based on the recent influx of traffic from an emotion-driven social post, we suspect that young, progressive people are the most frequent users on our site. We’ve confirmed this hypothesis using surveys, which collected demographics data and asked folks to share why they chose us over other brands.”

Understanding the personality of your users can help you craft a sense of personality for your site, too. Kevin Jeong, Director of User Experience at Goodby, Silverstein, and Partners, explains that, from a UX perspective, we can define personality as follows:

“User Interface + Functionality = Product Personality”

This simple equation can help you understand how users see your site and prompt you to make changes to better align your UX design with the archetypes that you’ve already identified. For example, if your archetype research has led you to believe that your users are young and progressive, consider whether your user interface aligns with their needs. If not, it might be necessary to make some serious changes to improve your site’s user experience.

Communicating Your Changes

Making changes to your site based on insights from UX psychology can lead to long-term improvements in your site’s performance. However, your stakeholders must understand why you’re making these changes if you want things to go smoothly. Clear communication is crucial because you can’t always point to hard data when you’re pitching changes that are based on psychology.

Start by showing internal stakeholders some examples of personality-driven, highly effective sites in your industry. For example, if you work with travel agencies, leverage industry-leading sites such as Delta Airlines or United Airlines as case studies. These sites feature plenty of emotion-driven images and abide by the rule of least effort on every Web page.

Improving your internal communications can enhance the customer experience, too. Users know when your team is pulling in the same direction and can sense when you’ve aligned behind particular design choices. Doing so improves the customer experience indirectly by delivering a better service to customers who visit your site. Changes to your internal communications strategy can also enhance the customer experience directly by speeding up query responses and enhancing the feedback loop between consumers and your company. This is key because, ultimately, effective UX design is all about engaging your users.

Incorporating Customer Feedback

Understanding the psychology of your users doesn’t always require data-driven detective work. Sometimes, your users will let you know exactly how they’re feeling. Usually, this feedback comes in the form of negative reviews and complaints.

Rather than passing off all negative feedback to your complaints and customer-care team, try to keep track of what your users are saying. Ensuring that you understand the intent behind their complaints can help you build a better Web site. For example, if you notice that many customers are complaining about a lack of contact from your company after they’ve made purchases, consider implementing an automated thank-you note to assuage their complaints.

Leveraging your learnings from customers’ complaints can help you improve the communications channels across your site, too. For example, if folks suggest that your company isn’t following up on their concerns, consider revising the interface between your Web site and your customer-relationship management (CRM) software. This can ensure that customer feedback isn’t being lost and help your customer-service team to respond to customers’ queries within their time expectations.

Identifying common complaints can also help you make changes that improve the operability of your site. If you’ve noticed that some pages have a high bounce rate, but haven’t yet been able to identify the cause of this issue, the changes you make could be transformative. Actively gathering feedback from customers help you improve the quality of your site and deliver a more seamless experience to your customers.


Understanding the psychology behind UX design can help you predict user behaviors and make adjustments to your Web site’s design accordingly. Gathering psychology-based UX insights can help you engage existing users and transform key features such as your CTA based on principles like the Von Restorff effect. Be sure to utilize survey forms and questionnaires in addition to principles of psychology. Users are often willing to share vital information such as demographics data and qualitative feedback. 

Freelance Writer

Seattle, Washington, USA

Ainsley LawrenceAs a freelance writer, living in the Northwest region of the United States, Ainsley has a particular interest in covering topics relating to good health, balanced living, and better living through technology. When not writing, she spends her free time reading and researching to learn more about her cultural and environmental surroundings.  Read More

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