Web Design Factors That Influence User Behavior (Part 5)

This following is the final excerpt from my final paper for IMC-635 Visual Information Design. You can read the entire paper here.  ~by JoAnn Carpenter


One of the most effective ways to test user behavior is always going to be trial and error. Therefore, website redesign presents us with a valuable opportunity. Hoa Loranger in Redesigning Your Website? Don’t Ditch Your Old Design So Soon, says “Before you redesign your site, make sure that you understand the strengths and weaknesses of your current design. Gain a deeper insight into why design elements work or fail in order to make informed decisions moving forward”.

“Attention-getting transitions, animations and movement are becoming increasingly commonplace in modern web design. Movement in a person’s peripheral vision triggers a stimulus-driven shift in visual attention. The instinctual attention shift to motion is a remnant of the days when we needed to quickly notice a snake in the grass and other forms of looming danger or potential prey. Motion within a person’s current point of focus does not trigger the same visual response as when it occurs in the periphery. Because we already have the user’s attention, we no longer need to attract it and can focus on designing an animation that will increase the user’s understanding” states Aurora Bedford in Animation for Attention and Comprehension.

I shy away from the use of animations myself for fear of annoying the user, however, I have seen them work. A recent example is an orange and blue flashing email graphic located in the upper right-hand side of a landing page. My client insisted I make it flash. Despite my distaste I have to admit that it has performed well.


Speaking of blue and orange, “color wields enormous sway over our attitudes and emotions. When our eyes take in a color, they communicate with a region of the brain known as the hypothalamus, which in turn sends a cascade of signals to the pituitary gland, on to the endocrine system, and then to the thyroid glands. The thyroid glands signal the release of hormones, which cause fluctuation in mood, emotion, and resulting behavior” says Jeremy Smith in How to Use the Psychology of Color to Increase Website Conversions.

“Research from QuickSprout indicates that 90% of all product assessments have to do with color. “Color,” writes Neil Patel, is “85% of the reason you purchased a specific product.” It’s a no-brainer fact of any website that color affects conversions. Big time” says Smith.

He adds that, “use the right colors, and you win —

  1. “Women don’t like gray, orange, and brown. They like blue, purple, and green.
  2. Men don’t like purple, orange, and brown. Men like blue, green, and black.
  3. Use blue in order to cultivate user’s trust.
  4. Yellow is for warnings.
  5. Green is ideal for environmental and outdoor products.
  6. Orange is a fun color that can create a sense of haste or impulse.
  7. Black adds a sense of luxury and value.
  8. Use bright primary colors for your call to action.
  9. Don’t neglect white.” (Smith)

Visual components of design also include the use of symbols, varying font sizes and weights. “Graphic elements are tools designers use to purposefully attract the eye. They can provide direction and punctuation” (Baer & Vacarra, 2008).

“The Internet is all about content, and content means text and words. And that means typography. The smart web designer knows this and will, therefore, devote a lot of careful thought and deliberation to getting typography right” says Marc Schenker in The All-Inclusive Guide to Web Typography Best Practices. Here offers these typography best practices based on a 2013 study:

  • “Headlines use an approximately equal percentage of serif versus sans-serif fonts
  • Body copy uses more serif fonts than sans-serif fonts
  • Non-standard fonts dominate on websites
  • Backgrounds still operate on the dark-on-light color scheme
  • Font sizes for headlines and body copy keep increasing
  • No more than 84 characters per line
  • Just under half of all websites feature responsive typography”

Research I came across on Visceral Design caught my interest and reminded me of last year’s Paleo Diet rage. “Because visceral reactions are rooted in our genetic makeup, the responses are fairly consistent across all cultures, genders and demographics. As a result, visceral design produces very predictable reactions. I recommend using design elements that could represent any of the old brain triggers. Specifically use elements that could represent survival, threat or reproductive opportunities (sex sells.) For example, you could use an aqua blue that is similar to fresh water, bright colors that are reminiscent of fruit or a clean open design similar to a safe environment” says Ross Johnson in 10 Psychological Principles to Design With.  Yikes, now we’re designing websites for cave men as well as eating like them!

Johnson adds that “Gestalt principles suggest that people will make assumptions about what they see and find meaning in visuals that might not be there. Ultimately it’s critical to be intentional about what appears on the page and how it’s treated. When patterns are easily matched they feel familiar or “normal.” Unmatchable or difficult to match stimuli feels foreign and can even be unsettling”.

“The basic “systems” of human interaction still exist in our DNA. These principles are hardwired into the human psyche, developed as a necessity to human survival. The six principles are:

  • Reciprocation: We are compelled to return favors.
  • Authority: We trust experts and those of high status or power.
  • Commitment/Consistency: We act consistently with our values.
  • Scarcity: The less available a resource, the more we want it.
  • Liking: The more we like people, the more we say yes to them.
  • Social Proof: We look to others to guide our behavior” (Johnson).

“Smart designers can use these concepts to influence users toward desired actions. Giving away free information or tools can be used to persuade users to volunteer their contact information via the reciprocity principle. Signs of authority or expertise can increase perceived trust. Low inventory numbers might indicate scarcity and move someone to purchase sooner than they would otherwise. It doesn’t take too much creativity to identify powerful ways to design using social influence” (Johnson).

In closing, website design has evolved at a relatively high rate of speed along with user behavior from its beginnings just 15 or so years ago. Research helps us continue to develop our knowledge and skills to enrich the experience and effectiveness of our design work. In my experience, some tasks become simpler while others become more complicated as we go along. It’s been an interesting journey, and I look forward to the ever-present new challenges that are bound to arise in the future.

This is excerpt #5 from my final paper for IMC-635 Visual Information Design. This is the last in the series of blog entries on this subject. You can read the entire paper here.

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