Psych 101: Applying Theories To Design
Date: February 9, 2016
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For those of you who don’t know me, psychology is definitely one of my guilty pleasures. It’s a close second to sociology which I minored in (fun fact!) back at Quinnipiac University. I love reading about psych theories/concepts and seeing how they apply to every day life. Luckily, I’m a designer and can incorporate some of them into my design decisions.

Larry Wall said

“When they built The University of California at Irvine they just put the buildings in. They did not put any sidewalks; they just planted grass. The next year, they came back and put the sidewalks where the trails were in the grass.”

This concept is brilliant and it’s how I like to apply psychology theories to design. If I already understand people’s tendencies, I can anticipate their reaction to certain designs.

Last week I read a post title 6 Psychology Concepts Every Marketer Needs To Know. The author points out six relevant psych concepts and looks at them in terms of marketing strategy. I’ve pulled three that also apply to design.



In the article, number two reads…

“Repetition has a huge impact on what we think about something. … Thanks to the mere-exposure theory, the more familiar we are with something, the more likely we are to see it as a preferable option.”

The mere-exposure theory suggests that people tend to like things simply because they are familiar with them. Real life example: how many times have you ordered the same thing on menu of the restaurant up the street? You’re familiar with the dish and you know you like it. It’s much less daunting than choosing something different that you might not like.

This theory is the perfect advocate for a cohesive, consistent campaign. Seems obvious, right? Pay attention to your details. If you’re using rounded corner buttons on your website, reflect that in your emails. Be sure you use the same colors and consistent fonts. When a user moves through your campaign— whether it be from email to landing page or banner to landing page —it should all match.

In the B2B world, we’re often designing nurture campaigns that include multiple pieces of content being sent to users over a longer period of time (think between 2 or 3 months). As you can imagine, it’s challenging to make 6 completely different types of content look really cohesive. Something that works well in this situation are custom icons.

I recently worked on a campaign with multiple assets, designed by multiple people. Of course, we carried the same design elements through (color scheme, imagery, fonts, etc.) but, in addition to all that, we added a custom icon. This icon became the center of attention in the kick off materials and from there was carried through on all the pieces, including social and web banners.



Number three of the article talks about the social influence principle, perhaps better known these days as “FOMO”. People like to be liked. We want to be part of “something” and don’t like feeling left out from the group.

“That’s because of the conformity and social influence principle, which you might know better as the idea for ‘keeping up with the Joneses.’”

As designers, we can use this principle to our advantage. Emphasize analytics in your design.  If you’re creating a subscription page, try enticing your users with the numbers. “Join 15,000 other marketers!” Make that number stand out, show users what they’re missing out on.


In longer form content, include statistical call outs. Numbers are a great way to break up all the words on a page. When there’s a lot of content, people tend to skim the call outs to see what it’s all about. Numbers will resonate, use them.



Number four, the authority principle and halo effect is an interesting one and something designers should use to their advantage when possible.

   “ … But instinctively, and thanks to evolutionary processes no amount of political correctness can shake, we like traditionally attractive people. And what’s worse/better depending on who you are, that makes us trust them. This is the authority principle, one of the core principles of persuasion.”

First off, I agree, this is not the most flattering human trait but it is something designers can leverage.

When you’re promoting an event, live or otherwise, if you have head shots, use them. If you’re fortunate enough to have good head shots, feature them. Big, industry names are a big booster for events. I, myself, have a few people I keep an eye out for. When I see that they’re speaking at an event, I attend.


PS. One of my biggest pet peeves in bad head shots. I swear I have seen it all.. Selfies, vacation photos, people cropped with no necks.. I’m not a huge fan of head shots but when I get good ones I use them as much as possible!



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