Neuro-design is a design field that combines insights from neuroscience and cognitive psychology to improve user experience (UX) in design. This article explores:
- design principles and best practices of Neuro Design implemented to design process, such as processing fluency, first impressions, visual saliency, nonconscious emotional drivers, and behavioral economics.
- the importance of understanding human perception, and emotional responses, reducing cognitive load, and personalizing user experiences in design.
- neurodesign technologies like EEG, fMRI, and eye-tracking are discussed for their role in enhancing informed design decisions.
The article concludes by highlighting how major companies like Google, Apple, and Samsung apply neuro-design principles in their products.
Table of contents:
Just as understanding the wood and strings is crucial for creating a guitar that produces beautiful sounds, neuroscience and cognitive psychology help designers understand the brain structure, functions, and how it processes bits of information, enabling them to create user interfaces that resonate well with the users.
This article is here to help you understand the basics of Neurodesign and how it is applied to UX design. Given humans' visual dominance, user experience designers should be particularly interested in understanding how we perceive and attend visual stimuli. We’ll talk about why it’s important and how it helps in making user-friendly designs. We’ll also discuss the tools and challenges involved in this approach.
To understand Neurodesign, a brief foundational knowledge of the principles of neuroscience is comes in handy. Neuroscience is the study of the nervous system, its structure, development, and function. The nervous system is made up of, firstly, the brain, the spinal cord, and then, networks of nerve cells (neurons) throughout the human body.
Given that neuroscience studies the nervous system, the question is, how does it affect design? Will knowing a lot about the nervous system improve design engagements? Certainly yes, but the specificity of understanding enough of how the brain reacts to it would do.
Neuroscience aims to understand the brain, how it functions, develops, controls, and influences cognitive psychology (thinking, feeling, and understanding). Using modern technologies, it also studies how things go wrong in the nervous system, leading to diseases like Parkinson's and epilepsy. The most-known neuroscience technologies are EEG (electroencephalography) and fMRI(functional magnetic resonance imaging).
As mentioned above, cognitive psychology focuses on the study of human thought processes such as thinking, feeling, understanding, learning, and memorizing. It employs the use of behavioral experiments to understand the thought processes of different human beings.
Neuroscience studies how the brain works, and cognitive psychology studies how people think, so we can say cognitive psychology studies how humans use their brain to think, which makes it a subfield of neuroscience.
Neurodesign is an emerging field of design practice that draws principled insight from neuroscience and cognitive psychology to enable UX designers to understand how people interact with and respond to design elements. This approach has been introduced particularly in fields like graphic design, digital product design, architecture, and digital interfaces, all to enable a better user experience.
When we talk about effective user experience, our first thought process revolves around how to create a better experience for users, which is important. According to Lorna Crowley, “better user experience results in more loyalty and future relationships”, and Neurodesign is responsible for this.
Principles of Neurodesign
In his book “Neuro Design Neuromarketing Insights to Boost Engagement and Profitability”, Darren Bridger claims there are five key principles of Neurodesign. These are processing fluency, first impressions, visual saliency, nonconscious emotional drivers, and behavioral economics. Going further, we will state the principles and see how well they help in design choices.
The principle of processing fluency refers to the fact that people's brains are wired to prefer images that are easy to process over more complex images. Using images that are familiar, well-organized, and with less or no cognitive overload is an advantage for a user.
A University of York study found that visuals contribute to first impressions, and judgments are made immediately.
The first few seconds of interaction are crucial for forming a lasting impression as our brain makes judgments during this time frame. It means designing interfaces that are welcoming and easy to navigate is key. This can be achieved through clear visuals, easy navigation, visual hierarchy and a positive tone of voice.
This principle explains how certain visual elements will naturally attract attention more than others. This is crucial because it can be used to guide users through the interface and highlight important information. It can be achieved through using color, contrast, and size.
Nonconscious emotional driver
Our emotions play a significant role in our decision-making, even when we do not notice. This means designing interfaces that push positive emotions, such as trust, happiness, and security are key. In the next section (user behavior), emotions are discussed with its use case.
As a discipline, behavioral economics focuses on users' decision-making and how cognitive psychology (thinking or feeling) affects this decision.
Understanding this principle and how best to apply it gives designers an advantage. Let’s take for example the display of a limited quantity of an item or the highlight of limited-edition products sends a sense of urgency to the user. A 2007 study published in the Journal of Consumer Research found that products with limited availability were rated more attractive, desirable, and valuable.
Neurodesign exposes us to human behavior and shows how well it can be to improve the user experience. Designers should know that technologies could go a long way but understanding how humans think, act, and feel could be a pivotal point for engaging designs.
Understanding user thought process
At the heart of a user's behavior is the cognitive process (thought process). When humans think, mental models are formed. These models guide their understanding and interaction with products. These models are shaped by prior experiences, expectations, and the product's design itself.
For instance, consider a user transitioning from an iPhone device to an Android. Their mental model, shaped by previous iPhone experiences, leads them to expect certain interface elements and response times. If the Android deviates from these expectations, it can create friction, which could potentially hinder the user's quick adoption.
On the other hand, a user accustomed to an Android device may find the iPhone's design and refresh rate more efficient, positively impacting their experience. Designers must carefully consider these models, ensuring that the product's features and functionalities align with users' mental representations.
The emotional connection
Humans are made of emotions, and the smarter you are at handling these emotions through designs, the better you are as a designer. Emotions play an important role in shaping user engagement. Positive emotions, such as joy, surprise, and delight, bring positive experiences with a product, leading to increased usage and loyalty. On the other hand, negative emotions, such as frustration and confusion, drive users away.
For example, let's consider an online banking platform. Instead of displaying generic error messages like "Invalid credentials," designers could provide more emotional responses like "Please check your password and ensure it meets the required complexity, and if the problem persists, please do reach out to us. We reply in less than an hour."
This approach conveys empathy and helps users resolve the error without feeling discouraged. We can also build an emotional connection through the visual side of the product and its UI design - its shapes, color psychology, and micro animations. There is even a separate branch of neuroscience that examines this visual impact, which is called neuroaesthetics.
Designers must strive to strike a positive balance with emotions throughout the users' journey.
Designing digital products with human brain architecture
The human brain is a memory box equipped with unique capabilities for processing information, learning, and adapting.
As Daniel Kahneman noticed in his famous book, as humans, we use slow thinking and fast thinking. If only possible, we always try to take a shortcut in the process of thinking, searching for patterns, and minimizing the number of information to process.
Understanding these patterns allows designers to create products that align with the brain's natural functions. Let's take, for instance, a search bar. Our brains recognize a pattern when we see something like the bar accompanied by a magnifying glass icon, like the image below:
In making design decisions, designers should be consistent in styling the search bar across all web app pages. This consistency reduces cognitive load and helps users quickly identify and locate the search bar, aligning with their brain's natural tendency to recognize patterns.
A real-life example is an e-commerce website. The search bar is always positioned in the top corner of the page. This consistent placement makes it easy for users to find the search bar, even if they are visiting the site for the very first time.
How does Neurodesign help in UX design?
Having a grasp of Neuro Design exposes you to certain knowledge and concerns on how humans subconsciously select and process information, but there are factors we are ignorant about. These insights can be used to make better-informed decisions based on the user research exploring their expectations, needs, motivation, and behavior.
Understanding human perception
Neurodesign focuses on how humans process information and make decisions. This understanding allows designers to optimize visual elements, such as color, layout, and fonts, to capture attention.
Neurodesign reveals how emotional humans are and how these emotions influence their decisions and behavior. Designers can employ these insights to project positive emotions by building trust in their works.
Reducing cognitive load
Neurodesign helps to identify the various factors that could contribute to mental fatigue. Designers can apply this knowledge to simplifying in-app tasks, thereby presenting information in a very clear manner. This will provide adequate feedback to users' actions.
Personalizing user experiences
This has to be the most effective advantage Neurodesign has in design as it provides deep insights into individual differences, unique preferences, and cognition. Designers can leverage this information by creating personalized digital user experiences that cater to the unique needs, preferences, and learning styles of different users.
Neurodesign technology used in design
With innovations in technology, we can study how humans process information. In this section, we will be looking at Neurodesign science and innovative machines that can be used for user testing and enhancing new designs.
The machines we will be bringing to light are EEG, eye tracker, and fMRI.
An electroencephalogram is a medical procedure used to capture electrical activity in the brain. With the use of metallic electrodes, it can detect electrical impulses generated by the brain cells which are normally active. How does this technology help in design?
EEG can measure a user's engagement with a website or app by monitoring brain activity. This can help designers identify which exact elements of a design are most effective at capturing and holding users' attention. EEG can also be a helpful tool in understanding users’ emotions when using an application. This can help designers create designs that evoke positive emotions and avoid negative ones.
Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) is a type of brain scan that tracks changes in blood flow to see which areas of the brain are active. It helps to determine which brain parts carry out important activities. How does this technology enhance designs?
fMRI can be used by designers to understand how users make decisions on a website or app. This can help designers create designs that make it easier for users to find what they are looking for and make the decisions they want to make.
Eye tracking is a way to study where people are looking. It uses special technology to track eye movements, how wide the pupils are, where the eyes are looking, and how often someone blinks. It helps understand what catches their attention.
With eye tracking, you can identify areas of a website that users focus on the most. This can help designers prioritize the most important elements and ensure they are placed where users are likely to see them.
We do not focus on everything when we visit a website. Some elements or contents are unintentionally ignored and most likely a huge percentage of persons share the same preference. For example, there are two observed reading patterns - the F-pattern and E-pattern.
The F-pattern involves a horizontal scan across the top, a shorter second scan down the page, and a vertical scan down the left side. Similarly, the E-pattern follows horizontal scanning at the top, a second horizontal movement, and a vertical scan down the left side.
Users tend to use quick visual scans, focusing on headings, fonts, colors, the beginning of paragraphs, and images. These repeatable patterns inform designers of effective strategies for improving overall user experience.
With the use of eye-tracking tech, we can test different design elements and patterns, to see which ones are most effective at capturing and holding user attention.
Top companies that apply Neurodesign principles in their products
Let’s look at the top three companies that have applied the principles of Neurodesign in their products and why they have been able to achieve better user experience over the years.
|Application of NeuroDesign principles
|Google (Chrome Browser)
|Apple (iPhone, iPad, and Macbook)
|Samsung (pads and smartphones)
|Color and shape
|Google's search result pages are designed to be visually appealing and make it easy for users to find the information they are looking for.
|Apple's products are often designed with a simple aesthetic in mind. They also favor rounded shapes over edges, which most users prefer and feel more comfortable with.
|Their phones and tablets have bright adaptive colors that stand out.
|Layout and spacing
|Google's search result pages are designed to be easy to navigate.
|Apple's products often use a lot of white space to feel less crowded.
|Samsung's smartphones and tablets often use a grid-based layout, which can help to make them more organized and easier to use.
|Typography and fonts
|Google uses large, clear fonts in its search results to make them easier to read.
|Apple has a variety of fonts in its products, but it often uses fonts that are considered to be user-friendly.
|Samsung uses a mix of fonts in its products to create a sense of interest.
|Google provides positive feedback to users when they complete a task, such as a search query. They do this by providing accurate search results, concise and direct answers to queries in the featured snippets, and Autocomplete Suggestions.
|Apple's products often use a variety of sounds and animations to provide users with feedback.
|Samsung's smartphones and tablets often use sounds and animation to make them more attractive and appealing.
While the costs associated with Neurodesign research technologies pose a notable challenge, particularly for smaller design teams, it is important to note that Neurodesign principles remain universally applicable to projects of all scales.
Despite technological financial constraints, small teams can glean deep insights from Neurodesign principles and apply them to their workflows.
Neurodesign is about understanding how people think and feel, which is different from usual designs. By knowing how users think and feel, designers can make useful products and connect with people. This helps create great experiences for users. Keep designing!
Daniel Kahneman, Thinking, Fast and Slow, 2013
Bridger Darren - Neuro Design(Neuro Design Neuromarketing Insights to Boost Engagement and Profitability, 2017
Cognition, Compiled by Rajiv S. Jhangiani, Ph.D
Crowley Lorna, CMO of EyeQuant - How Neuroscience Is Responsible For the Best UX, 2021, YouTube
Suri Rajneesh, Kohli Chiranjeev & Monroe Kent B. - The effects of perceived scarcity on consumers’ processing of price information.
Jordan Candina - What Is Cognitive Psychology?, Webmd.com May 31, 2022
Philips Miklos, The neuroscience of UX, UX Collective, Medium.com, May 6, 2023