Continuous learning. That’s one thing that applies to a lot of fields, especially to the field of design. After all, it’s not like one design approach is going to be in use forever. As clients, consumers, and audiences continue to evolve, so will the different design techniques used and so must the creative geniuses that work in the business.
This is why no matter how long you’ve been in the design business or how much you excelled when you were still in design school, you still need to immerse yourself into different resources that will not only teach you different approaches, but also remind you of the basics that you may have forgotten along the way.
Of course, these resources do not have to be limited to ones that specifically discuss design. Remember that design also deals with a lot of other aspects, and one such aspect for you to consider is psychology.
The Role of Psychology in Design
Look around you. Every label, every webpage, every poster you see is a result of the work of a designer. These products are meant to make you feel something, feel something. And that’s why psychology has so much to do with the rules of design.
Remember that the designs you work on are meant to be viewed by people, which means that you have to understand how the human mind works. And that’s exactly what psychology does. It is the study of the human mind, something that when applied to your designs can dictate the way your audience reacts to your work.
A good grasp of human psychology can empower you to figure out what triggers their urge to buy whatever product you are offering or sign up for your services. It tells you how certain colors affect each person’s mood, or how specific layouts can make your audience understand your message more clearly.
The list goes on and on. Simply put, psychology can turn your design into something that’s more effective than you initially anticipate. It can help you cross the bridge from a place where your designs are merely visually appealing but unable to earn the results you are looking for, to a state where you create an unparalleled reaction to your work as people from different groups find things they could relate with when they look at what you have done.
Psychology Books You Just Have to Read as a Designer
It’s a good thing there is no shortage of psychology books that designers can read if they are looking for a more human approach to their craft. Here are seven that you shouldn't miss:
1. The Design of Everyday Things by Don Norman
Don Norman is a cognitive scientist, a fellow at IDEO, and a co-founder of the Nielsen-Norman Group. If you have heard of the terms “design thinking” and “user-centered design” (or have used these terms yourself a few times), then know that these terms were coined by none other than him.
Especially if you specialize in UX design, this is one book that you have to read from cover to cover. As the title indicates, it explains how product design works. It tells you how to put the end user’s needs and the principles of cognitive psychology together to come up with something that solves any existing problems that users may have.
Probably the best part about this book is the number of case studies that he presents to show what designs proved to be ingenious, and which designs turned out to be just plain bad.
2. Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman
Daniel Kahneman is not just an Emeritus Psychology and Public Affairs Professor at Princeton University, he is also a Nobel Prize winner for his contribution to the field of Economics. The book made it to the New York Times bestseller list too, so in case you’re wondering if this guy knows what he’s talking about, then the answer is yes, he definitely does.
It discusses how people use two mental systems to make decisions based on what they see around them. It defines the Fast System as a person’s tendency to make snap judgments while the Slow System is seen as deliberate and rational. These are evidently very useful concepts to master if you want to influence the way people make decisions when they see your designs.
3. Designing for Emotion by Aarron Walter
Aarron Walter is currently MailChimp’s General Manager for New Products, and has taught design all over Europe and the US for almost a decade.
The premise for his book is pretty straightforward: he wants to teach designers how to design for humans, and not for machines. Yes, he wants designers to go beyond the usual elements that they worry about when working on their designs. Instead of worrying about things like reliability and functionality, the book tells you to think about how you want your audience to feel and what personality you want your brand to display.
There are case studies, scientific data, and psychological concepts. It is one book packed with simple tips that will help you make your designs more personal, enabling them to reach more people and establish a genuine connection with them.
4. Influence: The Psychology of Persuasion (Revised Edition) by Robert B. Cialdini
Robert Cialdini, an Emeritus Psychology and Marketing Professor at the Arizona State University and a Ph.D. holder in Social Psychology teaches you one thing that every designer and marketer has always wanted to learn: how to get people to say “YES!”.
Some principles that he discusses are social proof, reciprocity, liking, scarcity and authority. The best part about all this is that he explains each detail in such a simple manner that anyone can understand all the concepts regardless of how much background they have on the subject. And yes, the concepts of persuasion here are all ethical – no dirty tricks, just a simple explanation of how the human mind works and how to use that to create win-win situations for both you and your audience.
5. Hooked: How to Build Habit-Forming Products by Nir Eyal
Nir Eyal has taught at the Stanford Hasso Plattner Institute of Design and the Stanford Graduate School of Business, dealing mostly with technology, psychology, and business. Although he is the main author of the book, there are also a few insights given by Ryan Hoover, the founder of Product Hunt, creator of Startup Edition, and former Director of Product at Playhaven.
Hands down, the concept discussed by this book is one of the most intriguing we’ve seen so far. Basically, it tells you that if your product can be associated to human emotion, users will come back even if you don’t ask them to. In other words, you can actually turn buying your product or service into a habit.
Unbelievable? Here’s a thought. When anyone feels bored on the train, at work, or in school, what do they do? They open Instagram. This, they do without seeing a random poster or a glaring billboard around them. They do it out of habit. How do you create your own Instagram? Read this book and find out.
6. The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
Another book about habit, Charles Duhigg explains how people do what they do with The Power of Habit. Basically, he explains why habits exist, how they work, and how you can change them. It’s a mix of neurology, applied psychology, and experimental psychology. It basically makes you realize how powerful your habits actually are, and this knowledge is something that can be quite useful if you want to learn how to influence your clients’ and audiences’ buying decisions.
Despite all the science that goes into this book, it is surprisingly very easy to read and understand. By the time you finish the book, you would have a better understanding of how you can manipulate buying patterns by looking for those triggers that set off buying impulses.
7. The Art of Choosing by Sheena Iyengar
Sheena Iyengar is a Business Professor at Columbia University and holds a Ph.D. in Social Psychology from Stanford.
This book discusses one basic concept: that having more choices is not always an ideal situation, as a lot of people are led to believe. Basically, the more choices you have, the less likely that you’ll come up with a solid decision. And if you do end up making a decision, more often than not, this decision will be something you’ll regret sooner or later.
It also shows you how different cultures make decisions, helping you to understand how the society you belong to can dictate the way you make choices. The most interesting thig about the book is the fact that aside from being a wonderful storyteller, the author is also an effective researcher, presenting data that you won’t easily get anywhere else.
Seven books all in all, seven different concepts that you can apply to your work. Without a doubt, these books will make you realize a lot of things, not just on the way you design but also on how you understand the people you’re designing things for. Now, it won’t be all about how nice a font is or how clean this layout looks. It won’t be about what’s trending at the moment or what’s easy to do. Once you have absorbed every powerful message that each of these books have to offer, you can start creating designs based on what people need and how people think and feel – and that, hands down, is the most effective way to do it.
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