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Web Design has always been thought of as subjective. Some like the design, some don’t, but with more and more data and understanding of how people use the web we now should be looking into the psychology of website usability and design.
The Evolution of Website Design
In the past web design was limited by technology, large images and videos were not appropriate on websites that were being viewed over a slow dial up connection. The coding languages such as CSS and Java script etc were not around when people first started designing websites. Websites were viewed on small monitors, and only small monitors, and were left aligned, so we were presented with websites that resembled word documents and were not appealing in the slightest.
However technology has evolved. We now have super fast broadband, and can get 3G (and 4G) internet on our phones. Complimenting this faster internet, developers and web designers are less limited. We now have font replacement so we don’t have to substitute text in the same way, and with Java Script, Flash, C++ or even AJAX websites can be accessible, beautiful, interactive and engaging. Content isn’t limited by text, and large images and videos can be handled easily on multiple browsers and multiple devices.
I may not know web design, but I know what I like
You would think with all these new technologies and advancements we should never see a bad website, but with any creative industry things go in and out of fashion and web design trends change. You also have the issue that one designer may like one style, another will like a different style and you can guarantee your client will have something completely different in mind. Web design is as subjective as any other art form.
Although Web design is an art form, it is not mean’t to make a statement (usually) it is a commercial art form and has a purpose, whether this purpose is brand awareness, information, or to sell a product or service, your website needs to look good but primarily needs to function for it’s intended purpose.
As websites and technology has evolved, we are lucky enough to have much more information out there such as being able to gather data. Data and psychology are a good web designers best friends, and a clients most under utilised tools.
Why should you consider psychology in web design?
This to me is a no brainer… contrary to some popular beliefs, we design websites for people, not machines (not even Googlebots). Psychology is the understanding of how people’s minds work and why they behave in particular ways. By understanding why people do things you can influence how people react to your website, encouraging trust and helping you achieve the websites goals just through intelligent design.
At SASCon Mini this year Chris Bush discussed PET Theory, in which web designers can use psychological principals to persuade users to buy or engage with the website. PET stands for Persuasion, Emotion and Trust, so using tried and tested methods of how people respond to certain signals means that you can persuade them to complete an action on the website, this is done by appealing to their emotions and gaining trust.
Certain principals apply to old sales techniques, inflating prices then slashing the prices so the user thinks they have a deal, limited offers on products or services so people are pushed into making a decision quickly for fear of losing out. These are very old fashioned sales techniques but are often used with a refreshed take in web design and online marketing. Of course these techniques can be overused (think sofa sales) to the point where people lose trust in the brand. Again understanding how people respond to these deals and how often they are exposed to them can help you design a website and marketing campaign that will be successful.
Graphic designers have been looking at psychology for years; I did my degree in Graphic design and as part of this I did a course in psychology. Graphic designers have been looking at hidden messages, how people respond to colours and layouts for years but only now we have the technology to really be creative in web design can we do this properly for websites.
Of course theory and practice are different things, with the amount of data we have and can collect we can do split testing on layouts and overlay analytics on web pages to observe how a particular demographic really does respond to the website. Using PET principals to design a website theoretically is one thing but you have to be flexible enough to change and respond to how real people use a real website.
If you are not thinking about psychology of web design and how real people will use the website then you need to start, it is more and more important to make beautiful websites that work for you and your client.