Psychology & Design : What Makes Us Click

Recently familiarizing myself with web interface and usability design, I have been asking the question "what makes users click and navigate through a website?"

As a designer it is important to understand the user's demographic information including gender, race, age, income, computer ability, educational attainment, home ownership, employment status, and even location. It is also beneficial to know what makes for easy usability through navigational structures and clear linkage. This is usually where a designer leaves off with understanding their user.

It is even more crucial that we immerse ourselves in making sense of how our users think subconsciously. Understanding how the brain functions can help designers better understand the impact of their actions and increase the amount of visitors into customers. Online decisions stem from subconscious processes.

How DOES Our Brain Work?

Our brain is actually composed of three layers that have grown from birth. All three parts of the brain depend on one another.
  1. The New Brain: The most recently evolved, rational and analytical side of the brain where conscious thought process occurs
  2. The Mid Brain: The emotional process center where images, pictures and stories influence our conscious thoughts
  3. The Old Brain: The survival and physical efforts side of the brain that thinks about food, sex, and survival of the fittest

Tapping Into The Subconscious

Social Validation:

Reviews, Facebook, and Twitter are all methods of social validation. Users look to other users to validate their choices. Product reviews on websites that provide user profiles allow others to connect with the review. They can identify with the reviewer and in turn identify with the review. This connection will make the review more powerful and influence the user who is on the fence about a buying decision. The number of comments and subscribers validates the blogger or tweeter as an authority or an expert in the field they are interested in. The advice and the comments are considered from the source.


Websites that provide information or something for free with no sneaky survey or access to your personal information are tying into a user's value system or the mid brain. Subconsciously "If you do something for me I feel indebted the need to give you something back." You have to create credibility and proof that your product or service is of value to the customer before they can trust you with their personal information.


The old brain of survival is afraid it will lose out. Fear is a very powerful emotion because it deals with survival. Our brains respond many times with fear when it may not be as pertinent. Promotions such as limited time offers or a limited supply causes the user to take action. To enforce this tactic on your website you must stand by what you preach, so to speak, and only offer that limited time offer in the time frame you have specified. If users discover the limited time offer is not so limited this tactic will backfire.


Emotion signals influence most of our actions. The rational part of the brain would take forever to make decisions without emotions. After a decision is made the newer brain takes credit. Images, style and copy are critical to emotional connect with the proper demographic and create credibility. People tend to process information in a story type format. This includes a title, lots of photos, and engaging copy. As the navigational and grid layout of a website is crucial, elements tying in to the emotions are equally as critical to relate to the audience. The audience needs to think that they are that customer or they want to be like the model in the photograph to drive their purchase decision.

Being aware of a user's conscious and subconscious processes is equally as important in creating a winning website design both visually and interactively.


  © 2010 Design by Stephanie Janke -

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