Digital design for the human mind

By Adam Cranfield

Now I have your attention.

I’ll try not to waste it.

Attention is a precious thing. There are always plenty of distractions.

If you’re reading this on a mobile, perhaps there are fewer on-screen distractions than if you’re reading on your laptop.

But if you’re reading this on a phone while standing in a crowded train carriage, I might have to work a little harder to keep your attention.

You’re probably skim-reading already.

I might be able to grab your attention by showing you a picture...

Then again, there’s quite a good chance that picture might have made you skip the text above in the first place.

So now you could be very confused.

And some of you might have been offended and clicked away.

If I want you to read on (and I do, I honestly I do), I need to let you know what’s in it for you.

After all, that’s why you’re here. You want to get some value out of this.

Good communication, UX and product design are all built on understanding the needs of the user, and the value you can provide.

You want something.

I have something to give you.

As someone interested in digital communications, products, or services, did you know it all comes down to psychology?

“Don’t make me think" demanded web usability guru Steve Krug in 2000. His mantra of minimising cognitive friction is still a very solid foundation for building digital experiences.

But there are times - online and offline - when we do want to make someone think.

To stop. To consider. To anticipate. To feel.

It’s vital we understand the psychological impact of our communications, products and services.

There are many ways we can affect and influence:

  • the way we present choices
  • the information we provide - and don’t provide
  • the context
  • the way we lay things out
  • the language we use
  • the colours we use
  • the sounds we use
  • the images we use
  • the symbols we use
  • the movements we use
  • the interactions we enable
  • the gestures we respond to
  • the responses we trigger
  • the timings we use

As designers of digital experiences, we wield great power.

But if we don’t design for the human mind - if we don’t run proper experiments and tests - if we don’t challenge preconceptions and assumptions - we won’t create experiences that engage and persuade.

We all need to think more about thinking.

Attention. Perception. Memory. Emotion. Motivation. Beliefs. Ethics. Learning. Each of these is a fascinating area to explore, full of insights we can apply as we deliver digital experiences.

Earlier this year I was lucky enough to spend a highly valuable day at the Bunnyfoot offices in London, diving deep into these psychological waters on their course, Designing for the Human Mind/Brain.

Having spent three years, way-back-when, studying experimental psychology at Oxford University as an undergraduate, I can say I was impressed by how much good food for thought Bunnyfoot managed to pack into one day.

All the theories, illusions, examples, rules and principles have tangible implications for creating more effective digital products.

Looking at everything through a psychological lens challenges us, as digital professionals, to be more rigorous and innovative in our work.

You know what I think? It’s time to engage brains...


Bunnyfoot is a DigitalFWD partner. “Designing for the Human Mind/Brain” is one of a programme of user experience courses they run. Quote the code DIGITALFWD to get 10% off Bunnyfoot courses (excluding CPUX course).