5 Psychological triggers to create better designs by focusing on shallows

5 Psychological triggers to create better designs by focusing on shallows

We live in an age where even 200 T.V. channels fail to lure us, reading two pages of a book gets us fidgety, abbreviations rule our text messages, in short reduced patience levels for every activity.

There’s something more than just our shrinking attention spans to blame for this.

It is our rising affinity for the shallows and fading fondness for the depths.

The interesting correlation between the options available at hand and the chances of preferring shallows over depths, makes a subtle impact on our decision making, where our minds relish the shallows available to us.

Psycho-economist, Professor Sheena Iyengar elaborates upon making choices in her book, The Art of Choosing, where she makes a strong case for the dilemma our mind goes through while making a choice.


It is somewhat true that users find it subconsciously tedious to make choices.

Hence, for the purpose of this post we’d sidestep the concept of choice and concentrate on the shallows our brains love, to create an effective web design:


1) Simple shapes can make for Solid designs

In 2009, Adrian Bejan, a mechanical engineering professor at the Duke University, in North Carolina, illustrated that our eyes can take in, an image quickest if its shape is a golden rectangle. Also called the magical proportion or the divine proportion (of around 5 by 8), the shape is quite common and remains in front of us all the time, in the form of books, smartphones, computer screens, tablets, television sets, credit cards, photographs, etc. Many ancient monuments have been designed keeping this ratio in mind, such as the Parthenon in Athens, Greece; Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris.


In web designing too, numerous websites use photographic images as backgrounds on their homepage, employing this divine proportion.

The technique effortlessly grabs the attention of the ‘shallows’ our minds crave for. This proves to be a smarter choice in designing, instead of spending time and effort to create a deeper impact on the minds of our audience.


2) Make them viscerally attractive

There are designs we endlessly marvel over, but haven’t a clue why we like them. You may think you understand your likes or dislikes, but it might come as a surprise that you don’t. A lot of what we like is triggered by your old brain, one of the three parts of our brain. The old brain drives our survival instincts, helps us interpret food, threat, shelter, procreation, jubilation, etc. These reactions triggered from our old brain are called visceral reactions. These are quick reactions and are mostly the first things we feel. Visceral reactions are ingrained in our DNA and stay consistent for almost our entire lives.


source: english-ch.com

Creating visceral web designs can give rise to predictably happy reactions. This is why a lush mountainous landscape, where snow clad peaks pierce the skies and a river runs alongside, will draw an awe-inspiring visceral reaction by almost everyone.Incorporating such techniques can enhance your web design.

Similarly, using colors that are abundantly available in nature can make your web design viscerally attractive.Web designs that are noticeably luring can have a better impact on your audiences minds’ than something that needs an effort to be appreciated.


3) Lesser content width & striking Headlines can be a heady combo

The current technology has made our worlds shrink and expand, all at the same time, taking a toll on our attention spans and the choices our minds make.

Our brain tricks us all the time. Sometimes it reluctantly accepts things it doesn’t appreciate, sometimes it lets go of things it loves, without us getting the wind of it. It goes against its own will, but obeys ours.

If you notice, the above sentence right below the subheading has a shorter width and a bigger font size. It captures attention at once. The content is more willingly read and looks more inviting.

Mary C. Dyson in her study explains, How Physical Text Layout Affects Reading from the Screen.

Consider some of the major publications like the Time magazine, Reuters, Forbes, all have shorter widths of their news reports, which is easy on our eyes.


Likewise, using the headline with a bigger font size (and shorter width), can multiply your content’s appeal.  It can even beat images. And nothing can be better if what you write is brilliantly witty too!


4) People’s faces and their Line of sight

We may not realize, but our brain works quite systematically. We prioritize the portions of what we want to look at subconsciously, and go over it one by one.

Can you guess what we notice first, let’s say on a billboard ad?


It’s people’s faces. It is the first thing we notice anywhere, whether it’s a book cover, movie frame, photograph, story book, an ad, a news column, or a website page.

It’s one of those things that we often tend to overlook but can work as a big draw in website designs. Using photographs of expressive human faces that can convey what you want to say can work wonderfully.

Secondly, you can use the line of sight or the direction in which the face (in the photograph) is looking to indicate a point you wish to convey in your design. We do this all the time in our real life, i.e., look where others are looking. It can be emulated in web designs too.

Giovanni Galfano has shed some light on it in his study, Eye gaze cannot be ignored (but neither can arrows)

Woman pointing the way with a smile

Out of all the shallows our minds cherish, this is the most prominent one, hence has an easier implementation.


5) White spaces to sanitize your brilliant design

Since we’re talking about the shallows our minds subconsciously love, have you ever wondered why some web designs have a calming effect on our nerves? It’s because of the white spaces/blank spaces a.k.a, negative spaces.

White spaces help in building a clutter free design, with an apt placement of buttons, graphics, columns, images, text, margins, so there’s a room to breathe. Packing in white space doesn’t just decrease the clutter, it also creates a hierarchical relationship between different elements in a design, which is vital for a layout.


While it definitely makes content more inviting, as per the research by D. Y. M. Lin 2004, ‘Evaluating older adults’, it can boost the overall understanding by as much as 20 percent.

Most designers equate white space with dead spaces thinking that it has no consequence but it’s not so. It is instead an active space that plays an important part in guiding the users and helps in creating harmonious designs.


Final Thoughts

You may argue that after the initial window dressing, it’s the substance you put on offer that matters, but psychological and emotional triggers can play a pivotal part in influencing users.

The vision or the plan you may have for your website can go both ways. Your engaging can be confusing for someone, while your lucidity can appear undercooked to others. It may be because of our heightened awareness or enormous exposure to media that we spend more and more time in incorporating the depths in our designs and ignoring the shallows.

As a web designer, there’ll be a time when you have to decide what are the emotional drivers of your design? What would drive your viewers engagement and how?

Although web designers aren’t expected to think like psychologists, they can still at times flex their mind’s muscles and see what impact can be created by following the ways of the brain.