Daily UX Crash Course — User Psychology: 4 of 31

Some parts of human behaviour are predictable. Some aren’t. In this lesson, I want to introduce a model that will help you know what you can control and what you can’t. The two big parts of that model are:

Psychology vs. Culture


(Just starting the User Psych Crash Course? Start here.)



We are all born with the same brain (more or less). The details might vary a bit, but overall, it’s the same machine.

We can all feel happy and sad. We all want to be respected. We can all learn to ride a bicycle, and we all regret Tequila the next day.

Pinterest, for example, is built on the psychological principle of collecting things we like. That is common to all people. 

Psychology, in this sense, is the same for all of us.

Most of what we will learn in this Crash Course is about psychology. The stuff we all share. Behaviour you can predict and use in your designs. 

But differences are useful too. 



After we’re born, we take those brains on very different journeys. You might be an Eastern, Christian scientist who climbed Everest, or a Western, athiest artist that watches Real Housewives of the Ghetto.

For example: all people feel the need for justice, but one person may think death row is appropriate and another person may not.

Or, to continue our Pinterest example: “collecting” might be universal, but what we collect is highly personal. Pinterest does a lot of work to find topics of interest for each user, whether that is interfaces, architecture, or fluffy chickens that can’t see.

Culture, in this sense, is different for each of us. 

Similar experiences and personalities will have similar cultures, but on an individual level, culture can be almost anything.


The Practical Difference

Psychological elements — such as collecting things you like — can become focused over time, as you move toward “optimal” functionality. Their purpose is usually more general, but they have the most impact overall.

Cultural elements — like your topics of interest — will expand over time, as users want to personalize or categorize things more and more. They cannot be optimized, only customized. Their purpose is more detailed, but there are more of them.

Keep these ideas in mind as we build our model of behaviour throughout the course. 


Tomorrow we will discuss the question burning in every new UX designer’s heart: What is an Experience?