Daily UX Crash Course — User Psychology: 5 of 31

When we’re working with people’s minds, it is easy to get lost in deep philosophical questions. I usually avoid that type of teaching, but there is one of those questions that is helpful for understanding your goals:

What is an Experience?


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


There are probably many, endless conversations we could have about a philosophical “experience”, but I am not qualified to teach you philosophy, so I won’t. In UX, we need practical answers. 

Instead, we will look at an experience psychologically. 

There are 6 big parts of an experience that we will discuss throughout this course:

1) What the user feels.

In UX forums, this is what inexperienced designers talk about most. Making the user “happy”. Asking them what they “like”. Making users say “wow!” Users have feelings, and they are useful, but they are only a small fraction of an experience. The good things about feelings are: we can see them on a user’s face, users can tell us about them, and we can relate to them, so feelings are easy to study. 

2) What the user wants.

Much more important, but not as easy for the user to describe. A user’s motivations are the engine of their behaviour. Everything they do, click, choose, buy, and even what they see and hear depends on what they want. “When you’re a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” And if you change the way they see the situation, sometimes they will want something different.

3) What the user thinks.

It is helpful to imagine thinking as something the user carries, like bricks. Psychologists might call it cognitive load. Every time you make a user figure something out, or read more than a sentence, or learn a new feature, or hunt for the right link, or do two things at once, you’re giving them another brick to carry. Most people can only carry a few bricks at a time. If you give them too many, they will drop everything.

4) What the user believes.

Beliefs are tricky. The reasons people believe things are fairly predictable though. That’s why we learned about psychology vs. culture before this lesson. More importantly, our intuitions have predictable flaws that most people don’t know about. If you know about them — and you will — it allows you to predict what people will believe, before they believe it.

5) What the user remembers.

Ironically, almost all designers forget about this one. Humans do not remember things like a video. Memories make mistakes. We only remember certain parts, we change those memories over time, and sometimes we remember things that never even happened! Your design can determine which parts someone remembers, and which are forgotten.

6) What the user doesn’t realize.

Ahhhh yes. This separates good UX designers from other random people making wireframes. Most of our daily experience doesn’t catch our attention. You have been breathing this whole time, but now you’re aware of it. There’s a low, constant noise all around you, but you weren’t hearing it until right now. And that itch you just noticed… oh god… it’s so itchy…

UX designers must also design things that users will never notice, never give you feedback on, and maybe never remember. But that’s a good thing! Unfortunately, though, no client will ever sit in a meeting and compliment you for it (because they don’t see it either). Those design elements will change the user’s behaviour, but only the data can show you how.


Tomorrow we will expand our model a little bit by looking at how the user’s experience affects the user: Conscious vs. Subconscious Experience.