Psychology, as a field of study, endeavors to explain human behavior using scientific principles. Why are we attracted to certain colors or certain patterns? How does the brain organize information? These are questions that are, at least partially, answered by psychological studies targeting how humans process visual stimuli. More complex questions, such as what motivates consumers to have visceral, emotional reactions to well-crafted products, are hidden perhaps more deeply, but remain answerable all the same. Using the knowledge we’ve obtained from psychological studies and findings, we can root the wildly subjective art of design in data.
With design psychology, whether we realize it or not, we use the power of the scientific method, and therefore, we can more accurately predict how we will respond to a certain ordering of words and images, for example, and how well we’ll be able to process them. We are able to better respond to usability problems in anything from a web application to a mobile device. Using these scientific principles serves to strengthen our intuition and social intelligence. We can use this heightened awareness of consumer behavior to more accurately assess how consumers will interact with products and services. This allows us to spot weaknesses within a product far more easily, and allows us to more reliably intensify its strengths.
Tom Kelley, a pioneer in the psychology of design and cofounder of IDEO, an international design and consulting firm that created Apple’s first mouse, advises designers to use one of the simplest of psychological principles to create useful products. He recommends designing with empathy in mind.
“Of course, designers often must create solutions for people unlike themselves. And that’s where empathy comes in so they can create a product or service that will delight customers, simplify their lives, or give them peace of mind,” Kelley said in an interview for Psychology Today.
One study appearing in the Indian Journal of Science and Technology, found that mobile app users are more likely to feel emotionally attached to products with strong consumer empathy. Moreover, empathy is integral to the perception of mutual respect, trust and loyalty. Humans are wired toward reciprocity, so when a product is able to convey a sense of respect, consumers will respect the product or company in kind.
These fundamental laws of human behavior, as obvious as they may seem, are often overlooked by designers overly concerned with a given product’s technical specifications or theoretical usefulness.
“If you leave out the emotional content, you may have the best specifications in the world but people may not buy your product or service. Does the Apple iPod have better specs, or better data storage per dollar spent than other MP3 players? I don’t think so, but it speaks to emotion,” Kelley asserts.
Indeed, evoking empathy and self-awareness has been shown to increase brand attachment, as showcased by the aforementioned study.
As you have probably already surmised, either in your career or through researching design psychology, capturing your audience’s attention is not a direct appeal to their sense of logic. As illustrated by Kelley, creating emotional responses is one of a product’s essential duties. Empathy, reciprocity and self-actualization (or, in this context, the feeling that a product helps the consumer become their ideal self) are all key psychological principles to abide by.
In order to get a full picture of design psychology there are a few other proclivities that must be accounted for. Namely, that the human brain has evolved to be very selective about the information it absorbs. It is well established that humans are poor at picking up details. The brain has evolved to do as little work as possible in order to conserve energy, and therefore must be selective about the information it processes.
Humans are far better at examining the whole, or the gestalt. Meaning, humans are far more adept at simplifying images than they are at picking out details. This points us back to the example of Apple’s iPod. Microsoft’s Zune was a far superior machine. It was robust and feature-packed, but it failed miserably against the iPod year after year until its inevitable demise in 2012. Zune’s UI was not as simple or pared-down as the iPod. Its design was less cohesive and lacked the iPod’s astonishing ease-of-use. This is a famous example that once again underlines the importance of cutting down the effort a product takes to use, even if it means doing away with features.
Although psychological theories may experience change tomorrow, they can still provide us with a foundation to work from today. Regardless of how the field changes or the new insights about the human mind that are uncovered, the scientific method remains virtually the same. Design psychology is so very effective because it forces designers to think about what drives consumer behavior rather than simply relying on intuition or inspiration alone.
Understanding key elements of human behavior is essential to creating products embraced by consumers. Integrating empathy into your design process is crucial, for example, which requires an understanding of reciprocity and self-actualization. Your product must also be pared-down and simple-to-use since you must assume your customer is miserly with his energy and poor at picking out details. Of course, human behavior is not confined to these principles, and there will always be more to draw from. That being said, these major tenets of the psychology of design can ameliorate the manifold obstacles presented to product designers. Continue researching psychological findings, relate them to your specific needs and set out to identify successful trends utilized by other designers. By synthesizing your research and applying it mindfully to your own design process, you should be able to use design psychology to your advantage.
Ellie Martin is a business and marketing writer. Her works have been featured in Entrepreneur and Business Insider, among others. She splits her time between her home office in New York and Israel. You can connect with her on Twitter.
Filed Under: Rapid prototyping