Unlocking the power of cognitive psychology: 5 theories to enhance the quality of your user experience


2 min read

Words by Wonderful Digital

From a design perspective, brilliant UX is achieved by putting the user’s enjoyment in the forefront of all we do. Ease of use, smooth navigation and genuine engagement are just a few key components in providing the user with a genuinely rewarding experience. This requires us to truly understand and even predict the wants, needs and behaviours of the user. No easy feat in anyone’s language.

Applying well known psychology theories to UX has proven to bring about better design and more rewarding user interaction. And what better way to implement these theories than having a Psychologist as part of the UX design team. While the choice of theories can vary, there are five hallmark theories that underpin successful UX design.

Retention Theory

In the oversaturated digital world it can be hard to keep your audiences glued. That’s because according to the Retention Theory a person can only stay focused for an estimated time frame.

It makes sense therefore to not overload the user with information but rather ensure elements such as copy, functionality and navigation are kept concise and easy to follow. Design layout and ‘flow’ should also be kept ‘retention-friendly’ as a messy or distracting design can interfere with the user’s limited retention.


The Serial-Position Effect.

Imagine a series of 7 items in a row and ask a person to glance at them and then recall them in order without looking. Hard task for most of us. the Serial-Position Effect suggests that we are more likely to remember the first and last items, over the middle ones. This theory can influence the way you layout design items in a preferential order. In terms of items on a shopping site, better-selling items would best be placed in the first and last spots in a sequential order, leaving the poorer selling ones in the middle.

Hick’s Law

Ever been bamboozled by too much choice? Like when a waiter rattles off the specials of the day or looking at the flight schedule screen at an airport. That overwhelming feeling is Hick’s Law at work. As humans, we like our information delivered in bite size portions, so keep this in mind when offering choice within your UX design. This doesn’t necessarily mean culling the number of items you wish to showcase. Simply plant hem across a series of pages rather than have all of them appear in the one place.


The Schema Theory

Good UX relies heavily on clear categorisation, especially when it comes to products and items. The Schema Theory is based on categorising different elements in a clear and concise manner so that we feel a sense of order and a better understanding of what we’re looking at. Categories and subcategories allow us to deliver information in ways that users find easy to digest leading to a more rewarding user experience.


The Chameleon Effect

The Chameleon Effect is aptly named as it describes our tendency to mimic the behaviors we see before us. If we land on a site that is messy, cluttered or aesthetically unpleasing, we can mimic what we see by emoting negative feelings. When applied to UX design, this theory can result in a smooth transition between the stages of the user experience and encourage them to move forward in the user journey.

The connection between design and cognitive behaviour couldn’t be overstated. When interacting with the digital world our decision making process is in full swing. The application of theories such as the ones we have looked at can remove stumbling blocks and obstacles that can act as distractions from the enjoyment of the user we’re designing for.