User Psychology

User Psychology

Having an insight into the psychology of users is invaluable in creating successful UX designs.

Here, you’ll discover some key concepts in user psychology, cognitive limitations, different types of users, and content considerations to begin to build your understanding of users.

Decorative image: A cartoon image of a brain, with icons indicating graphs, ideas, emails and timers revolving around the brain

User psychology

Here are some key facts around how users interact with systems:

  • Users scan screens based on past experiences and expectations
  • They also identify objects by recognising patterns, making it vital to maintain consistency
  • People believe that things that are close together belong together, so good use of white space is important
  • Colour meanings vary by culture, so it’s important not to rely on colour alone

Cognitive limitations

Cognitive limitations can have a big impact on your UX designs. Being aware of these limitations can help you avoid possible usability problems for your designs.

We’ll consider:

  • Inattention blindness
  • Change blindness
  • Useful field of view
  • Memory limitations
  • Multitasking
  • The ageing brain

First, watch the video on Inattention Blindness. | Start Now |

Inattention blindness occurs when you miss a readily visible yet unexpected visual stimulus in your sight (Simons & Chabris, 1999). This likely stems from lots of visual stimuli capturing your attention.

You might fail to notice important and otherwise obvious, but unexpected objects when they appear.

What did you miss in the video while focusing on the task you were given?  This is known as the Monkey Business Illusion.

Now, watch this video on Change Blindness. | Start Now |

This illustrates how users who are focused on a task can miss quite significant changes.

In the context of a product or system:

  • A user will decide what screen content is about after only a quick glimpse of it through their peripheral vision
  • You use peripheral vision more than your central vision for quickly getting the gist of what you are processing visually
  • Central vision is important for processing detail
  • Information in peripheral vision is important for processing the “big picture”
  • Blinking or animated elements in peripheral vision are going to grab attention, but will potentially be very annoying

Useful field of view

If you want a user to concentrate on a particular area of a screen, do not put any animation or blinking elements in their peripheral vision.

Blinking images in our peripheral vision are potentially annoying, but they are extremely effective at getting our attention even though we are concentrating elsewhere.

Memory limitations

Generally, you only remember four things reliably, e.g., a phone number where we often group digits into batches of four or less to help us to remember.

There are limitations to memory. Using the phone number example, you are unlikely to be able to remember a complex number. You are much more likely to be able to recognise it in a list than recall the number unseen.

To remember information effectively it needs to be used.

It’s important to note that memories are not like photographs; they are not an accurate capture of the information, but are recreated every time you recall a memory, and as such are inherently unreliable and error-prone.


Watch this video on some important considerations around multitasking (Duration: 3m 16s). | Start Now |

There is an important exception to the limitations of multitasking.

  • Physical tasks that the user does often and (e.g., walking) can be done whilst engaging in a mental task
  • There is still a negative impact on your performance

When driving a vehicle, it is not the act of holding a phone to your ear that makes you more likely to have an accident, but the conversation that is consuming part of your attention.

The ageing brain

As a person grows older, their brain’s processing speed slows down - there is a speed and accuracy trade-off over time. Younger brains will process information faster than older brains. Older adults will take longer, but they are more precise and less error-prone.

As we age, our useful field of view narrows as peripheral vision is excluded.

Content considerations

Beyond cognitive limitations, you must consider the content of your design and if it works for your users, their needs, and their expectations.

  • What are the user expectations going to be?
  • Does the layout suggest anything to the user due to the context?
  • Does your design enhance the content, or does it detract from it?
    • Consider why users will use your product. For example, if your product is a website, why do users visit it?
    • What are the objectives of your product? What is the product’s purpose, and what is your users’ purpose? Their tasks and goals?
    • Does content need to be there? Is it obvious and self-explanatory?
    • Less is more. Can you get rid of content that’s not needed?

Optimising the content with these considerations in mind can lead to greater usability and a better UX.


When you're ready, select Next to continue.

In this Course, you'll explore UX (user experience) Design Principles, including user psychology, customer personas, and information architecture.
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