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Website User Experience and the 5 Cognitive Principles That Shape UX Design
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The machine wouldn’t scan. That was the excuse I gave to the security guards as they led me away from my local supermarket. Around my feet were pieces of a self-checkout machine I had just destroyed. Such are the consequences of poor user experience. The same principles, if not the same stakes, affect the User Experience (UX) of any website.

Some principles span the gap between eCommerce and brick-and-mortar shops. The reason for this is simple; whether online or in-store, our brain is the same. The first step towards improving the user experience of any given website, therefore, is understanding the psychology of its users.

user experience website design

To make your website easier to use, you need to think about cognitive psychology. These psychological concepts will allow you to optimise your website for the human brain, improving user experience in the short-term and increasing conversion rates in the long-term.

How long does it take for a visitor to judge your website? According to most studies, the average person makes up their mind about a site in under a second.

What is that impression based on? Well, everything. Colours, text fonts, amount of text, visuals, and general content layout. A nicely designed website, software or pretty much any product might even be forgiven small glitches in terms of functionality, while at the same time creating a positive effect on the user. 

When people make decisions and judgements, they are subject to a number of cognitive effects such as Availability Bias and Anchoring. In both cases, the first stimulus a person receives is used to evaluate subsequent information. If you can frame a user’s perceptions by making their first impression positive, it will have a compounding effect on their overall experience.

Processing fluency describes how easy it is to understand something new. High processing efficacy (or “Cognitive Ease”) encourages feelings of trust, comfort and pleasure. However, low processing efficacy (increased “Cognitive Load”) leads to broken self-checkout machines…

An easy way to improve processing speed and fluency is to apply visual cues that direct the user around your interface. The most simple visual cues are flow indicators, such as arrows, or design features that emphasise particular elements.

Some companies go a bit too far in making their website innovative and original. These sites are so confusing that most people simply give up. Other sites don’t pay enough attention to the usability and navigation of their platforms. When Marks and Spencers redesigned their online interface in 2014, adding layers of complexity for registration and personalisation, it resulted in an 8% drop in online sales.

No matter what kind of info a user requires, your task is to provide it as quickly and smoothly as possible. Your website is the portal to your brand and, if it takes ages (i.e. more than 3 seconds) to load, you will start losing visitors fast…

The more people have to wait for a response, the less interested they will be in what you have to say. If you do not believe us, you might believe Amazon. In 2012, they calculated that they would be losing more than $1.5 Billion a year if their pages loaded just one second slower than usual.

Being late to respond is like being late on a date or not showing up on time when your friends need you. It establishes an unreliable image and creates frustration. 

The science of attention and short-term memory is a huge part of cognitive psychology. In his Attention and Effort, the psychologist Daniel Kahneman described problem-solving as a highly limited resource.

  1. At any time, the number of things to which someone can dedicate their attention is quite small. Every added distraction occupies a proportion of the individual’s processing faculties. Overwhelming a person’s attentional resources creates feelings of stress and frustration (this is one reason why drivers often argue with their navigators.) This is a quick way to lose website visitors.
  2. Over time, a person’s cognitive performance is reduced by fatigue. In fact, studies show that parole judges make different decisions depending on the time of day in which the judgement takes place.

Because your visitors’ attention is a limited resource, it should be treated a valuable commodity. Don’t overwhelm them.

Security online has become the most prominent issue and rightfully so. No-one will ever make a purchase if they only suspect that some fraud might be behind it, that their money and personal information might end up with someone they don’t know or trust.

A customer who is loyal to a brand shows great trust in the company when it comes to security and privacy issues. For example, your customers would be delighted if they knew you were using a secure remote support software, so you should definitely inform them about it. The idea is to make sure that every stage of your relation with customers is equally respectful.

Psychology and Website User Experience

Naturally, there are many more things involved in optimising the user experience of your website. However, the principle of building your interface around the cognitive psychology of your users is always a good policy. Whilst technologies and habits change frequently, our brains are not so disposable.

Oscar Waterworth

by Oscar Waterworth

Oscar is a web designer and digital marketer who writes about the latest in tech, marketing and business.

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