Every day, you visit several websites online. Some of them leave a positive impression, and others make you hit the back button in milliseconds. You end up buying a product from one website instead of getting it from the competition. What guides this behavior? Why are you happy with certain websites but avoid others?

One of the major justifications for this is the implementation of psychology in the user experience design. The UX experts employed by the websites you favor know how to trigger psychological responses at every stage of your interaction with their website. The use of psychology online is successful because some of the evolutionary traits we have acquired over the centuries of human existence still play important roles in our daily interactions everywhere.

This article takes a look at some common UX elements and the psychological thinking behind them.

The Suggestion of Related Services or Products

When you are on a flight booking website, for example, you will get suggestions for hotels, restaurants or tour options before or just after you have completed your booking. In many cases, people go ahead and book the hotels or make reservations at the restaurant if the prices are enticing enough. The same applies when you search for mortgage refinancing, and you also get suggestions for debt management or retirement planning.

ux design psychology

Pic: Skyscanner

This is a UX idea known as “anticipatory design”. The goal is to suggest other things you most likely need based on what you are viewing on the website. This design idea is based on the psychological principle that we are happier when we feel understood in interactions. This can be seen on all leading ecommerce portals as well.

ux design psychology

Pic: Flipkart

One variant of this UX design is the delay in presenting a pop-up box for upselling or lead generation on many websites. This is also anticipatory, as it is based on the fact that many users will not be interested in the content of the pop-up box until they have derived some satisfaction from time spent on the site.

Another psychological principle that also encourages this UX design decision is the salience principle. It says that people focus their attention on things that are most relevant to them at that moment. So the holidaymaker looking for cheap flights to Hawaii will be happy to see an offer for affordable accommodations or even a financing option for their trip. The user that has only just landed on a page to read up on a symptom will solely be focused on the content of the page and not a subscription pop-up window.

Limiting User Options

You are more likely to choose a website that makes it easy for you to find something than one that forces you to jump through five menus to find the same thing. This is because we find it harder to make decisions when there are too many choices. This is based on the psychological principle of Hick’s Law: the Burden of Choice.

ux design psychology

Pic: Apple

The best UX designers understand this and ensure that users can find the information, product or service they need without feeling overwhelmed.

Eye-Catching Design

ux design psychology

Pic: Eg Wine

If a website or app is designed beautifully (according to the user’s description), it immediately leads to a favorable disposition towards the brand. This is a psychological principle known as the aesthetic usability effect. If your website is beautiful, the average user will believe it is more functional and more trustworthy than others in the same niche. This bias around attractiveness can also be seen offline, as studies have shown that more attractive people are considered more competent and friendlier than other people.

Additionally, eye-catching designs can make people ignore other shortcomings on a website or app. It is no surprise that top UX designers spend as much time as needed to get the best aesthetic results for any project.

Catchy Color Accents

ux design psychology

Pic: Paypal

Brands like Trustly, PayPal, FreshBooks, and many others you encounter daily use color accents to point your eyes toward CTA buttons, sign-up forms, etc. Where the dominant color on the site is blue, they use green, red or yellow to highlight these areas and it works! Any visitor to these websites can miss other things on the page but will see these parts carefully highlighted with a unique accent.

This is based on the Hedwig von Restorff psychological principle of contrast which says that humans are more likely to remember something that stands out from its immediate environment. Interestingly, no color is deemed the most impactful. UX designers only have to settle on a dominant color theme and use another color that doesn’t blend into the background as the accent choice.

Product Differentiation Price Plans

This is also known as the goldilocks pricing technique. Businesses use this technique to sell “mid-range” products. You will probably see it more when you are shopping around for a web hosting plan. The providers typically list three to five subscription plans and highlight the middle plan as “popular” or “hot”.

ux design psychology

Pic: Acowebs

Many people immediately analyze the costliest plan and the cheapest plan and end up settling for the so-called mid-range plan. This is because they see it as the perfect middle ground between the highest-value and entry-level plans. Interestingly, the prices on these midrange plans are not scrutinized as vigorously as any others, making them the most profitable for the brands offering them.

This pricing technique works because it is based on the psychological principle of framing, which highlights how people avoid extremes when making decisions such as purchases. It also shows how the presentation of choices influences the decision-making process.

More UX designers in other niches are incorporating this principle. Various e-commerce stores now offer multi-layer pricing structures or offer similar products that are priced differently. Big tech brands are not left out either. They are probably one of the biggest beneficiaries of this principle. So when next you find yourself ignoring the Samsung Galaxy device with the lowest specifications for the middle option with slightly higher specs but still lower than the priciest model, you know why!

Here’s another example of that.

ux design psychology

Pic: SEObirth

Limited Time Offers

E-commerce websites have perfected the art of using limited-time offers to create a demand for a product. Some of the brands will state that the offer/product is “only available for the next X days”, while others like Amazon will show details like “only 5 left in stock”. Whatever the style, both strategies are designed to draw the same reaction from you: a sense of urgency because the product will soon no longer be available.

ux design psychology

Pic: Amazon

This is based on the psychological principle of scarcity, which states that we tend to attach more importance to things that are scarce or unavailable in comparison to items that are available everywhere. A 1975 research confirmed this principle. The researchers placed the same type of cookies in two jars, but the first jar had ten cookies while the second jar only had two cookies. Participants in the research valued the second jar more than the first.

The research also found out that people rate products that were formerly abundant but now scarce, as more valuable than products that were always scarce. Students of economics will not be surprised by this as a decrease in availability always triggers an increase in demand.

Apart from e-commerce websites, other brands with an online presence also apply the principle of scarcity. Entrepreneurs selling online-courses highlight terms like “only available for the first 10 students”, “offer ends in a week” etc. Others provide exclusive benefits for people that take a specific action, like submitting an email address, paying for service, etc.

The principle can also be seen in offline marketing as brands try to sell “limited edition” products.
UX designers deploy this technique because they know that people WILL pay attention when there is an air of scarcity around a product or service, even when they don’t have an urgent need for the products.

Strategic Positioning of Testimonials

ux design psychology

Pic: ElegantReports

Ever wondered why many product or service websites have testimonials on the home page of the website? Why do you always look for testimonials before you make a purchase decision? It is because of the psychological principle of social proof.

When we are skeptical about anything, we look to our peers for guidance. It is why you will find people asking for reviews of specific brands on social media before choosing a company. The 1969 social science experiment highlighted this innate behavior. The research showed that people could be convinced to at least take notice of something if there are enough people already involved.
Apart from testimonials, UX designers incorporate the social proof principle by showing off trustworthy affiliations (like businesses an SEO expert has worked with or blogs that have featured a writer), number of subscribers, number of shares on a post and the ratings on a product or service or even the number of awards they have won.

ux design psychology

Pic: Acodez

E-commerce stores take it a step further by showing a section named “customers also bought”, where they highlight popular products that may interest a user.

Highlighting Freebies

ux design psychology

Pic: Pete & Pedro

Online users are more likely to buy from your brand now or in the future if you are offering something for free. This is based on the psychological principle of reciprocity. It is why many UX designers highlight any deals.

If you are shopping for new sets of shoes, you are more likely to choose the brand that provides “free shipping” on their website. Similarly, you will be open to submitting your contact details on a landing page offering a free guide or free consultation.

Top UX designers combine the psychological principles of contrast and reciprocity to create highly converting pages.


Compelling UX designs that accomplish set goals and objectives are not accidental. The best designers understand that the key to success online is to appeal to the basic nature of the general user base, and they deploy psychological principles to achieve this. Human online behavior is predictable. Your brand can generate better results by combining psychology and UX design.

About the author: this is the guest post by Rithesh, the Co-Founder and Director at Acodez, an international award-winning IT company that offers web design, software development, mobile apps, and SEO services.

Title image from Flame pack on Ouch, free vector library

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