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UX Psychologists | Design with Science

User Experience Design is a magical mixture of art and science.

On one hand, a focus on good aesthetics helps a design to fit the brand promise and elicit appropriate emotional responses from users. On the other hand, a focus on good usability helps users in achieving their goals.

UX psychologists strike the balance between aesthetics and functions.  It is clear that, as scientists, we pride ourselves on the scientific basis and experimental rigor in our approach to user research. We understand human cognition, behaviours, and motivation and are also quite skilful in facilitating discussion during usability testings without asking leading questions (see 5 reasons UX teams should include Psychologists if you haven’t already). 

What about aesthetics?  Some may question our ability to create appealing interfaces given our scientific background (or the lack of design background). It is true that we are not trained to be a designer. It is true that we barely use design software throughout the duration of our Psychology program. Yet, we know ways in creating the feeling of “beauty”.


Aesthetics Judgments

Aesthetics are the way we perceive and interpret the world. It goes above and beyond what we see, but also what we hear, smell, taste, and, most prominently, what we feel.  That is, aesthetics is not just about the artistic merit of web buttons or other visual effects, but also about how people interpret and respond to these elements. Understanding human factors allow us to design interfaces that look and feel right for users. Let’s consider the following:
 

Beauty is in the perceiver’s processing experience.

Our brain prefers to process information that is easy to think about. The more fluently perceivers can process a stimuli, the more positive their emotional response and, in turn, results in more positive aesthetic judgements [1].

For instance, scientific research done on corners by the Barrow Neurological Institute found that shape angles generate stronger visual illusion and undermine the fluency of visual processing than shallow angles [2]. Hence, applying rounded corners in web design would speed up stimulus recognition, enhance judgments of stimulus clarity and facilitate aesthetic judgement of the Website.
 

Beauty is prototypicality.

Typically, designers are encouraged to deviate from familiarity and promote novelty in their designs. Your clients may also request for unique designs that outshine their competitors’. However, research has shown that Websites of low prototypicality are generally judged as being unattractive and tend to evoke negative attitudes [3]. That is, people tend to prefer highly prototypical stimuli and perceive these stimuli as more aesthetics appealing – a phenomenon known as the beauty-in-averageness effect.

Prototypicality is the basic mental image your brain creates to categorize everything you interact with. In the course of time, through interaction with the Internet, users develop certain expectations or templates for how Websites should look and feel. When the designs are at odds with users’ expectations, it causes frustrations, negative affects, and may put the whole design endeavour at risk. Hence, instead of being exceedingly creative, it is more appropriate to consult current trends and scientific findings.
 

Beauty is love at first sight.

Users’ initial feelings are crucial, as it is during the first few seconds of interaction that users decide whether or not to continue navigating the Website. In particular, Website colours contribute considerably to first impressions and have the potential to influence users’ perception, emotional reactions and behavioural intentions [4]. Indeed, the Institute of Colour Research found that people make a subconscious judgment about any stimulus within 90 seconds of initial viewing and that between 62% and 90% of that assessment is based on colour alone.

But what colour is appealing to users? There is a general belief that warmth colours (red, orange, yellow) are more appealing than cool colours (blue, green, grey). However, the cultural perspective on aesthetics posits that individuals’ aesthetic preference is shaped by their social environment. Therefore, when the environment differs, so do the aesthetic preferences. Research on the relationships between Website colours and users’ culture revealed that, for example, blue is appealing to Germans but not Canadians and that grey is appealing to Canadians but not Germans [5]. Hence, aesthetic judgment to colours is steeped in cultural bias and it is vital to identify the right colour for the right audience. 

All in all, understanding the psychology behind aesthetic judgments help UX psychologists in creating ease to use as well as aesthetically appealing websites that can be back up with data and theory.

References
[1] Processing Fluency and Aesthetic Pleasure: Is Beauty in the Perceiver’s Processing Experience?
[2] Corner salience varies linearly with corner angle during flicker-augmented contrast
[3] The role of visual complexity and prototypicality regarding first impression of websites: Working towards understanding aesthetic judgments
[4] Effects of color on emotion
[5] Color appeal in website design within and across cultures: A multi-method evaluation