I have spoken previously about the need to understand the philosophy behind aesthetics and how the human brain practically processes what it sees in order to define what it perceives to be beautiful.

It is becoming increasingly evident, however, that the same line of thinking can, and should also, be applied during the web design process in order to achieve a more comprehensive understanding of the human psyche as a whole.

When it comes to creating the best possible outcomes for web users time and time again, keeping abreast of the latest technological developments is simply not enough.

Understanding the latest technical advances is all well and good, but not knowing how to apply them effectively is not going to achieve tangible and long lasting results.

The glory of owning a brand new Ferrari is sure to be all but lost when the realisation that nobody really knows how to drive it properly fully sets in.

Understanding the effect of web design on the brain

Only by gaining real insight into how the human brain deals with different elements, colours, contrast, symmetry and balance can we therefore truly bring ourselves closer to the desires of our key audiences.

Just as the neurological basis for why we find some things more attractive than others must be present before real beauty can be created within the eye of the beholder, understanding the full effect web design can have on the brain can only be achieved once a basic comprehension of how the human brain works has first been ascertained.

Ultimately, any additional working knowledge of exactly how the old grey matter perceives different experiences is undoubtedly going to bring us a step closer to creating the best possible outcomes for the user.

Using Neurodesign principles in web development

The majority of our decisions and subsequent actions are a resulting element of the subconscious and, by nature, human beings tend to look towards others as a means of understanding how they themselves should behave.

Such theory forms the basis of the overall working knowledge we have as experiential designers, which tells us consumers ultimately care about what other people think during the decision-making process, regardless of whether or not the individual is alone when those decisions are being made.

The consideration of this and other proven psychological factors is required in order to improve the web design process, and ultimately define what makes a good or bad user experience based on the practical processes of the brain, has led to the term 'neurodesign' becoming commonplace within the web design industry.

A philosophy subsequently summarised by a variety of practitioners, the basic principles of neurodesign tell us that getting users to truly engage with information comes down not only to how that content is presented visually, but moreover the feelings that are evoked in the very act of its consumption.

Web designing for the mind

The basic concept of a ‘free gift’ becomes altogether null and void when you consider that simply giving something away is proven to envoke feelings of indebtedness - or reciprocity - within the psyche of the receiver.

This gift does not have to be tangible, either, in order to trigger the emotional response required.

The gift at hand might therefore be freely available imagery or other kinds of information which, when presented within the context of scarcity (in that it may be made available to the consumer for a limited time only) can create a feeling of emotional debt sufficient enough for the user to feel compelled to return to a particular source time and again.

When combined with the right levels of technological know-how, such knowledge can mean the difference between creating a user experience that you think hits the spot, therefore, and achieving a true piece of web design created with the mind in mind.

By drawing on this expertise with a sufficient understanding of perceptual and cognitive psychology in tow, current UX design guidelines can often become intuitive.

Simon Norris

Published 14 June, 2016 by Simon Norris

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Comments (3)


Deri Jones, CEO at SciVisum Ltd

Hi Simon, looks like your first (or 2nd) post here - welcome on board!
I've read alot about the brain the last year so I'm completely on your wavelength!
I would have liked to see a link to more details, or maybe a couple of actionable ideas: or thought provoking things.

And some of those long sentences were a little to grok: or was it just me, late in the afternoon!

I look forward to more insight from you.

about 2 years ago


William Lewis, Technical Writer at Self-employed

I started reading this article with an expectation it would be about designing for better comprehension, legibility, and usefulness by employing principles of cognitive psychology. Instead, it is about employing psychology to manipulate. The author is employing tired old 20th century paradigms of manufactured scarcity and emotional manipulation in the service of increased resource consumption and personal security for the perpetrator(s).

Don't flatter yourself with the justification you are "designing for the mind." It's just old-school mass communication psychology.

As for gifting the reader with "freely available imagery" to "create a feeling of emotional debt," is that brain photo an example of this principle in action? If so, it failed miserably. That graphic is too large and in-your-face, and rather off-putting. It belongs in a medical text or science article. Little thought went into what graphic might enhance the textual information of the article.

about 2 years ago

David Moth

David Moth, Managing Editor at Barclaycard

@William, I have to take credit for the brain image. I can assure you a lot of thought went into what image to use, but unfortunately many of the articles we publish don’t really make it easy to come up with relevant images (e.g. what do you use for ‘marketing automation’ or ‘customer experience’.).

The brain was perhaps an easy cop out, but it was my call, not the author’s.

about 2 years ago

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