Exactly how the mind works is still largely a mystery. And as with most mysteries, there are clues that give resolution to the interworking of how we think. How we think involves a swarm of highly interrelated mental processes including attention, memory, and thinking.
This article is about introducing a set of heuristics that, when used with intention, can improve usability, emote joy, and drive action.
Neurodesign is an emerging field of design practice that accounts for how our brains are wired to create designs that promote simplicity, emote joy, and drive action. Since humans are visually dominant, how we perceive and attend visual stimuli should be of particular interest to user experience designers. This is why neurodesign is important. To understand neurodesign, we must first understand a couple of major things about the brain.
What the heck is a heuristic?
A general strategy for solving a problem based on past experience. While it may not be perfect or apply to all situations, a “heuristic” is generally considered “good enough” to the job done satisfactorily.
On the shoulders of giants
These neurodesign heuristics are meant to be additive (not a replacement) to all the good work done by these giants. And there’s been a ton done here by legends like Jacob Neilsen, Jill Gerdhart-Powals, and Ben Shneidermen among many. Their work is similar in nature and elemental to our practice. Their work can generally be summarized to the following guidelines:
- Be consistent
- Don’t make users have to remember information
- Don’t make users have to “figure out” your interface
- Give users shortcuts
- Give users the ability to back out of decisions
- Be true to the system(s) your interface will be used on
- Keep it simple
- Provide help that focuses on efficiently solving users’ problems
- Write for the user, not the system or yourself
- Visual design should enhance, not obscure
- Always consider the user’s context
- Users will do things you don’t anticipate. Don’t let their actions break the system.
Here is the most summarized version of what we need to know about neurodesign to know in order to fully understand what it can do to elevate our work.
Visual Dominance: come hell or high water, we favor visual stimuli over all other types of signal. Don’t believe it? Watch this as many times as you have to until you do.
Fast and Slow Processing: In the Behaviour and Information Technology Journal, cognitive psychology researchers at Carleton University reported that people make a “like” or “no-like” decision about a web page design in as fast as 50 milliseconds (Lindgaard et al., 2006). That’s due to our limbic system (fast processing) and how it takes on most of the decisions we encounter. The slow processing system is more effortful, deliberate, and…er… slow. The idea with neurodesign is to appeal to the fast processing system and to do so quickly.
Sensing vs. Perceiving: The brain gets bombarded with far more stimuli than it can and wants to process. And since the brain has a limited capacity and we are visually dominant, then it behooves us to critically mange how much visual stimuli we lather on our designs.
Attention: Capturing and retaining attention is the name of the game. But what if everyone is also playing the same game? Good, god! Know the eye and how the visual context works to create more effective interfaces.
Motivation: Finally, there is no action until there is motivation. How can you create interfaces that motivate people to take action? How can you stimulate the release of neurotransmitters such as dopamine?
Ok, now for the heuristics of neurodesign:
Present only information pertinent to the task.
- We sense a lot more than we perceive due to our limited capacity.
- What can the page do without?
- Are there competing colors, luminosity, textures>
- Can the copy be cut down to shorter paragraphs and bullet points?
- Is there strong visual hierarchy?
Use images of human faces to direct attention and elicit emotion.
- We’re wired to see faces first. the face’s emotion transfers to the viewer. And we’ll gaze in the direction they gaze.
- Are you using images of people?
- Are the people’s emotions appropriate for the brand and intent?
- Are they looking at the CTA or other critical information?
Use brightness to convey relevance.
- Bright green will pull the eye more than dull red. Luminosity, not hue, is what’s most important to acquire gaze.
- Are there bright elements that don’t need to be bright (unimportant)?
- Are there competing bright elements?
- Are the CTA’s brighter than other elements in the design?
Group data to quickly establish relationships between visible elements.
- Is related content and functionality clustered together?
- Are visual vocabularies consistently used?
- Is there a clear foreground and background?
- Are related design objects visually and uniformly connected?
- Is symmetry used to unify elements> Is dissymmetry used to create focal points?
Users see movement first, but overuse can mute its effect.
- Does the design have a few minimal micro-interactions to pull the eye?
- Are micro-interactions competing with each other or the design?
- Do the micro-interactions communicate feedback or intent of function?
The bigger picture:
There is a lot more to this emerging field than what you’ll find here. Many neurology and neurophysiology research is actively conducted while designers (like me) find ways to translate those insights to create designs that emote joy, project simplicity, and drive action. Check out the Neurodesign reading list on Medium.
Andrés isn’t like most founders. He’s responsible for the operations and direction of idfive, but he’s also the door-always-open, huevos-rancheros-making leader who’ll help you when the wifi isn’t working. A lifetime learner and multifaceted professional, Andrés has nearly 30 years of experience leading projects for clients in various industries. He believes in the power of research and data to create something beautiful that can do something good.