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You might think that psychology and design go together like peanut butter and sardines—a combination that few would consider eating, and even fewer would actually ingest. In reality, design and psychology are a pairing sweeter than peanut butter and chocolate.

At its core, design boils down to making choices. Every shape, line, color, graphic, text, and font you use will have considerable influence on the message you’re trying to convey—and that’s where psychology comes into play. Psychology can help us understand how and why people react the way they do to the design choices we make. That’s why we’ve compiled six psychology concepts all designers should know to build intuitive, intentional design experiences.

Show and Tell: Visual Cues and Dual-Coding Theory

People have a limited attention span, meaning it’s your job as a designer to clearly and quickly clue them in on what you want them to do. According to dual-coding theory, the best way to do this is to use both visual and verbal cues to help the brain digest and remember information. It may not be enough, for example, to just have a big red button to indicate something is actionable. Labeling that button with “complete transaction” combines visual and textual information that highlights in a conventional, easily understood way, what you want the viewer to do.

Making Connections: Gestalt Principles

The Gestalt principles, otherwise known as the Gestalt laws, are based on the idea that humans are programmed to make connections between things that are visually similar or tightly grouped together. Using the concepts of proximity, similarity, closure, continuity, and figure and ground, you can affect how the elements of your design are perceived in relation to one another. If you want to imply that two separate features are part of a group, put them close together. Putting items far away from one another implies a literal and figurative distance.

Information That’s Just Right: The Goldilocks Principle

While the Goldilocks Principle isn’t a real psychological concept, the idea behind the name is very real: people are more likely to feel overwhelmed by too much information and choice and frustrated by too little information and choice. In the words of Goldilocks herself, you need to make sure your designs are “just right.” Your goal as a designer should be to guide your audience to make the decision or take the action you’d like them to. Design elements should have coherence and balance about them. Use concepts like grid systems, visual hierarchy, and the Gestalt Principles to make your design easy to scan and understand.

The Odd One Out: The Von Restorff Effect

When designing, sometimes you want your audience’s eye to be drawn to one particular spot. This can present a challenge, especially when there are other design elements around it. The solution? The Von Restorff Effect! Essentially, this is the idea that the odd one out is the one that gets remembered. In design, this might mean using a different color, font, size, shape, etc. for the element you want to stand out.

Go with Your Gut: Visceral Reactions

Have you ever been scrolling through Instagram or clicked on a URL and discovered a visual that you instinctively loved but couldn’t quite explain why? It’s likely you had a visceral reaction—the kind of response that manifests as that familiar tinge in your gut. People’s emotional reactions tend to establish how they feel about something, and once they’ve made up their minds, it’s hard to change them. Designing for visceral reactions means designing to create an overwhelmingly positive impression by knowing what looks pleasing to people and what turns them off. This can be as simple as using professional, visually exciting photography and colorful imagery to capture the attention—and gut—of your audience.

Weighing the Options: Cost-Benefit Analysis

Subconsciously or consciously, when we make decisions, we consider the costs and benefits of an action before we take it. If we perform our cost-benefit analysis and find that the costs of a decision outweighs its potential benefits, we don’t take action. Designers should make sure that whatever they have designed has more benefits than costs. In terms of both time and attention, don’t ask for more than you need. Make the content as straightforward as possible for your audience while still fulfilling the goal of the content.


Looking to create designs with intention? Reach out to our team of design experts at MOSAIC for work sure to satisfy your sweet tooth.


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