Usability and Psychology

usability psychology

The importance of psychology in usability

We know that human behaviour is strongly influenced by unconscious thought. But, thankfully, unconscious thought is much more predictable that you may have thought.

So, when it comes to usability, can understanding some of the principles of human cognition help explain and anticipate user behaviour?

It turns out that it can. Or, at least that’s what psychologist and cognitive scientist Dr Susan Weinschenk thinks.

Dr Weinschenk lists ten facts about the human mind that she thinks can have a significant impact on usability design. Most web designers are not psychologists, and so her insights may be particularly helpful for those who wish to base their designs on something concrete.

Here are five of our favourite of Dr Weinschenk’s facts, and some details about how they can affect usability:

People Don’t Want to Work or Think More Than They Have Too

People are lazy. That’s the truth. This means they want to complete a task by putting in the least amount of work possible. And this means that, when it comes to your site, administrative tasks and form filling should be as simple as possible. Objects should be easy to find, and navigation straight forward.

People Have Limitations

Users can only absorb a finite amount of information is a single sitting. This means that only the most important information should be presented by default, with users having the option to see more detail if they wish (i.e., progressive disclosure). Text should be easy to scan and broken by headers, blocks, and typographical devices (bold, italics, fonts, etc.).

People Make Mistakes

Humans are, well, only human. And this means that they’re prone to make errors. A site with good usability will anticipate common mistakes and provide a way to easily amend them. Make it easy to “undo” certain actions, and always request confirmation before acting on the user’s action.

People are Social

Humans like to communicate with each other, and many use the internet primarily for this reason. A big driver of all online activity is social validation. If a user thinks that the action they have just performed, or the product they have just bought, will go down well with their social group, they will want to share the fact they’ve just performed that action. Likewise, users will look to others for guidance about what they should do – which is why reviews and testimonials are so important. In short, make it social, make it sharable.

Visual System

Cluttered pages prevent people accessing information. But grouping can be used to draw users’ attention to a particular area, large fonts can help users soak up information more easily, and colours can be used to both help and stymie the usability of a site.

Let us know what your favourite tips are for usability research and design. You can get in touch on +44(0)800 024624 or email us at

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