The eye sees only what the mind is prepared to comprehend.

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– Robertson Davies, Tempest-Tost

Design is an act of communication.

It requires a deep understanding of each person in the target audience. The designer must bring to bear two psychological principles of human behavior: aspirations and motivations. This is the path to real insights, understanding the needs, and generating a real connection.

How Important Is Psychology For User Experience?

According to the Cambridge Dictionary, experience is defined as, “the process of getting knowledge or skill obtained from doing, seeing, or feeling things; something that happens which has an effect on you.”

Any experience people have has an impact on their lives. This is true in digital or otherwise.

Different elements trigger different aspects of the mind, emotions, and body. Tag this elements as actions, movementes, colors, figures, sounds, etc.

Together they constitute the overall experience that will emerge from an interaction.

In order to create a valuable UX, the designer must understand the mind of the user, how its psyche functions. This is what drives our instincts and desires, our expectations are birthed here.

The job of a UX/UI designer is to solve a need and to fulfill an expectation through design. To do this properly, the designer must understand the user on all levels.

A really simple example happens with our cell phones.

Depending on the way we have arranged our apps on the screen, our fingers unconsciously know where each one is located. When we use someone else’s phone, our hand instinctively moves to that part of the screen where our own app would be. If for some reason our cellphone is inexplicably rearranged and everything on the screen changes, we feel shocked and a bit uneasy — things aren’t where they are supposed to be! And it’s not ok. We immediately put the apps back the way they were.

Peoples’ minds and hands get used to a particular design. Our designs create expectations. When these are not fulfilled we feel a bit of an emotional collapse.

Before modifying or altering a user’s behavior (and to avoid collapse), it’s important for the designer to understand what motivates users and what they expect. In order to properly do this, a designer must approach the experience from a psychological perspective which plays a crucial role in understanding the limitations and desires of the user.

Gestalt and User Experience

Gestalt psychology introduced two theoretical principles,


The Principle of Totality says that a conscious experience must be considered globally, taking into account all of the physical and mental aspects of the individual simultaneously.

This means that the human perception is heavily influenced by our expectations and motivations. It takes into account not only what is presented to us but interprets it by what’s inside our minds at that time.


The word isomorphism comes from Iso (sameness) & Morphism (form/shape).

The Principle of Psychophysical Isomorphism states that a conscious experience is structurally identical to the activity of the brain. This means that the isomorphism is between the perception of a stimulus and brain activity, not between the physical stimulus and the brain activity itself.

A Use Case

What you see and what you hear depends a great deal on where you are standing. It also depends on what sort of person you are.

– C.S. Lewis, The Magician’s Nephew

When we present an app test to a user, in order to obtain the results, emotions, and actions that are supposed to happen. Different external and internal aspects of the user and the app itself must be taken into account.

Let’s say the product is a language learning app for children who have a color vision deficiency.

According the Principle of Totality, the external conditions that should be taken into account are: the size of the device, the colors used in the interface, the figures, and the texts.

The internal conditions would be the attention span of a child, what motivates them, the mental processes for this age group, their likes, what they expect, how they relate to certain colors and figures, and past experiences (negative or positive) that can be associated with the product.

We can use this information to design a functional app, one that will be enjoyed by the user and serve the function the product intended.

Maybe the interface is presented and the elements are arranged in such a way that seems functional and correct. But, at the end of the day, it’s how the user perceives and interprets this test app that’s going to validate how viable it is for the final design. Here is where we apply the Principle of Psychophysical Isomorphism.

Each child may have a different perception of a certain figure that triggers an action in the app.  If the perception is different for every child, then something about the design is not working correctly. The design must be changed so that it achieves the least amount of variations possible and fits the majority of the users, and finally the app serves its function correctly and the final version can be launched.

A Mind, a World.

Understanding the user mind can be a real challenge, but if we apply and recognize the importance of psychological principles from the very beginning of the design process, the results will be accepted easier and better understood by our users.

Designing is both an art and a science.  As such, it should take human nature and its challenges into consideration at all times. After all, the purpose of a good design and a good user experience is for it to feel seamless and flow just right.

People ignore designs that ignore people

– Frank Chimero

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