In today’s tech driven world, digital products are on a rapid rise. As various products and services fight for attention, competition becomes fierce.
Whether you are a UI/UX designer, product manager, developer, or just have an interest in product design, there are a set of foundational north stars that will help you understand how beloved products are designed and more importantly, how you can apply these principles to your own projects.
In this article, we will look at six key psychological principles & laws that are used to enhance and optimise a product’s user experience.
1. Mental Models
Mental Models are assumptions that people have on how something works or should work. It is an intuitive perception about one’s actions and consequences. They are formed based on their past experiences and surroundings; therefore, it is common for people of different upbringings to have different mental models.
But why are mental models important to product design?
Imagine walking up to a seemingly normal looking door, twisting the knob and pushing it. The expectation is for the door to swing forward and open, only it doesn’t. Someone then tells you that you that it is a sliding door. It might seem like a small, imperceptible thing but when you’re urgently rushing to a location, having a situation like this disrupt your mental model is frustrating.
Same thing goes for digital experiences. When you launch an app or a website, there are certain expectations on how they should work. Most people would look at the top of the page for any search functions. For example, text inside a rectangle shape means that it is a clickable button, and so on.
This stored knowledge prevents the user from having to re-learn and re-identify elements and flows, resulting in a smooth web experience.
Knowing this, it is always a good idea to include or at least incorporate parts of common digital mental models, especially when you are working on an innovative product that introduces new behavior and flows, as to not overwhelm your users and aid them in learning your new features.
Key takeaways for Mental Models:
- People base their actions on mental models. This allows certain predictability in user behavior and will come in useful when working on fostering new behaviors
- Start with something familiar
- In innovation, teach your users well. A good example is the first Apple iPhone that broke everyone’s mental models on mobile phones. Apple’s success was greatly supported by their campaign on teaching users how to use their new revolutionary product
- Where in the user journey is the customer? When you need to disrupt your user’s mental models, consider the stage of the journey they are on when that interruption happens. For example, introducing a new flow when they are in a potentially stressful / time-sensitive stage (e.g., during payment at a cashier or when trying to book a taxi) might induce anxiety, resulting in a negative user experience
2. Cognitive load
Cognitive load is the total amount of mental effort being used in a person’s working memory. Think of it like a CPU in your brain. Only difference is, you can add more RAM in your CPU to increase memory and performance. The human brain unfortunately, has limited RAM.
There are three main types of cognitive loads:
- Intrinsic cognitive load – difficulty of a task / topic
- Extraneous cognitive load – how the task / topic is presented
- Germane cognitive load – load used to construct and process schemas
While we do not need to dive deeply into each definition, we need to remember that these cognitive loads play an important part in a user’s experience. Just like a computer with too many systems and tabs running, the human brain’s performance suffers and decreases when there is a cognitive overload.
While we can’t eliminate cognitive load entirely, there are many ways to minimize said loads through UI/UX design, such as: