Psychology in website design

Jun 19, 2010

Considering the psychological drivers of a website's target user hasn't always been a high priority and has taken a backseat to the pure numbers a website attracts. However, a consideration of psychology can have a surprisingly positive influence on users. If you haven't got a massive budget to make your website sing and dance, what can you do to ensure that your website also packs a punch?

Psychological website design

Although my working life has seen me immersed in the IT field, I actually have a BSc (Hons) Psychology from the University of Exeter. My interest in psychology has never left me though and when it is brought up as a consideration in website design it obviously strikes a chord within me.

Psychology is the science and study of mind and behaviour and covers many areas including social, behavioural and cognition. Along with an understanding of perception, we can see how psychology may be relevant to website design.

Don't just see. Do.

It's all very well getting people to a website but we want them to do something whilst they are there. By thinking about how website visitors take in information and giving them an experience that appeals to them, they'll be far more receptive in following the cues that you give them and hence perform the action you want.

Build trust

First of all, if you want someone to do something for you, they need to trust you and this doesn't come easy to many people, particularly in light of the digital scams that are often reported on.

A website can be creative but it must offer familiar and recognisable patterns indicating how to use it. This will put a visitor at ease. In contrast, if you give someone something that is different and confusing then it will break that trust. I've used plenty of websites where I'm not quite sure what I'm supposed to do because of bad design and which has then given me a negative experience.

It must be easy to move between pages of interest and to get back again.

A website must be easy to use and be clear in what it is trying to do. Is it trying to provide information or sell a service? Be clear or you may be viewed with suspicion.

Psychological triggers

The use of emotion can influence the actions of users. Triggers can be guilt and fear but also commonly held values. A well written page can play on emotions as can the colours, fonts and images used on the page. A good image makes your intention clear and conveys professionalism.

Beware though, don't go overboard on the emotional content as it can look exploitative which will then break trust.

Psychology of colour

This is a complicated area especially as different cultures will attach different values to a colour. This implies that you should consider your target consumer first and then make product and website colours based upon the target's colour preferences.

Website layout

For people who tend to read from left to right, websites for these people will usually have logos in the top left corner due to people reading a website in a "Z" pattern. It's therefore a good idea to place the most important content within this pattern and focus points should be included. This can be made more complicated by the various sizes of screen that a website can be viewed on.

Website grouping

From perceptual psychology we have the principles of grouping. As well as following the "Z" pattern, we need to associate information to make it form a group. This is how we can create a point of focus. This page on Wikipedia can demonstrate the main concepts behind this.


By incorporating the principles behind perception and human behaviour into website design, I hope to ensure that users will have an engaging and seamless experience. By doing this, the potential of users returning to the site will be maximised.

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