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UX Bites #3 ‘The psychology of UX’ – Video and Q+A

UX Bites #3 ‘The psychology of UX’ – Video and Q+A

When humans and technology interfaces come together, there is friction. Even the best experiences in the world are not without it. Where humans have to think to achieve a goal or to complete a task, there is always a chance of failure. Experience design works to reduce that friction and chance of failure.

The psychology of UX

In the third instalment of our UX Bites webinars, we discussed the problem of designing fast and accurate technology for the slow and inaccurate, or complex, human.


Video: UX Bites by Fathom webinar 3: The psychology of UX. Retrieved from Fathom’s YouTube channel


Q1. If dealing with designing a particular interface, how do we decide if we should address it to a specialist user who already knows basics of workflow or new users who might be brought in by simplicity of interface (which could be limiting to user experience)?

A1. Starting with the principle, it is essential that the users you co–design with, or use for testing and validation throughout the design process, are representative of your design target. It can be a challenge when you are designing for a number of different user profiles, but you need to commit to accurate user representation.

In situations where you are designing for a first–time or novice user you need to work hard to engage with users who aren’t necessarily digital–first. If you look at the staggering success of (in terms of number of public services accessed online, and customer satisfaction rates) much of it is founded on their commitment to the borderline user, i.e. they didn’t design for millennials or digital defaulters – rather they designed for people who wouldn’t necessarily use digital as the primary means of accessing the service. In doing so they maximised their addressable market.

The repercussion of this is if you are designing experiences in banking, telecoms, utilities or public service delivery (i.e. for a mass market) you must ensure that in your user profile are people whose first instinct isn’t to take their phone out of their pocket and seek to self–serve. Get after those borderline cases and people who would otherwise almost but not quite use the service.

Q2. What is the biggest mistake you see new designers making?

A2. The biggest mistake is not understanding the function of design: to solve problems for users.

When you’re starting off in your career, it can be an overwhelming experience just knowing where to focus your efforts. Often, designers fall into the trap of thinking that the pristine aesthetics of online portfolios such as Dribbble are the yardstick of good design. Or, sometimes they unquestioningly produce design based on the subjective opinions of clients, or the highest paid person in the room. 

If a designer doesn’t actively seek out users and find ways to build in user feedback throughout the design process, then it’s unlikely to meet their needs and solve their problems.

Q3. Any thoughts on minimalist design/simple design inadvertently being used as a mask for the massively complex and unsustainable networks that go in to making them? (e.g. iPhone and internet memory fields)? Considering our responsibility as designers to think about the future.

A3. This is a massive issue which I share your concern over. There have been some excellent initiatives launched to think about the impact of tech on our environment and the importance of tech for good. Gerry McGovern’s World Wide Waste book and Martha Lane Fox’s doteveryone think tank are two excellent examples which consider the impact of tech on the world around us. I think both answer the question much better than I ever could.

Q4. How would you suggest balancing use cases and universal accessibility?

A4. There isn’t as much of a balancing act required as you may initially think. If you don’t build design around use cases, and thus don’t design any flows, you slow down all of your users. If you build design around all use cases (including edge cases), you prioritise everything, thus prioritising nothing and thus end up back at the beginning. You need to ensure your interface is dominated with content and flows which represent the things which most users want to do most times. Get users who have edge case needs off the motorway flow and onto A roads and B roads – they can rejoin the motorway flow when they have sorted their edge case needs.

Q5. On the side of making things too simple, that of course is contextual but, what do you think of how plug and play (lego–like) our design tools have become, that everything is looking ‘samey’ and the ‘intuitive’ best practise dominates to an extent that that it inhibits alternative models which are better. Current example is the push away from having your smart phone search bar from top of screen down to button next to thumb.

A5. Your example of the moving search bar on mobile is really apposite. The moving of the search bar and the demotion of the hamburger menu over the past four or five years are lovely examples of functionally driven design. We have to celebrate these design patterns if they help our users, even if they put parameters around our designs.

It is our job to avoid interfaces looking samey – that’s what design is.

Architects don’t lament that their building designs needs to obey the laws of physics, planning regulation and sources of natural light. Car designers don’t consider moving the steering wheel to the boot, or putting the hand brake in the glove box. Yet despite the limitations we can enjoy the magnificence of Sydney Opera House and the beauty of the BMW E9.

Design patterns still leave room for beauty, and therein lies the challenge and attraction of our discipline.

Q6. Can you suggest any good online course for UX Designers to enhance our knowledge on the Psychology for UX.

A6. Fathom has a strategic partnership with the UX Design Institute, and some of our team are student mentors. We’d encourage you to check them out and let us know if you’ve any queries or we can help you further.

Q7. Of all the accessibility strands to address (visual impairment, cognitive, motor difficulties etc.) which is the first one you would tackle?

A7. When I’m trying to assess the accessibility of a website, I start by understanding what the main barriers are for all users with accessibility issues. I don’t think we can prioritise one user’s needs over another.

Impairments are best thought of on a spectrum – there’s only a small fraction of people legally registered as blind however, most people experience deterioration in their sight as they get older. And, users can have more than one impairment.

if a user can’t interact with a site in the way they prefer – if keyboard traps exist, if links aren’t announced by a screen reader or a user can’t read the content correctly – they will give up and leave your site.

A good place to start is by looking at how the Worldwide Web Consortium WCAG principles tackles the main barriers for users with impairment accessing websites. has also designed a set of posters that highlight some of the key issues for users on each impairment spectrum.

Q8. Can you give a couple more examples of HCI that benefit users like the Netflix example?

A8. There are so many I’m not sure where to begin but let me share a few that you may be familiar with but may not even have consciously noticed:

  • Amazon gives us an order summary before we buy so we know exactly what we’re getting into and so know exact product / price / arrival day / payment details etc.
  • Mailchimp shows us a dramatic “you’re about to send” image when you press broadcast so you don’t mistakenly and irreversibly broadcast an email to a list
  • Thunderbird tells us “looks like you’ve forgotten an attachment” when we write an email that includes phases such as “PDF”, “CV” or “attachment” but don’t include an attachment on the email draft
  • Shazam pulses and rotates to the beat of the music so we know it’s listening to the right tune
  • Medium tells us how long it will take us to read an article so we know if we have the time and appetite to start

These are all lovely soft features that simply wouldn’t be necessary if humans and computers were wired the same way.

Q9. Your take on UX Writing in terms of simplicity comes first — do words come before or after that?

A9. A guiding principle on that question is one of my favourite statements in this area “content is design too.” I think content planning and thinking is integral to the design process and needs to be thought about from the start. People use websites to self–serve in order to complete tasks and accessing the functions needed to do that is driven by content (words, images, audio, video). I think that there is a strong argument that the interface design serves the content, such is its importance.

Lamentably, in my 20+ years of being involved in design, I feel that information architecture (encompassing content strategy, site structure, copywriting) and flow are usually chronically underinvested, to the detriment of many experiences.

Find us on YouTube

You can watch more of our webinars and talks about UX and service design on our YouTube channel.

By Andy Robinson

Andy was a UX Researcher with Fathom until July 2021, when he moved on to take up a role at Rapid7.

View more insights by Andy

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