Psychology plays a huge role in the creation of good UX/UI design. Many psychological theories relate to design elements and should be considered by designers. These theories help with user retention and understanding, allowing them to navigate a digital product with ease.

Cognitive Psychology

The first of these theories is a cognitive psychology theory that discusses the difference between attitudes and behaviors. Both are used when designing, but for different reasons. Attitude refers to a set of emotions, beliefs, and opinions toward a particular thing. Attitudes typically result from experiences or learned behaviors from the people around you. Attitude is not always a predictor of behavior, but specific attitudes can sometimes indicate certain behaviors will occur, and changing a person’s attitude can predict changes in their behavior.


In UX/UI design, you need to be aware of what users say about a digital product and what their goals are. Attitudinal research is an important concept in UX/UI design. This research gathers information on users’ thoughts and feelings toward a product. This can allow designers to understand what needs to be changed for future use. For example, the Tesla logo uses a futuristic font to evoke feelings of innovation and excitement. Someone who is creating an e-commerce website for baked goods might use brown and neutral tones to evoke the feeling of warmth and comfort.

Man and Woman sitting across from each other talking.

Retention Theory

Retention theory discusses the amount of time that users can focus their attention. There is a very short period in which you can grab a user’s attention as they can become distracted very easily. 

As a designer, you need to know how fast the information on a certain page will be consumed. It is important to predict possible obstacles that will obstruct the retention of information. This can include elements like colors, fonts, imagery, and even design elements. These elements must flow and make sense so that a user can navigate through a site quickly. This is done by making the flow of information easy with as few distractions as possible. One way to achieve this is by keeping content short and digestible or using visually appealing animations to promote recognition and recall. 

Serial Position Effect

This psychological effect is helpful for the placement of information. There are two position theories, the recency effect, and the primacy effect. The primacy effect is the idea that people can recall information they see first in a list easier than later information. The recency effect is the idea that people remember information they see last easier than information previously seen. 


For designers, this means that the most critical information should be placed either first or last, giving users the best chance to recall the information later. Ensuring information is placed in a digestible format is key. Placing key data on the far left and right of a design makes it easier for users to remember. Another best practice is to include cues that will initiate recognition and recall. One example of a cue is a small message that pops up when you download something from a site letting you know the download is complete. This prompts users to remember and continue toward their final goal. Designers should do their best to limit the amount of recall required by reminding users of things as they navigate through a site.

Computer with drawing on the screen, paper drawings, pencils, and a glass of water on the table as well.

Context of Use Theory

When using a digital product, there may be many different situations in which the product is used. This requires the design to work in a variety of ways. For example, someone using a cooking app with little to no cooking experience would need a lot more detail in the directions than someone who is an experienced chef. The context of use here would shift based on expertise level and which tier your user falls under. 

One idea designers can use to help with the context of use theory is to create personas. This means writing different descriptions for potential users of the digital product. These can include goals, pain points, locations, and more about each potential user. This helps the designer consider many different uses for the final product and the context behind its use.

Qualitative and Quantitative Dimension

Both qualitative and quantitative data need to be collected for the most effective UX/UI designs. Qualitative data is descriptive data while quantitative data is hard numbers. Both forms of data allow designers to understand the way users are interacting with a digital product in different ways. 


For quantitative data, aspects such as linger time and bounce rates should be considered. These let you know how users are interacting with the product and how long they are staying. It can help you discover spots that users are spending lots of time on versus areas they are skipping. Qualitative data allows you to understand how users are feeling. This can be a frustration for certain aspects of a product or cognitive friction and lets designers know where changes need to be made. 

While many other psychological theories play a role in creating interesting and valuable designs, these five theories are a great starting point.

Different charts and graphs on a piece of paper.