Design Psychology: Principles and Concepts to Empower Your Projects

The power of psychology is never more apparent than in the world of design! Incorporating some ideas of psychology into your creative projects, it's easier than you think!

Gabriela Ross

Have you wondered why some products appeal to you so much? Well, there's a lot of work behind that, but there's psychology in it as well. How different elements are placed together influences and evokes emotions. And it has much to do with whether you click on "continue" or "skip"! This is not only applicable to design but to marketing, sales, and other fields.

Let's review the basics so you can implement some psychological principles in your next creative projects!

What is psychology in design?

Psychology in design is about understanding customers' behavior to capture attention for the desired outcome. Working on the design with color, shapes, and placement can appeal to emotions and specific reactions in the user's mind.

For example, sometimes people cannot describe why they prefer a product, but they feel that a particular brand or product is better. The truth is, that's psychology in design in action, talking directly to our brains!

Using psychology in design in your projects helps boost your content to be more effective and engaging. Which, in the end, is the goal! It'll be easier to create intuitive and human-centered experiences with some psychology design principles in mind.

Four ways to implement psychology in design into your creative projects

You don't need to learn all the psychology design principles or write down each tip listed in this article, but taking some of these concepts into account will boost the impact of your next design project.

1. Psychology of shapes

We all associate different shapes with different emotions. And this can sound a bit awkward at first, but it's true! Thy psychology of shapes it's about how humans tend to relate characteristics to figures. For example, horizontal lines are related to calm and community. But people relate squares and triangles to strength, balance, and power. And so on! That's why sometimes you notice similarities in the shapes from brand logos that provide services or products in the same sector.

Image featuring colored shapes and Blush illustrations
Image featuring Hands illustrations.

2. Psychology of color

The psychology of color is one of the most general principles, and there's a lot of research around how people perceive colors.

Brands use colors to communicate their values, their message, and even their price ranges! Let's think about the color black for a minute. Black is commonly used to showcase exclusivity, luxury, and sophistication. Like in an exclusive loyalty program, or a bank account design for premier clients, etc.

Bonus: Learn how to elevate your design game with this introduction to color theory.

Image featuring illustrations and the color palette from Brazuca the Blush collection.
Doodle character from Brazuca.

3. Psychology of fonts

You're getting the point, huh? The psychology of fonts is about choosing the right font as another way to inspire the right reaction. The psychology of fonts, like colors and shapes, represents how fonts and typefaces impact thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.

Take a look at these brands and what each one makes you feel and think. One seems more formal than the other? Do you think they're talking to the same audiences?

Image featuring brand logos comparison with Google, Fila, Coca-Cola and Wells Fargo.

4. Psychology of space

The psychology of space directly impacts the perception of cognitive load. When you have too many instructions or content on one page, you'll feel that there's an excessive amount of information. And that's precisely when your mind blocks what you're looking at. Considering spacing in your creations is vital to let your users read, see and explore without feeling stress or frustration.

Don't forget: As creatives, we want to provide accessible, straightforward, and helpful experiences.

Space can make a big difference, just like this example and how it changes how you see a series of numbers vs. the phone number.

Image featuring a series of numbers to the left and a phone number to the right, using spacing and characters to see the difference.

15 cognitive principles and biases explained—in one line

These psychological design principles and biases will influence the overall user experience. Make sure you consider these in your next creation! We've picked our top 15:

  • Recognition over recall: It's easier to recognize than to remember from memory.
  • Von Restorff effect: Also called "Isolation Effect." It means, if it stands out, the user will remember it.
  • Juxtaposition: Place two elements together to create just one unit with a contrast effect.
Image of a pen simulating to be an airplane.
Illustration by the graphic designer Jose Navarro.
  • Tesler's Law: Avoid simplifying too much! There's always a level of complexity for users —and it's OK!
  • Aesthetic-usability effect: Better aesthetics or attractive designs are perceived as easier to use and more efficient.
  • Familiarity bias: Users choose what seems familiar to them since it represents fewer risks.
  • Goal gradient effect: When users feel closer to a goal, they'll feel more motivated to continue.
Image featuring a mobile screen with progress bar.
Image featuring Dayflow stickers.
  • Decision fatigue: This leads to procrastination, impulsive responses, and losing attention.
  • Attentional bias: Users can focus on certain things and ignore or overlook others simultaneously.
  • Discoverability: How users discover, understand and interact with your product or service.
  • Labor illusion: Users' positive perception to work behind an action or as "worth waiting."
  • Feedforward: Users prefer knowing what to expect after taking a specific action.
  • Anchoring bias: People rely strongly on the first content or information they see, which directly impacts their decision-making.
  • Mental model: A preconceived idea of how things work or should work.
  • Sensory adaptation: When there's a very repetitive stimulus, users will shut down and ignore it.

You've probably experienced all of these cognitive principles and effects in different moments of your life without realizing it! Maybe you've experienced this, not only with digital products but while waiting in line to make a purchase or forgetting to answer those last questions of a lengthy survey.

Let's think of another situation on how these principles take place. Imagine you're working on the plan of your email campaigns, and for some reason, your excitement got over you, so you end up spamming your users every day! Then, what do you think will happen? They'll ignore it, click unsubscribe, mark it as spam or just delete all!

Now, that was a bit fatalist, but it sure can happen. That's why it is so important to have these principles in mind for your next creative projects and ALWAYS get into your users' shoes!

The impact of illustrations on the brain

Illustrations, pictures, and graphics have a significant impact on our decision-making. Plus, images evoke emotions, create engagement, and they're easy to identify in our brains. Some statistics show that people are 65% more likely to remember a story after three days if it includes pictures. So next time you're hesitating if you should add illustrations or not, go for it! Adding custom illustrations will boost your creations, and it'll be easier for users to process the information you're sharing.

The human mind is powerful, and now so are your creations!

We've come to the best part; that's when you're ready to start your next creative project with more confidence and more tools to bring your ideas to life!

How will you implement psychology in your creations? Will you start with colors, or will you work on the aesthetic-usability effect? Don't forget to share your ideas with us on Twitter! We'd love to see how you'll apply psychology in design to connect with your users.

Image featuring illustrations and a button to try Blush Pro