12 Psychology Hacks for Better UX Design

There is a strong, undeniable connection between psychology and user experience. Psychology is the reason you buy something off Amazon before you even realize you don’t need it. It’s why you watch the 10th-in-a-row episode of Mad Men at 4 AM. It’s also why you feel tempted to click on those BuzzFeed articles about your zodiac sign.

In other words, tech companies that know the intricacies and facts about human behavior and habits can significantly simplify hitting marketing and sales goals. Not only that, but there is also the trap of crossing over to “the dark side” of UX design by using psychological tricks that ensure your projects meet its goals like selling products or services (which is also the central point of Netflix’s 2020 tech documentary The Social Dilemma).

When you employ psychology hacks in UX design, the results can be really cool. On one hand, you might be applying tiny, seemingly irrelevant changes to your design, but on the other, you’re witnessing major shifts in user behavior.

When you use these clever tricks and techniques, you can make your users feel, think and do whatever you want them to. You can shape your customer’s behavior with your UX design by understanding basic human instincts. You can use these instincts and make them a force that will work for your website. Let’s take a look at how.

Psychology Hacks for Better UX Design

1) Use Procedural Knowledge

Why is the search box always in the upper right corner of a web page? Why is the Back button on the top left? It’s because everyone else does it like that and users are accustomed to these features.

If we try to be creative and innovative and switch up some of these elements, the user will be confused and disoriented. To find their way around a site they are on for the first time, users rely on procedural knowledge. When it comes to UX design, innovation is undesirable.

Breaking the laws of procedural knowledge in your design, i.e. breaking the behavior pattern the user already acquired by using similar products, increases their cognitive effort. This leads to product use fatigue and increases their decision time.

It’s incredibly hard to single-handedly change customer habits. Even auxiliary text or footnotes explaining what we should do rarely helps (just remember how many times you pushed a pull door, even if they featured a huge Pull sign).

2) Learn about basic human needs and desires

The prerequisite to tapping into your customer’s actions and thoughts is to understand their basic human needs and desires. Generally speaking, there are four (4) primary urges that trigger all of our behaviors online:

  1. Belonging: We surround ourselves with people and things that define us and make us feel like we belong somewhere. That’s why we always go back to the same websites – we feel like we belong there.
  2. Status: Human beings have a deeply-rooted need to achieve higher status, whether it’s social status, professional status, personal or otherwise. Facebook leverages this need, especially by allowing us to flaunt our achievements and numerically measure popularity.
  3. Pursuit of Happiness: Almost everything we do is a quest for happiness. The best UX design will award us with a rush of happiness every few seconds. Just think of Instagram and all those lovely new followers and new like notifications popping up to stick you to the app.
  4. Curiosity: We always need to know more. Little babies make their first steps out of curiosity. Online, we can see this urge being played to in many ways, including ‘Read more’ links after a juicy excerpt.
3) Use the power of empathy and belonging

The quickest way to establish a feeling of trust and rapport is to emphasize with your audience. With the help of your design, you need to show that you understand them. As we have said in the previous section, users are on a constant, subconscious quest for belonging.

In UX design, you can achieve empathy by designing your experience based on your target audience’s profile. This means that you have to, of course, define and understand your audience before you start designing. You should know about their age, gender, location, interests and goals. You need to design your website in a way that will make your users respond.

Ecommerce platform Etsy, for example, targets crafters and DIYers. When you visit their home page, you will see photos of their user’s drawing, painting and creating new products. On freelance sites like Upwork or Fiverr, you will see independent professionals who sit at their laptops with a sparkly smile.

These images and visuals are a trigger for you to “join the community”. Etsy’s photos of crafters and Fiverr’s photos of freelancers provide a welcoming atmosphere for their target audience. In other words, Fiverr’s photos illustrate that if you’re a freelancer, you will feel right at home when you join.

Triggering the human need for belonging is incredibly powerful. Nevertheless, it’s not that complex: it’s just the simple and basic psychology of the natural human urge to seek a community.

4) Leverage Hick’s Law

There are many laws in cognitive sciences and consumer research that sound like plain paradoxes. Hick’s law is definitely one of them. It’s similar to one of the many cognitive biases humans have, but it’s especially applicable to UX design.

There’s a funny saying that you should never ask users how many options they want. This is illustrated by many examples where manufacturers and retails increased their sales and revenues by reducing the number of available options and product categories.

However, when you ask users whether they would like a bigger or a smaller selection range, of course, they will say that they’d prefer the bigger one. Funnily enough, they really think that they do.

The principle that explains that this is not actually the case is called Hick’s law – the fewer the options, the faster the reaction. The same principle can be applied to the online environment. The more options your navigation menu has, the more it will present a cognitive effort for the user. This makes the decision and response process longer.

5) Anchoring

Anchoring is another UX psychology trick that’s often used in eCommerce and industries that rely on impulse purchasing decisions (interestingly enough, it is also applied to more important decisions like long-term subscriptions or insurance policies).

If someone offers you three pricing plans, they probably want you to pick the middle one. The middle option is always the most appealing to the consumer.

6) Money Talks

When you mention or refer to money on your website (which you will have to if you are running an online store), avoid mentioning currencies or decimal points. You want to leave an impression that these are fictional numbers. When users see a dollar sign ($), it automatically makes them think about money.

When you think about money, you spend less. It’s a similar trick to the .99 trick retail stores usually use. However, when you’re designing an online store, and you want to circumvent the currency symbol, check whether this is compliant with the local legislation. Some countries require that a currency symbol is listed with the price.

In most cases, you will be able to switch the $ dollar symbol with USD, which is much less a trigger for money in the consumer mind.

7) Use enhancers

You should use enhancers, especially in the titles of your product, if you want to attract users’ attention. Simply put, enhancers are words and embellishments that serve to leave a stronger and more lasting impression on the user.

For example, the Versace Trigreca sneaker has recently been presented as “the latest addition to Versace’s coveted sneaker family”.

8) The power of recommendations and social proof

You should always remember to incorporate ratings, reviews, social proof and testimonials in your design and make them as prominent as possible. In brick and mortar restaurants, dishes marked with ‘Chef’s choice’ get the most orders based on those two simple words.

Ecommerce fashion websites are increasingly using the Bestseller categories to promote the products that are allegedly the ones sold in most numbers. We have no way of knowing whether those products are actually the ones who are sold the most, but it feels good jumping on the trend wagon (again, belonging). For all we know, Bestseller products might even be products that are sold the least.

9) Security and safety

Another psychology paradox (or trick) is that when you mention safety or security on your website, users feel less safe. When you list the information that their user data is safe with you, you will only raise concerns. This is a similar thought pattern with currencies. You’re raising flags about something they probably were not thinking about (or something that they do not want to think about).

10) Typeface

Of course, typeface and fonts play a huge role in UX design. Unsurprisingly, they also have a psychological effect on their observer.

Primarily, designers advise that you should never write words in all capitals. Namely, they are all on the same borders, which makes it harder to distinguish between their shapes than with small letters. This is another example of a non-deliberate increase in cognitive effort.

Bold typeface, as you can assume, attracts more attention than regular fonts. Use it in moderation, because if you overdo it with bold text, users will not know where to direct their attention first.

11) Face to face

Use images and photos of human beings whenever it’s relevant and appropriate. Our brain is wired to pay attention to the faces of other humans. Even if we find ourselves on the most boring website of all time, a picture of a human face will attract our attention. Research has shown that face photos work much better and produce better sales results than photos without faces prominent.

12) Play with curiosity

When you leverage curiosity in your UX design, the limits where you can take your users are very, very far. Curiosity is a powerful tool that can get people to take extra steps for something they wouldn’t even care about otherwise. That’s why we go crazy when someone texts us “I need to talk to you about something”. When you give someone a tiny taste, they will be hungry for more – possibly indefinitely.

We were born as curious beings. Curiosity is what pushes us to move forward and learn more. By using this basic human urge, you can make users click on practically anything.

A great example of this principle online is Amazon Kindle’s Look Inside feature. On a little tag above a book, you will find a little “Look inside” arrow that invites you to take a peek into the first couple of pages of the book. You can’t help but click on it!


UX design and psychology are so intertwined that, at this point, it becomes unclear whether human behavior drives design or the design drives human behavior. This connection will become even more apparent and strong as we deepen our relationships with technology. Of course, the human-computer interaction will become even more sophisticated as we improve UX design through testing, experiments and research.

The peculiar thing about most of these hacks is that they are applicable to the human race in general. Most marketing moves are target-specific, and you tweak every word of your content or copy depending on who you are writing for. In design, however, things are much more universal. This means that you can enjoy seeing a great performance of your design while targeting a wide, international audience.

What are some of your favorite psychology tricks you leverage in your UX design? Did you already know about some of these?

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