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3 MORE Clever Psychology Rules for Making Better UX Decisions

Last week I walked you through four handy rules of psychology that you can use to really improve your website results. Today I have three more rules involving color, human attention spans and reactions to change that take things to another level.

Let’s get started!

Rule 1: User attention spans are shrinking each year


In a 2015 study, Microsoft surveyed 2,000 people and monitored the brain activity of 112 more people with electroencephalograms (EEGs). One of the highlights of the study is that our attention span has reduced; the average human now has an attention span of eight seconds, compared to an attention span of 12 seconds in 2000. We now have a shorter attention span than a goldfish (which has an attention span of nine seconds).

The fact that we are indeed becoming increasingly impatient, especially online, was further established by an Aberdeen study that found that a one second delay in website loading time will result in 40 percent of people abandoning a website and a 7 percent decrease in conversion.

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Our desire to have instant gratification (which is constantly being bolstered by the seemingly instant availability of everything, thanks to technology!) has deep roots in psychology. Researchers conducted a study on students at four different universities, observed the brain activity of participants with an fMRI, and found that two areas of our brain compete for control over our behavior when we have to choose between short-term rewards and long-term goals.

The study found that parts of the brain that are heavily influenced by brain systems associated with emotion activate when we’re faced with the possibility of instant gratification, leaving us with little choice since we are not likely to logically consider our decisions. In short, we’re wired to want instant gratification, and, since it mainly has to do with our emotions, there’s little we can do about it.

How does this apply to your website design?

Principle: Use the ‘Goldfish Principle’ to Optimize Your Website for Increasingly Impatient Web Users

No matter how beautiful and appealing your web design is, it is half useless if it doesn’t load fast. Cut out the extra, unnecessary features. Clean up your code to avoid a bloated design, and follow other design best practices for making a website faster.

Rule 2: Men and Women Perceive Color Differently


If, as a designer, your use of color is based on what you “like” best or what you “think” looks better, think again. There’s a lot to research on the psychology of color, and you can use the right colors to influence the actions your users take.

According to a 2006 study titled, “Impact of Color on Marketing,” people make up their minds within 90 seconds of interacting with people or products, and 62 to 90 percent of their assessment is influenced by colors alone. The study, that reviews literature on color psychology in the context of marketing, found that it is possible to use colors to increase or decrease appetite, reduce perception of waiting time, make customers more patient and enhance people’s mood.

In fact, color is so powerful that the color of the food we eat, as well as surrounding colors, has been observed to influence the palatability of food and the appetite of the eater.

Similar research published in 2010 found that color can influence the likability and familiarity people feel towards a brand – and that the right use of color can enhance purchase intent. The study analyzed 100 brands, involved 450 non-color blind participants, and compared brand personality (which is basically the impression people have about certain brands: Nike is “cool,” Apple is “exclusive,” etc.), likability and familiarity based on a number of factors.

Participants were randomly split into three groups; the first group was shown a brand name in Arial font with a middle gray color, the second group was shown a middle gray version of the brand’s logo, while the third group was shown a full-color version of the brand logo.

The study found that color affects brand personality and likability. Since the researchers found the colors red, blue and black to be most commonly used by the brands analyzed, they did further analysis and saw that these colors elicited certain feelings about the brands; the color red elicited excitement in users about a brand, the color blue made users feel a brand was more competent and the color black made users feel a brand was more sophisticated. This was irrespective of how the brand actually is.

That said, the decision to favor one color over another shouldn’t be simplistically made. Despite our natural tendency to react in certain way to some colors over others, available research shows that color preference can easily vary among people of different gender and culture. Below is a graphic showing the most favorite colors among men and women:

Male and female color preference
Male and female color preferences

The following screenshot shows the least favorite colors between men and women:

Male and female color dislike
Male and female color dislikes

A few things are easily apparent:

  • You might have to use different colors depending on whether your audience is predominantly male or female (for example, men generally dislike the color purple compared to women)
  • There is an overlap between colors for both genders, so all hope is not lost if your design will be served to an audience of mixed male and female
  • Men generally prefer bold colors while women prefer softer colors

How does this apply to your website design?

Principle: Vary Your Usage of Color Based on Your Audience and Goals

Vary your color use based on the audience of your design; it is especially important to avoid biases influenced by your own gender and experience as a designer. As a male designer, don’t assume that a female audience will love your design and use of color because you think it is beautiful.

Instead, understand the color preference of both genders, as well as people of different backgrounds, and let that influence your design choices. It is also important to understand the emotions different colors elicit and use colors accordingly.

The discussion about colors won’t be complete without addressing the concept of sensory adaptation, though.

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