A Psychological Approach to Designing User Interfaces

A Psychological Approach to Designing User Interfaces

You know that feeling when your staring at a menu and you have no idea what to order?

The reason why you get overwhelmed by these excessive options has to do with, psychology. British psychologist William Edmund Hick and his American colleague Ray Hyman discovered that the greater the number of potential choices, the longer it will take to make a decision.

As designers this means we need to be mindful with the amount of decisions we are giving to our users. We want the experience to be good, therefore quick actions help the users feel in control of their search. Offering to many options will slow them down and come across as a difficult situation and a negative experience.

The A/B Test

A few weeks ago we set out to A/B test designs for our mobile ecommerce app. Version A, the first version, has all the categories and subcategories available as a carousel on the landing screen. Making it easy for the user to find what they are looking for right away, eliminating the amount of steps and providing an overview of all the available options.

Version B forces you to first select the category and then the subcategory, guiding you through the funnel. This approach gives our users an extra step to take first, but narrowing down the options and choices they have to make.

The result was surprising. Version B performed much better and enabled our users to decide much faster and not get lost in a sea of options. This shows that Hick’s theory can be applied here and that even though this means adding an extra step, the decision is easier to make.

Imagery and Emotions

Images are a great way to evoke emotions and a powerful way to tell a story. It has the ability to move people in different ways.

Neuroscientists at MIT have found that the brain can identify images in as little as 13 milliseconds. This means that images are much easier to process than text and indicates that this is something the brain does all day — trying to understand what we’re looking at. By using images in a certain way we can improve the experience and user engagement on our website or app.

This is why we’re focussing on a product first approach. We’re eliminating the distractions and letting you decide by focussing on the visual representation of our product.

Netflix recently released an interesting study that examines the use of imagery on their platform. People are very visual creatures and respond to certain visual cues. We’re hardwired to respond to faces and other people and the results even showed that an expressive facial emotion that aligns with the title drives even more engagement.

Another example is that we also tend to respond better to images that have a limited amount of information. Instead of showing 10 people or a range of objects, we tend to prefer images that focus on a single person or object.

Especially on smaller screens, it’s easier to process and identify images that don’t have too many distractions.


Using these techniques can help us optimise the experience of our app or website. There is so much more to discover about human behaviours, but we can figure these things out by user testing our designs and looking at the data. Because it usually shows we can’t assume anything and there’s still lots to learn.

Chris Nutbeen

Founder of Nuttifox and digital geek. Chris likes data proof, beautiful UX and clients with miracle allowing budgets.

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