4 Ways to Design for Your Audience: A Primer in Usability [Part III]

This is the third part in a four-part series about designing for your audience.

3. Design Psychology 101

There is more to the human-computer interface that is immediately obvious. In the most elementary terms, perception of colour, positioning of elements, and positive or negative visual space can provoke a jarring visit or an easy browse.

It’s the considered forethought of a committed design-development team that helps the best digital agencies walk this fine line – and a thorough understanding of design psychology is arguably the most important weapon in their arsenal.

The lone developer faces the absence of a designer to help provide this input; and may not be able to easily distinguish mere decoration from deliberately-placed psychological stimuli.

Beyond icon sets and stock photography

In recent years, developers have been spoiled for choice with pre-designed and coded elements that provide everything from off-the-shelf navigation bars to twitter feeds.

It would be overly simplistic to entirely dismiss this practice (some designers choose to sell top-quality work on sites like these) but it has created a tendency to favour hopelessly prescriptive layouts over carefully planned and well-executed and designs.

In this space, we’ve introduced some of the best ways to free developers/teams/agencies from a dependency on relentlessly rounded corners and shiny “web 2.0” buttons – and move towards design competence.

Starting with the basics…

1.    Familiarise yourself with the bastions of print design. An oft-overlooked aspect of web design is that a tremendous volume of print work is not only available as interesting studies in how design psychology is implemented; but also provides a gateway to another perspective on space, positioning and colour.

The budding centerspread designer is tasked with flipping through hundreds of back editions to study typography and clever use of negative space – and it’s a similarly useful endeavour for the aspiring web designer or developer.

Relevant resources

There is one magazine (we’re talking about the print version) that stands out: Rolling Stone. We can also recommend News Page Designer as a long-adored reference.

2.    Commit yourself to studying colour theory. Colours are not only inextricably tied to mood, but can provoke different behaviours from the user. We’re all keenly aware of the difference in emotional response a powdered blue can provoke from a nautical, navy blue; but colour theory is a deeper pond. Paying close attention to the combination of colours creates harmony; and where there is harmony, there is a scheme isn’t boring or disconcerting.

Relevant resources

Get back to the basics with Color Matters. When you’re ready to start integrating theory into practice, try our favourite: Color Scheme Designer.

3.    Use space creatively. The best web designs do an exceptional job of using the first principle listed here and treat the webpage as something far removed from a “site.” The space can become a book with well-implemented horizontal scrolling; or a cascading accordion with animated HTML5 elements all the way down. Ask yourself: are you thinking creatively about how space can be used? Can you remove yourself from the paradigm of a vertically scrolling page with a floating navigation bar?


That’s it for now. Come back for the next post in this series. We’ll be covering “R&D and In-Between.”

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