5 Psychology Studies for Smarter Web Design

Research into the human mind is a very important area to stay informed on.

Over on Sparring Mind, I discuss the relation between social psychology and content marketing for startups (That tie-in is very obvious, as psychology is directly related to popular content).

The thing is, many psych studies can actually serve as an amazing resource for web designers as well, because they can give some insight on how the human mind works (and how it interacts with websites).

Today I’ve got 5 such studies that will give you some solid research on smart web design.

Without further adieu, let’s dig in!

1.) Too many options ensure NONE will be chosen

In the now famous study (well, among psychology nerds :)) by Sheeya Iyengar, we were able to get some amazing insights on how people react to different amounts of options.

The overall conclusion?

Choice is demotivating.

Professor Iyengar (author of The Art of Choosing) came to this conclusion with her “jam study”:

She set up two different displays at an up-scale grocery market, alternating between the amounts of jam that she had on display.

On one Saturday, she would offer 24 flavors, and on the other, she offered only six flavors.

On which day do you think more people purchased the jam?

You might be surprised, but it was the day with only six flavors.


Social psychologists have noted that when people are presented with many options, they often have a very similar reaction: they choose to do nothing instead.

This is said to be the human brains ‘safety choice’, and you need to be mindful of it.

Incorporating this into web design: Too many places to click, multiple calls-to-action, and a general feeling of “clutter” will do some disastrous things to your website’s conversions rates.

On my site Sophsitefunk, I saw a huge bump in sign-ups when I removed over half of the sidebar.

Think about your websites end goal (what needs to be accomplished?) and focus on it relentlessly, cut out the excess until you are down with the essentials, and your visitors will feel more invited to stay and click.

 2.) Visitors read long widths of text faster, but prefer shorter widths

Seems like a paradox, right?

Here me out: the reason that people prefer to SEE shorter text widths is because it’s more inviting.

After they actually get reading though, they tend to read faster with long widths of text, and will prefer these wider traits since their reading becomes more fluid.

We know this thanks to amazing research by Mary C. Dyson in her piece on “How Physical Text Layout Affects Reading From the Screen”.

How can you have the best of both worlds though?

Derek Hapern has a great take on this in his post about the perfect content width:

Do you notice what’s being done?

The right aligned image is being used to shorten the line length of the first few sentences.

This is because additional analytic & eye-tracking studies have shown that people are much more likely to read content if they can get past the first few lines.

So, with shorter line lengths up top, the post becomes more approachable.

After getting people hooked, the line length goes back to normal (somewhere around 600px or more) so people can read faster.

Truly the best of both worlds.

Incorporating this into web design: As aforementioned, if you include articles on your site (or a client’s site), be sure to use right aligned images under the headline in order to decrease line length and make the post more approachable to readers.

Speaking of headline…

3.) Your headlines draw even more eyes than images!

Now this one just seems plain ridiculous, right?


In a recent study called Eyetrack III (which I cover in-depth here), it was revealed that large headlines actually hold far more attention (and more eyeballs in general) over even images.

Many web designers are already incorporating this into their layouts.

Alex Mangini, founder of Kolakube and creating of WordPress themes is using a large call to action to highlight the benefits of his themes. Images take a back seat and are included lower on the page.

Even freelancers can utilize this information.

Web freelancer Sean Davis includes a huge headline at the top of his site, and accents it with an image of himself (an easy way to incorporate both images and headlines into your design).

If your website includes content, headlines matter even more.

It’s revealed (in the same study) that people browse by headline a majority of the time: post excerpts and images are only looked at afterwards.

Incorporating this into web design: Make headlines the centerpiece of your design and be sure that they spell out just what your site hopes to accomplish.

If you sell things, it needs to be mentioned, if you’re looking for email sign-ups (as a blogger or startup looking for users), you need to make that call-to-action so obvious that people can’t miss it. Don’t worry about subtlety, worry about what works.

One last thing on images…

4.) Image captions are the most consistently read in-post content

In the book “Cashvertising” (a well-respected book that looks at the psychology of ads), author Drew Eric Whitman reveals that captions are some of the most popular “body copy” (in-post text) of anything that you can utilize.

It certainly seems this way: big sites utilize this trick all of the time.

Even Cracked is noted for doing this consistently in their posts.

Pick any humor article from that site and you’ll notice that every image is captioned, that’s done on purpose.

People’s eyes have a tendency to float downwards whenever they come across an image on the web, and these captions are partly a reason for it.

Captions are also very quick and easy to consume, thus it’s easy to use them and have people respond favorably: nearly no effort is required to read them, so they’re often read while people browse through a post.

Incorporating this into web design: If you publish long piece of content, know this: people love to browse, and many times won’t read the full piece.

You have a chance to get key points across though, and that chance comes through people’s willingness to read captions, be sure to utilize it. (Also note that text under images can help people read your ads, home page features or other images more consistently as well)

5.) People follow the “line of sight” of other people

People love big, bold pictures of other humans.

Human faces draw the most attention of nearly any image type on the web.

Did you also know that people will follow the line of sight of other people… even if it’s just a photo?

Look at the homepage of Chemisty.com:

See where she’s looking?

That’s no accident: she’s looking at the sign-up form because the Chemistry.com team wants you to sign up more than anything else, so why not draw your eyes there!

This is revealed to us by Giovanni Galfano’s study on how we react to the gaze of others.

(Fun fact: arrows work the same way! No surprise there).

Incorporating this into web design: Easy! Whenever you have the option to use the image of a human face, be sure to note where it’s looking at.

Over on Sparring Mind, I noticed a bump in conversions when I changed where my logo was facing, and that’s not even a real face!

Be sure to pay attention to gaze, over the course of time, a gaze looking at where you want people to look can have an impact on your conversions and your bottom line.

Over To You

Thanks for reading my post!

Now, it’s your turn…

  • Let me know in the comments which study was most surprising to you (if anywhere particularly surprising)
  • What’s a way that you incorporate a little psychological “trick” into your web design?
  • As a thanks for reading my post (and if you want more research), feel free to download my free e-Book on ‘Conversion Psychology’ instantly, I think you’ll like it. 🙂

Thanks for reading, and I’ll see you in the comments!

About the author: Gregory Ciotti is the founder of Sparring Mind, a blog that takes psychology + content marketing and makes them play nicely together. Download his free e-book on Conversion Psychology or get more from Greg on Twitter.

This is a post from Inspired Magazine. If you like it, you may want to subscribe to our RSS full feed to be updated on every article we’re publishing. Also, it’s highly recommended to follow us on Twitter!

5 Psychology Studies for Smarter Web Design

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