The Role of Psychology in UXD – Part 2

Reading Time: 6 mins approx.

In my previous article, we went through five psychological phenomena that help designers understand their users. Now let’s have a look at five more.

6. The Pratfall Effect

In social psychology, the Pratfall effect says that competent people appear more likeable and attractive when they make a mistake than when they are perfect. 

The Pratfall Effect tells us that it is absolutely fine to be fallible. We should inform our users as well,  that it’s okay to make mistakes. When a user is working on a system, chances are high that he may be stuck somewhere in response to his actions. In that case, we should ensure our users that we will help him to come out of this erroneous situation. This can be achieved with the help of a well-designed error message. 

You won’t see this kind of an error message today. But you get the idea! Never blame the user, even if it is a user error. Image Source 

Error messages give users feedback when something goes wrong while interacting with our product. The problem can be from our end or from the user’s end. Either way, the issue, reason and the solution should be conveyed to the user in a humble & polite way without blaming him for his actions. These messages, instructions, reminders and warnings are essential to a brand’s reputation and conversion rate.

Grammarly empathises & motivates the user with its alert message

7. Mental Model

A mental model is our thought process about a system, especially about how it works and then we apply that model to new situations. In a nutshell, we use the knowledge we already possess from our past experiences when interacting with something new. Mental models help in shaping behaviour and aid problem-solving.

In most websites, navigation menus are traditionally placed across the very top or along the left side. Users may first search for a menu in these areas. If you place it elsewhere, say on the right side or in the footer, it is unexpected and causes confusion. 

Similarly, the conventional affordance cue for a link is blue underlined text. But today designers take the freedom to remove the underline and to change the colour based on the overall design theme. When the designer takes the freedom to change the colour and remove the underline of link, he should make sure that he uses that particular colour only for links and nothing else, and do not underline things that aren’t links. From their past experiences, users have come to expect that underlined text is a link, so don’t confuse them. Users become accustomed to certain things quickly and their absence makes them feel uncomfortable. So, it’s great to be a groundbreaker and explore new ideas but in certain areas, it is advisable to follow your predecessors. 

8. The Focusing Effect 

David A. Schkade and Daniel Kahneman conducted a famous study in 1998. They asked participants from California and the Midwest, how much they believed that Californians were happier than Mid-westerners. Both Californians and Mid-westerners reported that Californians were happier. But in reality, there was no such difference. These findings reflect the focusing-effect in those people. They overemphasised the positive influences of sunny weather and the easy-going lifestyle of Californians. Interestingly, other aspects of life such as higher crime rates, and the threat of earthquakes that would decrease the happiness levels of Californians were not considered in the process of decision-making due to the focusing-effect. When we are making judgments, we tend to weigh attributes and factors unevenly, putting more importance on some aspects and less on others. This is called the focusing effect. (Source)

How is the focusing effect related to UX?  I’ve conducted a study on GPay within a sample group of my friends & family and here are the results!

  • 5/10 users haven’t used Tez mode even once.
  • 6/10 users struggled to find ‘scan QR code’ option. 
  • 7/10 users had no clue that money can be sent by entering account number.  
  • 7/10 users never used the feature of self transfer. 

So most of the users gave importance to one feature of the app i.e. users can select a person from their contacts and transfer money .

Screenshots of Google Pay

When a person places too much importance on one aspect, there will be a cognitive bias and he fails to recognise other factors. So by giving equal weight to all the important features and providing maximum visibility (Try not to hide important features in kebab menu or inner pages ), we can influence this focusing effect to an extent.

9. Selective Disregard

If you are attending a party, there might be a lot of distractions around you like multiple conversations, the clinking of plates & spoons, loud music etc. Out of all these noises, you find yourself able to focus on the amusing story that your friend shares. People instinctively ignore what they feel irrelevant to them and focus on what matters. This is called selective disregard.

Another example is when you decided to purchase a brand new car and suddenly you started seeing a lot of similar cars on the road. This is called selective attention. This is not because everyone started purchasing the same car you booked. Instead, you have subconsciously started giving attention to that particular model of car and disregarded others.

In the case of websites, banner blindness is an example of selective disregard. From users perspective banners often distract users and disrupt productivity. So they focus only on the information that they are looking for and ignore anything banner-shaped, even if is not an ad. 

Heatmaps from eye-tracking studies (Originally published by nngroup ). The areas where users looked the most are coloured red; the yellow areas indicate fewer views, followed by the least-viewed blue areas. Grey areas didn’t attract any fixations.

In this heat map, green boxes highlight the advertisements. And the interesting fact is that users don’t fixate within those boxes that resemble ads. So it is not a wise choice to place important content in the right & top sides of the website which normally is reserved for a banner. Moreover, how can you gain more fixation to the ads you publish on your site? The design of an ad should complement the theme of the website so that users feel that it is a part of your content and not from an external source. So it is better to go for a customised ad than a network ad. 

10. Choice paralysis

All of us like choices and if we get more options to choose from, we will be happier. Won’t we? But In reality, having more choices makes us confused and in many cases cease us from choosing anything at all. Choice overload or choice paralysis is a cognitive process in which people have a difficult time making a decision when faced with many options. 

Hick’s law, or the Hick–Hyman Law, named after British and American psychologists William Edmund Hick and Ray Hyman, describes that increasing the number of choices will increase the decision time logarithmically. (Source)

The dilemma of choice paralysis occurs when many similar choices are at hand. Having too many equally good options might be exhausting and tiresome which results in more dissatisfaction and regret in decisions. Here, cognitive dissonance occurs when there is a difference between the choice made and the choice that should have been made. More choices lead to more cognitive dissonance because the chances of making a wrong decision are at its zenith in this scenario. 

By applying Hick’s law designers can reduce the number of choices in the following:

  • Navigation menu by grouping the similar items and categorise into main menu & submenu.
  • An e-commerce site by showing the “New arrivals” or “best sellers” other than listing all products
  • Designing ‘filters’ to list down only relevant information to the users

There are a lot more but dissecting every psychological principle relevant to design is practically a tough job, but undoubtedly we can say gaining a better understanding of human psychology is a powerful way to creating successful products. I hope these 10 psychological phenomena motivate you to learn more. 

“You are designing for people; you need to be well versed in the abilities and frailties of the human mind.” – Aza Raskin