Design: Note the functioning of the brain

The human brain works in ways that you can not ignore if your design is to succeed. Brain-friendly webdesign decides success and failure, so do not take it lightly.

As an experienced designer, you have long been aware that your designs are not just a matter of aesthetics. Fortunately, when creating large designs, such as ecommerce sites, the use of user testing has become the norm. After all, even if we know basic insights into the structure of designs, individual target groups may tend to have surprising features.

Do you stick to Steve Krug’s old recommendation, which is “Do not make me think”, so “Do not make me think”, you have at least a rough guideline, which should help avoid the grossest mistakes. Moreover, it does not hurt to know a few basic ways of functioning of the human brain. The following will not be about more psychological aspects. For this topic, you can also find contributions, one of which I have deposited in the “links to the topic” below.

The brain as an example of natural algorithmics

Please note that now no medically accurate explanation follows. The simplifications made are meant to help you understand just as much as is necessary for the work. If you are studying medicine, the post is not suitable for you.


The brain is always busy. (Photo: Stockault)

The human brain always works in repetitive loops from the simple to the difficult. Nowadays, this approach is attempted to be algorithmically simulated using artificial neural networks. The term “deep learning” is associated with it. This rough representation of the working method already allows conclusions about how you should create a website. Easy to use right from the start, with the option of being immersed in the depths of the application.

The various functional areas of the human memory

One of the essential features of our brain is memory. Actually, one could be tempted to compare the memory with a hard disk. Like data on the hard disk, information is stored in memory. That, however, falls far short. Because the memory is not a mere mass storage, but divides into different “departments”. There are several ways to classify memory. Relevant for us is the distinction according to the duration of “storage”.

TheUltra short-term memoryis a purely sensory working area. Here, sensory stimuli are stored just long enough, at most for a few seconds, to allow the combination of several sensory stimuli to create a context.

in theworking memoryWe hold content for minutes, which we need in a defined context for a while. For example, we remember an address in order to store it directly in the navigation device and have forgotten it immediately after successful entry.

TheShort-term memoryworks in the time range of a few hours and is typically a precursor to long-term memory. Information in short-term memory can be transferred to the long-term memory by specific repetition. Well-known learning systems, such as phase 6, work according to this principle.

TheLong-term memoryis designed for the permanent storage of information and is used wherever information is needed at least several days. Here, the storage can also be life-long. If we wanted to compare the memory with a hard disk, the long-term memory would most likely be considered for this comparison. However, if we look at the working of the long-term memory, it becomes clear that we can not speak of a type of hard drive here either.

Because storing new information arriving in the long-term memory does not simply take place on free space or by overwriting data released for deletion. Rather, the brain builds the new information into existing structures. It forms quasi new memory contents, by attaching to already existing contents. Existing experiences play just as much a role as fundamental questions of attitudes in general. In other words, the information in the long-term memory is never completely objective. We would never buy such a hard drive voluntarily.

If brain-friendly design is to overcome memory

Now that we know how human memory works, the question arises, which of the areas do we want to address? The answer to that is in turn linked to the question of what we want to achieve.

At the lowest level, we definitely have to pass the ultra-short-term memory. Here is information onlymaximum 20 secondsheld before they disappear. Scientific research has already established in 1956 that the number of memorable information shreds in ultra-short-term memory isseven plus / minus twolies. In later years it could be specified that the capacity figure refers to seven figures. For letters, the capacity limit would be six and for words five.

With a few alternatives, it is easier to decide. Guilt is your memory. (Photo: Pexels)

What does that mean for our design? We have to expect people who visit our website to become disoriented after just a few seconds, if we do not give them onesolid leadershipgive to the hand. Thereby, according to Nielsen Norman we have to consider several aspects:

The load times of our pages must not be so long that current transactions are in danger of being canceled because of thePage layout too hesitanttakes place. Especially in the checkout process, you should pay attention, otherwise the potential customer may forget that he is in the middle of the purchase.

Alreadyvisited linksshoulda different colorbe marked so that the visitor sees where he already was. So he does not have to prove his limited memory space with useless information. In general, you should not save with help and support, so that the course of the visit as little as possible depends on cognitive processes that go beyond the ultra-short-term memory.

If you want to sell something and offer a certain choice, then make it easy for the visitor, the different onesCompare offers with each other, The potential customer will otherwise not be able to remember the key data of the individual offers and will be tempted to cancel. It also makes it easier for him to make the qualified choices that are otherwise hampered by the nature of human memory.

If man can choose from too many options, memory blocks because every option wants to be evaluated. This will be among otherspast experiencesused. If you activate too many at the same time, the rating will take longer than the visitor may be worth. Incidentally, the principle of limiting the selection is that Apple has been using it very successfully since the time of the Nullers.

Past experience plays a significant role in making decisions in the present. (Photo: Pexels)

In general, it may be advisable to make shortcuts through specific wordingalready existing informationin other memory areas of the brain. This will generate interest and increase the likelihood that the visitor will stay tuned.

ThisTriggering linksis especially important when it comes to thatnavigation designgoes. Depending on the complexity of your site, it may not make sense to shorten the navigation to five to seven choices, so as not to put too high demands on your visitor’s ultra-short-term memory. The shot could even backfire because such a shortening would force you to make your navigation very generic. This, in turn, would very likely result in visitors not understanding anything behind the terms, which in turn would lower the interaction rate.

When we work on navigation design, we do not work primarily with memory, but rely on more advanced onescognitive processes, The visitor should easily recognize what we each offer and consciously move in the respective direction. Meaningful symbols, clear texts and established nomenclature are used for this purpose. Incidentally, the principle of “easy recognition” is being reduced to absurdity by the popular Hamburger menu.

In general, we can say that we should do everything in the design toto relieve the memory of the potential customer, The less his ultra-short-term memory is required, the greater the chances that we will keep him in line.

Furthermore, it may be considered as a general recommendationa minimalistic design approachto choose. This not only relieves the memory of the visitor, but also allows specific triggering of links to experiences and memoriesin deeper layers of memoryare created. The recommendation also plays a role in keeping the number of information processed as small as possible.

Subtle, clear designs relieve the visitor. (Photo: Pexels)

If we have been able to keep the visitor away from the phase of ultra-short-term memory, it must be about creating a lasting bond via brain-friendly web design, ie switching to long-term memory. The classic way to do this is through repeated use and concentrated effort. Both require effort on the part of the target person. We can hardly worry about that.

Of course it is possible witha very clear and clear designsubliminally activate the effect of repetition and “cheat” us into the long-term memory of the visitor. The concentrated effort, however, we will not be able to trigger.

Fortunately, there is another way to get the long-term memory. He leads overemotions, If you succeed in activating fundamental emotions with your design, there is a great chance to be remembered for a long time. The problem with emotions is that it is onewide gray areain which people react to the same visual stimulus emotionally completely different. So you have tounmistakable accentsset, but then you would be in extremes on the way. I do not feel so well there and therefore refrain from clearly appealing to emotions.

However, you should not ignore the factor “emotion” where the emotions of your UX design are concerned. Abad user experiencedoes cause your site to be quickly forgotten. However, the dull feeling of bad experience lasts a long time. Conversely, apositive user experienceMake sure that visitors like to come back often because it is fun to visit your site or because it is especially beautiful. The possibilities are manifold.

Links to the topic

  • How Human Memory Works: Tips for UX Designers. | UX Planet
  • Short-Term Memory and Web Usability | Nielsen Norman Group
  • The levels of memory | Brain and learning
  • The Psychology of Colors in Marketing and Branding | Dr. Web
  • Psychology in Design: These 5 Tips Will Help You with Better Interaction Design | t3n
  • Design principle: IKEA effect |
  • 7 Proven Cognitive Biases | And How They Impact Your Design | SitePoint