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How psychology is influencing website design

Alecia Abigail

Recent studies from Adobe show that given fifteen minutes online, two-thirds of people would rather read something that is designed beautifully than something that looks plain. Information such as this is showing that psychology plays a large role in how people process information online. In response to information such as this, more and more web design companies are considering psychological data when building websites.

Psychology has played a major role in the advertising world since the days of Mad Men because it is clear that tapping into the way a consumer thinks will influence how they make certain decisions. Today, the same principles apply to website design. When it comes to designing a website, web design companies are not only thinking about how a website looks, but also how it makes a user feel. For example, the same study shows that 38% of users will stop engaging with a website if the content or the layout appears unattractive to them. But what exactly is attractive?

The human mind is a complex organism that processes information and makes judgements based on visual cues. The vast field of psychology is well ahead of the tech world when it comes to understanding how this process works. For example, the field of colour psychology is an extensive sector that looks at how colour effects humans, and how the brain processes visual information, as well as the kind of sensations induced. The colour blue evokes a feeling of calm, while a more vibrant colour like red makes viewers feel a range of negative emotions ranging from hungry, to uncomfortable. While every individual sees the world differently, there are certain triggers that cause most of us to respond in certain ways, or that draw our eyes towards certain things. These factors are thus being considered by website design companies when designing webpages, in order to engage with users on a deeper level.

A study from the Cardiff Business School titled ‘the interactive effects of colors and products on perceptions of brand logo appropriateness’ shows that brands need to be extremely conscious when developing their image, as colours need to not only make users feel good, but also need to fit their expectations of the products and services on offer. Website design is no longer as simple as just choosing what looks good to the owner; it is now a complex field incorporating many disciplines.

In this increasingly competitive and tech savvy market, it is not uncommon to find psychologists working in web design firms. Take, for example, the work of Alecia Abigail at Bold Web Design in Adelaide. Alecia uses her degree in psychology to assist her and her team to step inside the shoes of the viewer and to make sure that the interactive website experience on every project is intuitive and inviting. Her understanding of psychological processes is vital for identifying any issues that may arise in usability. She began working at the firm because more and more clients are wanting the edge on understanding the inner workings of their audiences’ mind.

Psychologists understand the effects that web design has on the brain, because they have an indepth understanding of how the brain works. For example, Alecia commented that one of the most common things that the brain craves is order. “A hierarchical website without clutter is a good start,” she says, “tapping into the brain’s desire for organisation makes for a more user friendly experience.”

Another thing that may seem like a simple choice, but carries a large amount of weight in web design is the typeface, and how much text is on the page. In the early days of the internet, it wasn’t uncommon to see pages with thousands of words of text. Now, it certainly appears that less is more in most instances. Commonly, serif fonts (such as Times New Roman) evoke professionalism and structure. While sans serif fonts (such as Helvetica), are often used to make something appear more creative, modern or fashionable.

There is also ample research that explains how images relate to emotions. It is important to keep in mind what an image says, because pictures receive far more attention than words. A cartoon conveys something entirely different to a black and white abstract scene. Psychologists in web design firms, such as Alecia at Bold Web Design, often work to test how images work with audiences, and analyse responses to see whether the desired information is being conveyed. Alecia says that understanding the user is a multi-faceted approach, and even with her degree and background working in psychology, she is still learning new things about how the brain interacts with the world of technology every day.

When it comes to web design, the golden rule now seems to be that there is only one chance at making a first impression, so it is important to make it count.

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