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04 Aug / 2011

Web Design and User Behavior and Psychological Theories: Part 1

Posted by : Under : Web Design 1 Comment

Human behavior is the result of how we interpret what we see and how we choose to act thereof. Very often, a user’s initial reaction to a website will have no bearing on the site’s merits, but only its appeal. Any user when idly browsing the web will always be attracted to websites with interesting color schemes, layouts, and images than simple websites with neutered designs.

Any action a user takes on a website will be determined by a series of decisions he makes upon visiting that website. The human mind makes highly logical decisions. Most of what users do will be guided by personal preference and habit. It can also be safely concluded, that a user’s action on a site will frequently be misguided by what he has learnt, seen, and is used to doing.

Of course, no two users will think and act the same way. But generalization on user behavior patterns can be drawn nevertheless. This article by no means enunciates hard facts about human behavioral psychology, but only theories honored by time.

1.  Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs Theory

The “silent visitor” makes up the majority of website users. The silent visitor, or lurker, isn’t socially inclined and will not go beyond browsing a few web pages and reading. For a website design to work, it must fulfill visitor needs, although what web users prefer is up for debate.

Abraham Maslow, who was a humanist psychologist, came up with the famous “hierarchy of needs” theory to show what humans require to reach a point where they decide to participate or interact on a website.

At its core, Maslow’s theory speaks about how the average visitor must be infested with a sense of growth and increasing self-esteem upon visiting a website. In other words, a website must treat its visitors with respect to help him reach his ‘pinnacle’ or the point he starts becoming active on the website.

Maslow defined levels of importance that reflect how and what humans prioritize and what they require for ‘self-actualization’, i.e., appreciation of their surroundings and to achieve personal growth.

Based on Maslow’s theory, we can conclude the hierarchy of needs of website users as the following:

  • Accessibility: A website that is easy to find and can be used by all.
  • Stability: A consistent and trustworthy website.
  • Usability: A website that is user-friendly and flexible.
  • Reliability: A website that is consistently available, without downtime.
  • Functionality: A website with web features that offers value to its users.
  • Flexibility: A website that is intuitive and adapts to what its users want and need.

2.    Attractiveness Bias

Your website’s design is neither the sole reason for its success, nor the sole cause of its failure. But beauty is attractive to people. Although content continues to be the most important catalyst in a website’s success, fact remains that a good-looking website will attract visitors before a similar, and perhaps a more resourceful website, with poor design.

Of course, it is important visitors get over their first impression of beauty to dig deeper and appreciate the finer features of your website, like content, usability, flexibility, etc. Point in line, beauty is a temporary attractant that is remarkably useful in drawing visitors to a website. Personality rules in the end.

To establish a long-term relationship with your user, your website must offer value. What lies underneath the glitz and glamour is good old content whose quality will retain visitors.

Yes, if you are an established name in the market, you can make the website as ugly as you want and still walk away with the lion’s share of visitors. Many web designers opine that the success of a website’s design lies with how effective it is and not how attractive it can be. Basically, if websites work, they work, and beauty is only secondary. But it’s also true; the “wow” factor will be responsible for initial appeal.

The solution: a website’s design should be professional and beautiful without overruling the hierarchy of needs of website users. If this is accomplished, your website will attract even those visitors who judge quality by appearance. The integrity of content will emerge once visual appeal is established.

3.    Serial Positioning Effect

Your website’s information structure will determine how well it is remembered. Tables, lists and charts help break large paragraphs of information into manageable chunks. Blocks of heavy text is tiring to read whereas organized information is easily readable.

Hermann Ebbinghaus’ serial positioning effect proposes that positions of items in a list will have direct bearing on people’s ability to remember something accurately. In website design, this most closely relates to visual hierarchy.

Your website may have pages and pages of information, but most people who visit your website will typically be scanning through your content, committing less than 10% to memory. By breaking up your content into small paragraphs, highlighting important text, adding bullet lists, and sub headings, you can present your content in a manner that is useful to people.

4.    Depth of Processing

This refers to the level to which information has to be processed to commit it to memory.  Engaging your users is not enough. You have to ensure they read important details you want them to read. With simple mechanisms such as “I Accept” button under a license agreement, there is a high possibility users will read through before ‘accepting’ and proceeding to the next step. Of course, by applying the serial positioning effect, you can make sure users read all the important portions of your content.

The trick is to find a balance between helping your users remember information and annoying them with questions or calls to action. It’s your website. Use your best judgment to decide which interactive elements would be useful.

One Comment

  1. Guest says:

    Really interesting blog, keep up the good work!

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