Designing for Brains: the Psychology of User Experience

By now, you probably already know the importance of user research, and better understanding your users’ needs and tasks. But it’s also important to dig deeper, into the psychology of what motivates them, and understand how humans really behave and think. Leave off those rose-colored glasses and see how users actually perceive an experience. In reality, humans have limited memory and focus; we’re swayed by emotion more than we’d care to admit. Carefully considering every single thing in our lives would be far too overwhelming, so humans often revert to using their more primitive fight-or-flight “lizard brains” to make decisions quickly.


Three no-nonsense reasons why your company should invest in UX


money-loyal-customers-01Here at UserTesting, we often hear the same question coming from two different angles.

Here’s what we hear from CEOs and CMOs: “User experience sounds nice, but at the end of the day, I’ve got a bottom line to think about. How do I justify a UX budget to our investors? Where does the ROI come in?”
And here’s what we hear from designers and researchers: “I know that user experience is important, but how do I convince our executive team to invest in it? How can I prove that it’s not just a bunch of feel-good stuff, and it’ll actually pay off?”
When most executives think about user experience, they think of creating a delightful workflow, building a beautiful interface, or improving accessibility. And let’s be clear: those things ARE important. But for most companies, they aren’t enough of a reason to justify a significant investment.

A lot of companies monitor their KPIs, make sure that they don’t have any severe bugs, and say, “good enough.” If they have the budget and bandwidth sometime in the future, maybe UX would be nice to look into.

But here’s the thing: “good enough” is holding these companies back. User experience research and design can give companies a huge advantage, and it’s worth the investment. Whether you’re a CEO, a marketer, a designer, or a researcher, here are three no-nonsense reasons why your company should invest in UX now.

1. Improving your UX saves you money
Reduce wasted development time

Developers’ time is extremely valuable. In a perfect world, developers would spend 100% of their time building awesome new products and features. In reality, an estimated 50% of engineering time is spent on doing rework that could have been avoided. What’s more, fixing an error after development is up to 100 times as expensive as it would have been before.

Don’t forget, in this context, an error isn’t necessarily a bug. It could be…

An incorrect assumption about how users will behave
A unique value proposition that doesn’t make sense to users
Confusing navigation that causes users to get stuck or lost
A design choice that isn’t accessible
A “really cool” new feature that nobody actually wants to use
A little up-front UX research can save you hundreds of engineering hours and thousands of dollars.
Getting early feedback from your target market—and making research-backed, user-centered design decisions—can help you avoid those expensive errors, saving hundreds of engineering hours and thousands of dollars.

Decrease the cost of customer support

We frequently recommend that companies dig into their chat support log when they’re getting ready to start user testing. What problems are your users constantly running into? How many hours does your support team spend responding to those problems?

If you test and fix those problems proactively, and then use your findings to inform future designs, you can dramatically reduce the burden on your support team and save thousands of dollars.

2. Focusing on UX increases your revenue
Increase conversion rates

Everyone and their dog wants to improve their conversion rates. If you’re looking to double your revenue, it’s often easier, cheaper, and smarter to focus on doubling your conversion rate than doubling your traffic. Most companies are already investing in conversion rate optimization tactics like A/B testing, but these efforts fall flat if they’re based on guesswork rather than an actual understanding of the user.

Doing some up-front user research will give you real insights for improving your conversion rates. You can find out where users get frustrated, where they have trouble understanding your offerings, and what would keep them from converting. Then you can make fast changes to your design and copy to boost conversions right away for an automatic win.

UX research is a great complement to A/B testing and analytics: it helps you understand why customers behave the way they do, so you can make higher-converting design and marketing decisions.

Improve customer retention and loyalty

Customers who have a positive user experience are going to be more likely to stick with your products—and to become your brand advocates. Investing time and resources into customer experience (and we don’t just mean good design, but the entire relationship the user has with your company) will help you reduce churn and guarantee customer loyalty.

Investing in customer experience will help you reduce churn and ensure loyalty.
Measuring your Net Promoter Score is a great place to start. How likely would your customers be to recommend your company to a friend? How can you increase that likelihood? How much revenue could you generate from referrals made by happy customers?

3. Good UX gives you a competitive advantage
Gain competitor insights

User research is a great way to “spy” on your competition. You can easily run user tests on your competitors to find out what they’re doing right and whether users trust them over you. You can also find out which other companies in your industry your users are already doing business with, and why they like working with those companies.

Don’t fall behind

More companies than ever before are investing in UX and customer experience—and chances are, your competitors are, too. Customers are growing to expect good user experiences and becoming increasingly intolerant of bad ones.

Let’s be brutally honest. If your customers have an easier time doing business with your competitors, then that’s exactly what they’ll do.

Visual Design Basics


Visual design focuses on the aesthetics of a site and its related materials by strategically implementing images, colors, fonts, and other elements. A successful visual design does not take away from the content on the page or function. Instead, it enhances it by engaging users and helping to build trust and interest in the brand.

Basic Elements of Visual Design
The basic elements that combine to create visual designs include the following:

Lines connect two points and can be used to help define shapes, make divisions, and create textures. All lines, if they’re straight, have a length, width, and direction.
Shapes are self-contained areas. To define the area, the graphic artist uses lines, differences in value, color, and/or texture. Every object is composed of shapes.
Color palette choices and combinations are used to differentiate items, create depth, add emphasis, and/or help organize information. Color theory examines how various choices psychologically impact users.
Texture refers to how a surface feels or is perceived to feel. By repeating an element, a texture will be created and a pattern formed. Depending on how a texture is applied, it may be used strategically to attract or deter attention.
Typography refers to which fonts are chosen, their size, alignment, color, and spacing.
Form applies to three-dimensional objects and describes their volume and mass. Form may be created by combining two or more shapes and can be further enhanced by different tones, textures, and colors.
Principles for Creating a Visual Design
A successful visual design applies the following principles to elements noted above and effectively brings them together in a way that makes sense. When trying to figure out how to use the basic elements consider:

Unity has to do with all elements on a page visually or conceptually appearing to belong together. Visual design must strike a balance between unity and variety to avoid a dull or overwhelming design.
Gestalt, in visual design, helps users perceive the overall design as opposed to individual elements. If the design elements are arranged properly, the Gestalt of the overall design will be very clear.
Space is “defined when something is placed in it”, according to Alex White in his book, The Elements of Graphic Design. Incorporating space into a design helps reduce noise, increase readability, and/or create illusion. White space is an important part of your layout strategy.
Hierarchy shows the difference in significance between items. Designers often create hierarchies through different font sizes, colors, and placement on the page. Usually, items at the top are perceived as most important.
Balance creates the perception that there is equal distribution. This does not always imply that there is symmetry.
Contrast focuses on making items stand out by emphasizing differences in size, color, direction, and other characteristics.
Scale identifies a range of sizes; it creates interest and depth by demonstrating how each item relates to each other based on size.
Dominance focuses on having one element as the focal point and others being subordinate. This is often done through scaling and contrasting based on size, color, position, shape, etc.
Similarity refers to creating continuity throughout a design without direct duplication. Similarity is used to make pieces work together over an interface and help users learn the interface quicker.
Example of Pulling it all together
Applying design principles to the basic elements can seem overwhelming at first but once you start pulling a page or concept together, it becomes easier.
Additional Information
Alex White’s The Elements of Graphic Design (2nd Edition)
Jim Krause’s Design Basics Index
Poppy Evans and Mark Thomas’ Exploring the Elements of Design
UX Design Defined Site exit disclaimer
Elements and Principles of Visual Design Site exit disclaimer
Visual Design and Usability Yellow Brick Road Site exit disclaimer
Jesse James Garrett’s The Elements of User Experience: User-Centered Design for the Web and Beyond (2nd Edition).

Why Is UX Important?

Nowadays, with so much emphasis on user-centered design, describing and justifying the importance of designing and enhancing the user experience seems almost unnecessary. We could simply say, “It’s important because it deals with our users’ needs — enough said,” and everyone would probably be satisfied with that.
However, those of us who worked in the Web design industry prior to the codification of user-centered design, usability and Web accessibility would know that we used to make websites differently. Before our clients (and we) understood the value of user-centered design, we made design decisions based on just two things: what we thought was awesome and what the client wanted to see.
We built interaction based on what we thought worked — we designed for ourselves. The focus was on aesthetics and the brand, with little to no thought of how the people who would use the website would feel about it.
There was no science behind what we did. We did it because the results looked good, because they were creative (so we thought) and because that was what our clients wanted.

But this decade has witnessed a transformation of the Web. Not only has it become more ubiquitous — the Web had at least 1.5 billion users globally in 2008 — but websites have become so complex and feature-rich that, to be effective, they must have great user experience designs.
Additionally, users have been accessing websites in an increasing number of ways: mobile devices, a vast landscape of browsers, different types of Internet connections.
We’ve also become aware of the importance of accessibility — i.e. universal access to our Web-based products — not only for those who with special requirements, such as for screen readers and non-traditional input devices, but for those who don’t have broadband connections or who have older mobile devices and so forth.



Embrace The Details UX | UI


Design Process

Intro to UX & Design Thinking
Prototypes, Feedback, & Critique

Rapid Prototype

User Research
Competitive Research
Synthesizing Research & Creating Personas
Defining User Goals & User Flows
Paper Prototyping & Usability Testing Basics

Hi-Fidelity Prototype

User Stories & Feature Prioritization
Information Architecture & Navigation
Responsive / Native Design & Design Patterns
Visual Design Basics
High Fidelity Prototyping
Advanced Usability Testing


Onboarding & Behavior Change
Final Project Workshop


Human Computer Interaction


Human-computer interaction (HCI) is an area of research and practice that emerged in the early 1980s, initially as a specialty area in computer science embracing cognitive science and human factors engineering. HCI has expanded rapidly and steadily for three decades, attracting professionals from many other disciplines and incorporating diverse concepts and approaches. To a considerable extent, HCI now aggregates a collection of semi-autonomous fields of research and practice in human-centered informatics. However, the continuing synthesis of disparate conceptions and approaches to science and practice in HCI has produced a dramatic example of how different epistemologies and paradigms can be reconciled and integrated in a vibrant and productive intellectual project.

2.1 Where HCI came from


Until the late 1970s, the only humans who interacted with computers were information technology professionals and dedicated hobbyists. This changed disruptively with the emergence of personal computing in the later 1970s. Personal computing, including both personal software (productivity applications, such as text editors and spreadsheets, and interactive computer games) and personal computer platforms (operating systems, programming languages, and hardware), made everyone in the world a potential computer user, and vividly highlighted the deficiencies of computers with respect to usability for those who wanted to use computers as tools.


Sketching with Technology: Rapid Prototyping a Phone for Design Research

Design Research doesn’t exist in a vacuum; its purpose is to inspire design. By bringing a high-fidelity prototype into the field, we were able to move between Design Research and Design fluidly.

“Testing designs with paper prototypes doesn’t work. It’s too different from participants’ mental models for us to get good feedback,” IHan, a fellow design researcher at frog, told me. It was the week before we left for Malawi on a five-week frogImpact program, and she had already spent several months doing design research there. We’d been brainstorming a research plan for our program: evaluating an Interactive Voice Response system (IVR) for a free health and nutrition hotline. The conversation got me thinking, “What if we don’t use paper prototypes to test our ideas? What if we actually made a phone?”

Design research as a foreigner in developing countries is challenging in many ways. One obvious obstacle: we stick out. Arriving in villages can be a big event with the whole village showing up for an interview. As a result, design research participants try to give you the answers they think you want to hear. Compound that with language barriers and cultural nuances and talking about how participants feel about a service is much less informative than observing them using a service. This is why paper prototypes are another obstacle. With this in mind, I walked over to our frog Seattle studio maker station (where I’m based) to chat with two of our Design Technologists. Ric Ewing and Kaz Saegusa were tinkering away and I asked, “Do you guys think we can build a phone-like prototype that I can take to rural Africa this Friday?” Ric, without skipping a beat, said, “Oh yeah, I’m sure we can do something.”

Thus began 48 hours of rapid prototyping, anxious anticipation of an Adafruit delivery, 3D printing on our New Matter printer, and Kaz quickly cranking out processing code. The result was an Arduino-run keypad input device with a 3D-printed phone case and a desktop application with a JSON file to redesign the phone tree and add new audio files. After a few 3D-printing snafus — and a late night hand-off in a grocery store parking lot — the prototype phone was packed in my suitcase and on its way to Africa.

Design Research doesn’t exist in a vacuum; it’s purpose is to inspire design. By bringing a high-fidelity prototype into the field, we were able to fluidly move between Design Research and Design. This is particularly important in developing countries were technological literacy is lower and testing ideas can be a more effective way of getting to insights than other conversations and artifacts.

We are currently iterating on the prototype design and have used v2 in both Zambia and Ghana. Have prototyping stories to share? Let us know in the comments.

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