Cognitive Psychology for better UX (Part 1)

If user experience design is all about the users; then for a good design output in a product, understanding the users is the most important process. How do we make sure we really understand the users? Here is where design meets psychology.
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Psychology in design is important because it opens the window to the user's mind and helps us understand how they think and feel when they interact with a product. Decision making process is better understood by studying the psychology of the human mind. In simple terms, understanding human psychology is key to making a product a hit!

Let's dive a little deeper into one of the specific areas of psychology that can be used to make user experience better- Cognitive Psychology

Cognitive psychology is a specific area within psychology that focuses on thought processes and human behavior. It investigates various brain processes that govern perception, attention, judgment, imaginative thinking, memory, creativity, use of language and the ability to solve problems. Understanding cognitive psychology helps improve the usability of a product because it provides insights into how users perceive, process and interact with information.

5 reasons why understanding cognitive psychology is beneficial for usability

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Cognitive Psychology & Usability
  1. Tailoring Design to Mental Processes: Cognitive psychology helps us match a product's design with how people actually think. By understanding how humans perceive, understand, and remember information, designers can create interfaces that meet users’ expectations and mental models. This makes the product more user-friendly and intuitive.
  2. Optimizing Attention and Information Processing: Cognitive psychology shows us how attention and information processing function. We can use this knowledge to create interfaces that grab and keep users' attention, prioritize important decisions and make information easy to understand. By doing this, we can enhance usability and user engagement.
  3. Memory and Learning Considerations: Cognitive psychology helps us understand how memory works and how we learn and retain information. We can use this to create interfaces that make it easy to remember and find information. By using tricks like organizing things well and making connections, we make the product easier to use and remember.
  4. Cognitive Load Reduction: Cognitive psychology helps designers identify and reduce cognitive load, which refers to the mental effort required to learn new information and perform tasks. We should always try to minimize the cognitive load on users by simplifying information. When users can focus on the task at hand without excessive mental strain, they are more likely to have a positive and efficient user experience. Overload of information, might leave them confused, frustrated eventually leading to dropping the task.      
  5. Error Prevention and Recovery: Cognitive psychology helps us understand the cognitive factors that contribute to errors and how to prevent and recover from them. By designing error-resistant interfaces, providing clear feedback and error messages, and offering supportive guidance, we can reduce the likelihood of user errors and improve the usability of the product.

Human brain thinks in two ways: slow thinking and fast thinking. Slow thinking is when we take our time, concentrate, and carefully consider our options. It needs concentration and effort.

On the other hand, fast thinking is quick and automatic, happening without us even realizing. It is what we use by default unless we intentionally want to think more consciously. While using a product, we rely on fast thinking and decision making. We look for uncomplicated, effortless and intuitive ways of completing tasks.

Therefore, when building a product, our objective should be to create an experience that requires fast thinking, providing users with simple, effortless and intuitive ways of completing tasks.

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5 principles of cognitive psychology used to elevate products and add more value to them

  1. Hicks Law: Hicks Law, also known as Hick-Lyman Law, tells us that the more options we have, the longer it takes to decide. In product design, this means we should keep things simple and not overwhelm users with too many choices. It's important to organize the options in a way that makes sense and is easy to understand.
  2. Principle of Emotional Contagion: Principle of Emotional Contagion or Chameleon effect states that humans will mimic the actions and emotions of those around them, whether they are aware of it or not. That is why, it is preferable to use what is “trending”, like popular keywords or elements to invoke the feelings of competitiveness or the desire to “fit in” among the users.
  3. Principle of least effort: This principle states that humans will always take the actions or make choices that take the least effort. Therefore, when it comes to product design, products have to be super easy and straightforward for the users. If something requires too much work, it is only natural that most users will give up and find a simpler alternative.
  4. Verbatim Effect: The Verbatim Effect is all about remembering the overall experience rather than specific details. People remember the meaning or the concept of the sentence and not their structure. Hence, products should focus on providing an overfall feeling of satisfaction rather than getting caught up in small details.
  5. Principle of Perpetual Habit: This principle tells us that people tend to stick to what they know and are comfortable with. Familiarity brings a sense of ease and comfort, reducing the learning curve and making the overall experience more enjoyable.  So, when developing a product, we gotta keep in mind what people are used to and build upon that foundation.

But a question remains: How to incorporate this knowledge of cognitive psychology into the design of our daily products? To find out, check out part 2 of this article.

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