8 Consumer Behavior Facts Every Designer Needs To Know

Design isn’t about what you see and what you feel in a piece of visual or experiential art. It’s about a lot more. According to design legend Steve Jobs, design is also about how the whole thing works. Behind every element and how it came to be or how it got omitted from the design altogether was a designer that sought to achieve a particular thing; a particular goal.

Perhaps the consumer was meant to take some kind of action at the end. Perhaps they were meant to make some kind of purchase, or learn some new piece of information, or take steps to contact someone. Whatever it is they were meant to do, the connection between design work and the behavioral psychology of consumers lies here.

As a designer, you are, first and foremost, a communicator. You should, therefore, have an intimate knowledge of the deepest psychological triggers of your audience in order to be able to engage and persuade them in a meaningful way.

We had a few conversations with some Aussie writers working at a large online service and asked them what kind of consumer behavior they use to their advantage when they are designing for their audience. They outlined some clear principles for us, which we hope you will also find useful and be able to use to engage your audience better.

Consumer Behavior Facts Every Designer Needs To Know

1. The Principle of Selective Attention

The ideal situation for any designer is that the work of their hands will be presented to an audience in a room or environment barren of any other stimuli. Wouldn’t it be great if the consumer could see your designs in a white room with absolutely nothing else in the room? Then you would know that 100% of their attention would be on your design piece.

And yet, unfortunately, this isn’t the situation in the real world. Usually, the environment is filled with so many stimuli that all compete for our attention. It is easy in such an environment to filter out that which does not seem to match with what we are already used to. In your designs, you should plan for such distractions and make sure that your design not only stands out but does so in a way that makes it relevant to its immediate environment. Perhaps the most valuable commodity of the 21st century is attention. You should, therefore, think of ways to monopolize as much of your audience’s attention as you can.

2. The Principle of Cognitive Dissonance

Believe it or not, your audience and consumers will often have a lot of second thoughts about a lot of the decisions they make on a daily basis. One of the things that cause these second thoughts is a phenomenon known as cognitive dissonance.

Cognitive dissonance is a special kind of psychological phenomenon. Basically, it occurs when your values and identity are in conflict with your behavior. Say, for example, that you believe that wild animals deserve to be left in the wild, doing what they do best. You might be an animal conservationist that believes that animals deserve to be free from human intervention in all of its forms. Now imagine going to the zoo with your friend because they had to take their little nephew and they convinced you to give them some adult company. Sure, you’re just doing it because your friend politely asked and because you want to be there for them, not because you generally enjoy zoos, but going to the zoo is in direct conflict with your professed values and principles. You will experience some mental discomfort about this. That discomfort is what is known as cognitive dissonance.

Your audience and consumers may have to deal with cognitive dissonance when they come across your products. Perhaps they’re not sure where you sourced all of the materials in your product or they don’t know if you were humane with your labor force. Maybe they just don’t feel like your product is classy enough for their tastes. Even the most mundane details could matter in such instances and you have to figure out a way to put your audience’s mind at ease.

The best way to do this is to insert markers of reliability in your content. These could be certifications, support channels, awards, testimonials, and so on. This information will give them a sense of certainty about what they’re buying and make them feel like their actions are consistent with their beliefs.

3. The Principle of Motivation

One of the most life-altering psychological traits an individual can have is motivation. Something that is repeated so many times that it has become something of a cliché is the idea that you can change your entire life simply by changing your attitude.

When you understand what motivates your audience, then you can be more empathetic to them and you can accomplish the goals that you set out for your design.

Of particular interest here are the ideas of one of the greatest psychologists of the last century: Abraham Maslow. He formulated a theory of motivation that was based on a so-called hierarchy of needs. Each level of this hierarchy presents us with needs that motivate us to do what we do and be who we are. Once all of the needs on a given level have been met, then we move on to the next rung in the ladder and that becomes our new set of motivations. Even though that is the general idea, we shouldn’t see this as some leveling up again. Each individual has all of the needs on this hierarchy at once and is seeking to fulfill them. However, the most prioritized needs are the lowest unfulfilled ones. While every individual wants to find their purpose in life, we usually find something to eat and drink first before we seek to answer such lofty questions. The hierarchy of needs is as below, in order from the lowest level to the highest:

  • Physiological Needs – These include such things as food, water, warmth, and so on.
  • Safety Needs – These include needs like shelter and safety for our possessions.
  • The Need for Belonging and Love – This is our need to be loved and feel like we are part of a unit, whether that unit is a family, a friendship, a relationship, or a group.
  • Esteem Needs – We all need to feel respected by others around us and valued by society as a whole.
  • Self-Actualization – This is the need to find our greater purpose and make something of ourselves in the world.

You should be able to use these ideas to figure out what motivates your audience and play to those motivations.

4. The Principle of Perceived Value

As a designer, you probably know the objective value of your client’s product. Your client knows the objective value of their own product. You even have lots of data that proves that the client’s product is superior. However, whether the product is objectively valuable, despite being an important question on its own, isn’t the most important question you could ask. The most important question is whether the audience can perceive that value. Does the object actually appear valuable to your audience?

The idea of perception is quite important in psychology. We take in a lot of information from the environment and our ability to first organize that information and then interpret it is what is known as perception.

Perceived value is something very subjective and depends on a lot of factors. Take the iPhone, for example: While an iPhone typically costs about $200 to manufacture, consumers are willing to pay many hundreds of dollars more to own one. Here the actual value and perceived value of an iPhone are very different. In this case, careful branding and marketing is the reason why the perceived value is so much greater.

The next time you’re thinking of communicating the value of a product with your design, think about two questions: What is the actual value of this product? What is the perceived value of this product? You will make a lot more progress by considering the second question, rather than the first.

5. The Principles of Learning and Memory

When you communicate a specific message for your brand for an especially long period of time, then your audience will start to store that message in their long-term memory. They will come to associate your brand with that message and consider it part of your brand identity.

Say you want to change the way your audience perceives your brand and give your brand a new identity, or at least modify its current identity a little bit. In order to do that you will have to ‘teach’ your audience to perceive your brand differently by giving them a new bunch of messages to consume. As a designer, you are therefore also a teacher. You should, therefore, seek to understand what works when getting memories into your audience and what doesn’t and reiterate the successful strategies.

6. The Principle of Cognitive Involvement

Sometimes your audience really isn’t that into you, as hard as that might be to swallow. You may have identified a real need of theirs that you need to satisfy and worked very hard to capture their attention above all the competing distractions. You now have it, but they still seem to need something a little more before they can truly engage with you. What do you do about that?

There are two kinds of decisions that we make. One kind is the low involvement decision, where we don’t really invest ourselves in the decision-making process. We just act on something without thinking too hard about it. These decisions happen to be the majority of the decisions we make every day. They are automated processes that help us conserve our willpower for the more important and involving decisions: the high involvement decisions. With these decisions, we need to search for lots of information, organize it, analyze it, and interpret it as part of our decision-making process. We do this to make sure we arrive at the right decision.

As a designer, it is your job to figure out what amount of information is just right to include in your content in order to convince your audience to be a little more invested in what you’re trying to communicate to them.

7. The Principle of Peripheral Cues

The world of consumer behavior researchers is bent on the pursuit of ways to positively persuade consumers. How does a consumer go from first learning of a product to deciding that they absolutely need that product in their lives?

Well, there was a theory first proposed by the psychologists John Cacioppo and Richard Petty, known as the Elaboration Likelihood Model. According to this theory, there are two routes you can follow to persuade your audience: The central route and the peripheral route.

The central route is all about presenting the audience with information and facts that they can they consider carefully and extensively before arriving at their decision.

The peripheral route is all about using cues in the surroundings to give a quick impression to the audience about the object, such as the aesthetics, the credibility, the quality of the message, the emotional appeal, and so on.

As a designer, you can use both routes to your advantage. However, the real strength of a designer lies in the use of the second kind of route to your advantage, especially since it works better in an environment where the consumer doesn’t have enough time to think too deeply about their decisions.

8. The Principal of Aspirations

We all aspire to something. We aspire to the attitudes, objects, and behaviors of others. We look up to them because we would like to be like them. It is human nature.

As a designer, you have the opportunity to use this basic human characteristic to your advantage. You can tap into the aspirations of your consumers by using certain imagery in your message to persuade them, such as the face of a celebrity, or a popular product, or even a piece of fashion. As you select this imagery, consider how your target audience will relate and react to it and whether you are really tapping into their aspirations.


As a designer, you need to understand the mind of your audience on a deep level. B knowing what their psychological characteristics are, it is easier to relate with them and communicate your message to them in a manner they will find meaningful.

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