With the online landscape as crowded as it’s ever been, competition to stand out, get recognised, properly engage an audience and keep them coming back, is stronger than ever. But without the bottomless pockets of mega brands who can afford to continually experiment with the latest web design technologies making their sites able to sing and dance as they wish, are there ways of having a similarly dramatic effect simply by applying some basic psychological principles?
Why adopt psychology-based Design
When designing for the web, considering the psychological drives of a target audience is not commonly a high priority. It can however have surprisingly positive effects on how users will utilise a website, how engaged they will become and how frequently they will respond to calls-to-action.
By paying attention to how visitors will naturally wish to engage with information and providing them with an online environment which appeals to their conscious, and sometimes unconscious, inclinations, they will be happier and far more likely to perform the actions you want them to, whether that’s getting in touch with you, buying your product, or referring their friends.
In order for website visitors to do what you want them to do, they first, on some level, have to trust you. Trust however, doesn’t come easily, especially with rolling news stories of identity theft and various unruly digital scams. To those who know little of how the Internet really works, it remains a black scary hole and suspicion is rife. Often designers overlook this as they’re so used to conducting business online. Creating a website that puts visitors at ease can be done through a combination of design techniques and the nature of language used on the site.
Familiarity and Recognizable Patterns
When landing on a web page, there are certain standardised things people expect to see right away.
- Purpose i.e. what the site is there for; to inform them on a particular subject, to sell them a product or service etc
- Navigation – the ability to move from the page they’re on to another of relevance
If these things aren’t visible, they will likely get the impression they’ve ended up in an unfamiliar environment that doesn’t make sense to them (and therefore, isn’t trustworthy).
While text can help with discerning the purpose of a site, all design features must complement and reinforce the message being delivered. As an example, a company selling energy efficient homes would be unwise to use any dark foreboding colours or plain drab images. In order to reinforce a message of healthy living and environmental responsibility, a clean, modern-looking site with bright, natural colours, accompanied by well-considered, life-enhancing images will instil trust and understanding before a single word has been read.
Steering too far away from fundamental user expectations, commonly in a misplaced effort to be different or ‘cutting edge’ can actually be detrimental to success.
Psychological and emotional triggers are a valuable tool in influencing visitors to take the actions you want them to take. Triggers include things like guilt and fear, but also a sense of belonging and appealing to commonly held values. Well worded text can be full of emotional triggers and, with graphic elements serving as a support system for those triggers, user engagement and interaction can be dramatically increased.
Images to Reinforce Concepts
With many well priced, professional online image libraries available, there’s no excuse for poor or misleading images on a website. Images can either help or confuse visitors. A well-chosen image can put visitors at ease, making your intent and/or professionalism clear. A poorly-chosen one can disorientate them. Why follow this with a picture of a dog on a skateboard? Exactly.
The psychology of colour is one of the more complex subjects in design psychology and therefore could be the subject of its own in-depth editorial. Needless to say, colours used in a website can have a very significant impact on how visitors perceive it and they must, at all times, act to reinforce any page’s core message.
Below is a basic list of colours and their meanings-
Fiery and passionate, representing both love and anger
Associated with energy and warmth
Represents happiness, joy and also cowardice
Signifies nature, growth, and renewal
Signifies calm and loyalty. Often associated with corporate images.
Signifies purity and innocence
Neutral and balanced, but also conservative and draining!
Signifies stability and reliability
The majority of sites have logos in the top left corner due to people commonly reading a website in a “Z” pattern. Always look to place the most important content within this reading pattern area.
Create a Focus
Every page on a site should have an obvious focus, whether that be to sell a product or to inform a visitor about a particular subject. The page design needs to emphasise this focal point, ensuring visitors are clearly made aware of what they’re doing there.
The power of White Space
One of the biggest marks of an amateur site is having too much information on each page leading to visitors feel overwhelmed and claustrophobic.
Allowing white or negative space on a website can be an extremely powerful tool which, when combined with properly styled and proportioned elements, can far more successfully direct visitors attention and encourage a desired action.
Using the (psychological) force
For every designer, whether brand new or long established, understanding the basic principles behind human behaviour and incorporating them into a website design will bring rewards. Whether creating a website aimed at hardened agile consumers or fact seeking groupies, by doing all you can to ensure users have a rich, engaging and seamless experience , not only will you maximise the potential of them returning but also ensure they will tell their friends.