Elevate your Designs with Design Psychology Principles

Ellen Gregory

Humans are visual creatures, which is exactly why certain designs resonate, while others go completely unnoticed. Understanding the psychology of design and the science behind why certain designs are eye-catching is a powerful tool. 

The success of a design is achieved when a designer applies psychology throughout the design process. This knowledge is based on a deeper understanding of the target audience and will help guide users to perform key actions, including making a purchase or contacting the company.

It’s beneficial to understand and utilize the science of design psychology. So the real question is, how? Keep reading the following article for design psychology tips and tricks that will transform your design and offer users a design that naturally guides them towards a specific action, and catch their attention.

design psychology and the design process
Applying design psychology will enhance the success of your designs.

Successful design psychology 

The crux of a successful design hinges on the understanding that design is a form of communication that’s meant to speak to a specific user. This requires a deep understanding of the user’s challenges, motivations, and aspirations, as well as an interest in developing and understanding the end-user. 

During the design phase, you need to consider why, what, and how. When you’re asking the ‘why’, this is all about a user’s motivations. Does it relate to a task they want to perform, does it resonate with values or specific lifestyle? The ‘what’ addresses its functionality, and the ‘how’ directly impacts that functionality by balancing accessibility with aesthetics. 

One of the best ways to implement design psychology is to practice empathy and observe them without imposing our assumptions or knowledge onto them. Simply take a step back to measure the success or pain points real users experience from their perspective. Your goal is to design a process that engages the user while guiding them to complete a desired task or action, so understanding what motivates and engages them is crucial. 

design psychology effectively communicates
Design psychology hinges on creating designs that effectively communicate.


Design psychology principles 

When your design process accurately reflects the needs and wants of the end-user, it results in better products, services, and internal processes. As with any design element, the focus should always be, “what's the human need behind it?” There are a number of effective design psychology principles, that when applied to the design process, will lead to successful results. There are tons of ways to quickly elevate your design, such as creating patterns, creating organized and intuitive designs, implementing color, guiding the user, etc. Here are just a few recommendations:

The psychology of color 

Choosing the appropriate color or colors is vital to your success. Choosing the right color will evoke a positive reaction, but a poor color choice can negatively impact your success. Getting it wrong may mean a superb product or design is dismissed or ignored. Color directs our attention. It influences where to look, what to do, and how to interpret something. Furthermore, it impacts what a potential user sees, how they feel, and it directly influences their decision. Ultimately, it helps us decipher what's important, and what's not important. 

Subconsciously, we associate different colors with a different set of emotions and reactions.

the psychology of color
The psychology of color influences a user’s behavior and decision-making.


Red 

Create a powerful presence or get someone's attention quickly with red. Red physically stimulates the body, raises blood pressure, increases the heart rate, stimulates appetite, When used effectively, it portrays friendliness and strength, and is often associated with movement, excitement, and passion. It is frequently used by fast-food chains, for clearance sales, safety products, and designs meant to symbolize love or passion. Use it sparingly to avoid negative reactions.

Blue 

According to research, men prefer blue. Unlike red, blue evokes a mental reaction as opposed to a physical reaction. Blue is associated with peace, tranquility, and reliability. It brings to mind a sense of security, curbs appetite, and stimulates productivity. It is commonly used by brands to promote trust in their products. If overused, it can be perceived as distant, cold, or unfriendly.

Green  

Green is associated with health, tranquility, power, and nature. It stimulates harmony in the user’s brain as it reflects life, rest, and peace. It is also a sign of growth, whether that’s physical with plants or in our income and sense of wealth. Green is successful in stores, designs, and products that intend to relax users and promote environmental issues. When overused, it can evoke a sense of materialism and greed.

Purple 

Purple is commonly associated with several attributes including royalty, luxury, wisdom, loyalty, respect, courage, magic, mystery, imagination, and spirituality. It evokes a sense of intrigue, as it both soothes and presents space for mystery and new ideas. Since purple is a blend of red and blue, it perfectly balances the energy and power of red with the stability and reliability of blue. It is frequently used to promote beauty and anti-aging products. While purple stimulates problem-solving and creativity, too much can create too much introspection or distraction as thoughts begin to wonder.

Yellow 

Yellow represents the epitome of joy, happiness, cheerfulness, optimism. It is also the easiest color to visibly see! On the flip side, overusing yellow can cause an increase in critical self-esteem issues, fear, or anxiety. 

Orange

Orange has a profound effect on users as it combines red's power and energy with yellow's friendliness and optimism. Its sense of anxiety often draws in impulsive buyers and window shoppers while simultaneously promoting optimism. 

Black  

Black is best associated with authority, power, stability, and strength. It is often used to symbolize intelligence, sophistication, seriousness, control, and independence.  Use it sparingly and in the text as opposed to the visuals to avoid evoking an association with evil, mystery, depression, or even death. 

White  

While black likes to stay hidden, in control, and separate from others, white is associated with feelings of purity, cleanliness, innocence, peace, and safety. White space is often used to spark creativity as it represents new beginnings, and is perceived as a clean and pure state that gives refreshment for new ideas. White is recommended for simplicity, cleanliness, and idea creation, but too much white may cause feelings of isolation, loneliness, and emptiness. 

design psychology and color
We associate different colors with a different set of emotions and reactions.



The above information on the psychology of color is a good benchmark for how people respond to color, but not all users will react the same way to colors.

Gestalt principles

Gestalt theory is based on the idea that the human brain is designed to simplify and organize complex images, and can be broken down into seven principles. The mind subconsciously arranges the parts of a design into an organized system that creates a whole, opposed to simply processing them as a series of disparate elements. 

  1. Figure-ground

This principle is based on the notion that people instinctively perceive objects as either being in the foreground or the background. Objects either stand out prominently in the front (the figure) or recede into the back (the ground).

Typically your brain interprets the larger image as the ground and the smaller image as the figure. One of the most famous examples of the figure-ground examples is the famous two faces or a vase illusion developed by Danish psychologist Edgar Rubin. The illusion is created because the faces and vase are competing to be both the figure and the ground, which presents with two shape interpretations—two faces or a vase. 

gestalt principle figure-ground and design psychology
The figure-ground principle helps users identify what to focus on. 



  1. Closure

Closure is similar to the figure/ground principle in that it takes advantage of the way the brain processes negative space. When we look at a complex arrangement of visual elements, our brains try to decipher a single, recognizable pattern. When you look at an image that has missing or jumbled parts, your brain will fill in the missing information and make a complete image that creates a recognizable pattern based on your experience. For example, Tehse wrods may look lkie nosnesne, but yuo can raed tehm, cna't yuo? The closure principle is commonly found in well-known logo designs such as IBM, NBC, and Adobe.

  1. Similarity

When things appear to be similar, we automatically group them together. Even if the elements in your design are separated, the human eye tends to perceive similar elements in a design as a complete picture, shape, or group. It is influenced by the shape, size, and color of the elements. Similarity can be used to tie together elements that might not be right next to each other in a design. Make the most of this natural human inclination by guiding your user’s eye to elements of your design you want to accentuate, such as buttons for calls to action. 

  1. Proximity

Proximity quickly shows the viewer the organization and structure you have created. Websites often use proximity to distinguish between an image, headline, description, and other information for each individual story without the use of things like hard borders. The space between each element and the space between each individual story can be seen as some Gestalt principle examples. Keep in mind that the opposite is also true, so beware that putting space between elements may signal separation despite similar characteristics.

design psychology proximity principle
Pinterest uses the common region principle to separate each pin.


Source: Pinterest.com

  1. Common region 

The principle of common region and proximity are closely related. Common region refers to the idea that when objects are located within the same closed region, we perceive them as being grouped together. Pinterest uses the common region principle to separate each pin. The photo, title, description, contributor, and other details are each viewed as individual or separate from the rest of the pins around it.

  1. Continuity

The human eye will naturally follow the smoothest path and create connections. It doesn’t matter how the lines were actually drawn, it matters what the lines and curves communicate to the viewer. It is an extremely valuable tool for designers that want to guide a visitor’s eye in a certain direction. If you want to make the most of the continuity principle, make sure the most vital parts fall within that path and thus within their line of vision.

  1. Common fate

This principle is based on the idea that people group things that appear to be moving in the same direction, such as a photograph of birds flying in the sky. This is useful in animated effects, but elements don’t need to be moving to benefit from this principle, they merely need to give the impression of motion.

common fate and design psychology
With common fate, our brains interpret individual elements moving as one.


Source: Ctofcsco

Achieve seamless design processes with CloudApp

When you’re designing and developing products or services, you want to ensure you have created the best experience. This means ensuring a user can navigate efficiently and naturally throughout your design. This will greatly increase the likelihood of creating a repeat user, and increases the chances that they will complete targeted or directed actions.

Collaboration, speed, effective communication, and consistency are key during the user experience design process. It’s absolutely essential that you use the right platform to keep everyone on the same page.

Improve your designs with CloudApp 
Streamline your design process with CloudApp.



There are endless ways where CloudApp can enhance your team’s development. It can be easily integrated with a number of other platforms and offers a variety of features for the ultimate tool to help streamline the process. CloudApp features allow you to create, annotate, and share screenshots, GIFs, video snippets, and screen recordings with others. 


CloudApp is compatible with Macs and PC. Install the CloudApp Mac App, Windows App, iOS app, or our Chrome Plugin today.

Join the Discussion