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15 Psychology Principles Every Designer Should Know

The importance of colour design can't be overstated. The way we perceive a website is strongly influenced by its colour palette and the patterns that it features.

By Nick BrownPublished 3 years ago 8 min read

Psychology is an invaluable tool in modern web design. Long gone are the days where a designer would only look to make their website attractive. Nowadays, you need to know what the average user thinks about while browsing your website and figure out how to keep them coming back. Here are some principles you have to keep in mind when designing a modern website.

The psychology of colour

In some ways, colour is intrinsically linked with our emotions. When you think of a particular hue, how do you feel? For some colours, this is pretty obvious. Blue stimulates feelings of calm and relaxation. Red is an aggressive colour that demands your attention and keeps you on high alert. Yellow is more energetic, while green reminds us of life and flourishing etc.

With the right combination of colours, you can make a website pop and feel unique. While individual colours are easy to link with emotion, your goal should be to combine them with various others to stimulate unique feelings. This not only helps with positive reception; it also strengthens the website's brand.

Selective disregard

When users check out your website, they develop a specific type of blindness to elements that don't help them reach their goal. This is what's called selective disregard.

When you use a particular type of ad or cookie banner that looks exactly like the ones other websites use, it's likely that users will disregard them completely. This is why it's crucial to give the elements a unique flair that will make them more noticeable.

The paradox of choice

Common sense would dictate that a multitude of choices is a good thing for websites. If a user can find just about anything on the page by looking long enough, shouldn't this benefit them? As studies have shown, this isn't the case. It's called the paradox of choice.

Having too many choices on a page will overwhelm users and make them switch over to a competitor website. You want to keep the number of choices on a particular page to a minimum. Set up links so a user doesn't have to go through countless pages to reach a product or move to buy something from the shopping cart.

Loss aversion

When users visit a new website, their top priority is to avoid scams and sketchy deals. Getting to a product or service is secondary, as they can switch to another website easily.

Any element of the design that gives off a cheap or sketchy feeling should be modified or removed, as it will erode the trustworthiness of your website. If you need to display information or include an explicit call to action, it's better to keep it simple rather than go overboard.

Miller's law

Miller’s law postulates that users can only keep around seven items in their working memory. As a web designer, you won't be limited to seven elements when setting up a website.

However, Miller's law also suggests grouping elements in a visual way, so that you have a maximum of seven chunks that contain various elements. Patterns and colours can help differentiate these chunks, which makes it easier to group elements in an efficient way while not overwhelming website visitors.

Mental models

There's a reason most websites have similar designs when it comes to the most common elements that users interact with. People are used to a particular kind of website, and they'd rather not relearn how to navigate one.

As you're designing the website, try not to stray too far from the mould. It's in your interest to give users something that's familiar and easy to use.

The principle of similarity

Elements with a similar look and design will be perceived as having the same function. This is the principle of similarity, and it's a crucial tool for website designers. You want users to trust their instincts and be right.

When you introduce elements to your website, you should group them by colour, shape, texture, or some other attribute that makes it obvious that they serve the same purpose.


The way our gaze strays from one object to another is continuous. When a user is browsing a page on your website, their eyes will go along a particular line until they meet an object of relevance. This is usually done through the shortest and simplest route, which means elements should be arranged this way.

Use this principle when figuring out how to display options. A horizontal or vertical slider is the most effective solution.


There are many ways to stimulate users to convert or take action on your website. Reciprocity is a clever way to achieve this with design tricks. The way it works is simple. If you offer users something of value, they'll feel obligated to return the favour.

A good place to start would be showing banners that feature free eBooks and coupons for products. The content you feature is another great incentive. Podcasts and blog posts are especially effective for drawing in users. You can offer these incentives in exchange for an email address, which will help you stay in contact with the user and send promotional material.

A sense of exclusivity

An exclusivity is an important tool for every designer. If you make users feel like certain products or services are scarce, they're more likely to attach additional value to them. It's called the fear of missing out.

You should be cautious with your presentation of products, as emphasizing scarcity can look like spam if you overdo it. Be subtle with your messaging and users will be drawn in by the perceived scarcity.

The Peak-End rule

The entire user journey through your website isn't weighed equally in the visitor's mind. The moments when the user is most impressionable include when they first visit the website and when they decide to leave.

These two points are where you have to leave an impression. As it's implied that the user will start at the top of a page and end up at the bottom, you should fill these areas with impactful content and visuals. It helps to add calls to action here, to further motivate the users.

The Von Restorff effect

When something stands out, it's a lot easier to remember. This is known as the isolation effect, and designers often use it to highlight elements on a web page. It creates a memorable experience for the user, which keeps them coming back.

There are numerous ways to emphasize a message or element. You can and should use colour and shape contrast to make things stand out. This is especially important for product sales and deals, which have to be at the forefront of e-commerce websites.

Visceral reactions

One of your main goals when designing a website is to elicit a positive emotional reaction. You want users to be stunned by the beauty or cleverness of a page, so that it sticks with them for a while, even if they leave soon after.

Users judge a website within the first few seconds of entering it. You have to keep the beauty of the page readily apparent. Don't hide it behind links or elements that the user has to click first. The more visceral the visitor's reaction, the more they'll want to visit the website again. Striking fonts and colours play an enormous role in eliciting a strong reaction.

Speed and performance

Since users have a multitude of options to choose from in most website niches, they tend to be picky. This means that they'll judge a website by just about every metric. One of the most impactful ones is the speed at which a page loads. Not only is this crucial for the overall feel of your website, but it also impacts SEO significantly.

Optimizing a website for speed and performance is no simple task. Designers often struggle to speed up pages while keeping the overall look consistent. This is why many website owners recommend enlisting the help of a reliable web design agency to optimize pages. It leaves designers with more time to focus on the other psychological aspects of the website. Not to mention, those with years of experience in building websites will be able to squeeze out the fastest possible load times while sacrificing a minimal number of visual elements.

The 80/20 rule

The law of the vital few states that only twenty per cent of the work you do is responsible for most of the results. Also known as the Pareto principle, it's a great way to improve your design philosophy. Instead of trying to fix or overhaul every aspect of your website, you should focus on a few small details.

Analyze the way your website functions and what draws users in most. This will help you figure out the twenty in your 80/20 rule. Once you're certain that you have it, you should work on improving this before other elements. Later on, you can try your luck with other aspects of the website, but you should keep this rule in mind at all times.


There are many ways to influence users on a psychological level. Countless experts have studied this field, and they've come to various conclusions that can be of use to web designers. Once you have a good grasp of the principles and concepts that we've covered, you'll be able to make your website even more attractive and bring in countless more users.


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