Top 10 Psychological Principles Applied to Product Design (Part #1)

Trying to create a product without first understanding what drives its users’ thinking and actions is like designing with your eyes closed. Read on to see which are the top 10 psychological principles which apply to product design.

Whatever you create, if it is intended for a user, there is always a series of psychological principles that need to be taken into consideration and applied. The psychological journey taken by users starts by filtering the information in front of them and looking for its meaning, and after some consideration they take action, unknowingly memorising parts of the interaction. Some of the below principles have been put together as one since they directly affect one another.

#1: Mental Models

Users build mental models of how things around them function, based on what surrounds them in the real-world. Many times when it comes to the digital landscape, such models would hinder, rather than help the user, however product companies are leveraging these models by using some of them as a foundation of how interaction with their product works, making it a lot more intuitive and immersive. Other companies choose the alternative solution: creating mental model migration, like for example Atlassian who provide Agile coaching and free tutorials, but based on their own software (such as Jira), encouraging users to integrate new learning using the company’s systems.

Users build mental models of how things around them function, based on what surrounds them in the real-world

#2: Aesthetic-Usability Effect

When a website looks nice and sleek, the immediate perception is that it is easy to use. Even though this assumption could be far from the very possible scenario where form is considered before function (a moment’s silence for the Bauhaus movement), this is surely something to keep in mind as UX/UI and product designers: beauty sells.

#3: Confirmation Bias & Social Proof

When looking for something, what users are really searching for is that which will reflect and further confirm their way of thinking. This Confirmation Bias can be leveraged with Social Proof: knowing the interests of your audience and following their online behaviour will lead you to the influencers, sources and people they believe in, therefore if you manage to sell your product to these touchpoints and turn them into advocates, your job is done. 

#4: Familiarity Bias

Each of us have a tendency to look for (and want) what we are familiar with, and as we get more familiar with it, our attachment to that experience grows. Therefore a product which follows interaction patterns close experiences we have at heart will more likely be chosen over a completely new experience offering. In fact, service designers keep highlighting that customer experience from brick & mortar to digital devices should be frictionless so that the user is not alienated. This is also because once we have grown accustomed to how something works, we might not like change which wasn’t asked for: just remember the horrifying backlash that Microsoft suffered from the majority of its customers after removing the Start button on Windows 8. The result? Defending its position only made Microsoft seem out of touch with its users and the Start button returned a few months later.

A product which follows interaction patterns close experiences we have at heart will more likely be chosen over a completely new experience offering

#5: Nudge & Default Bias

Freedom of choice is something we many times take for granted, but in reality little do we know how much we are being steered towards what the brands want us to choose. If you look at any brand which offers a product subscription, you will see that on its pricing page the ‘most beneficial’ option is the highlighted one: brighter colours, bolder text… but is it really the best option for the user? As it is very easy to notice that, many times, it is more expensive than other options. As a case study, we can look at booking companies, which use both the Nudge and the Default Bias in tandem quite significantly. Default Bias is the users’ tendency to stick to the default options or view, unless there is a very clear benefit to applying such changes. If we look at Booking.com (and many other tourism websites), we notice that the default sorting is always on Recommended (not Lowest Price) so they not only leverage this bias, but also pushing (Nudge) a property which has amazing social proof (reviews and stars) therefore must be the best option for the user.

Part #2 of this article will be published on the 18th of June!

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