The psychological basis for UI design rules

Published on: Oct 16 2013 by Tom

Gestalt principle - continuityI came across a presentation by Jeff Johnson (Principal Consultant at UI Wizards) from 2008 discussing rules to user interface design – “Psych 101: The Psychological Basis for UI Design Rules”. Although it’s quite a few years old (ancient by web standards) the concepts and rules described are still very relevant today.

UI Guidelines are based on how people perceive, think, learn, act

We perceive what we expect, our vision is optimized to see structure

Our attention is limited, our memory is imperfect

Recognition is easy; recall is hard

Our perception is biased on our experience, the context, our goals.

Users don’t like to think, prefering familiar paths over exploration

Keeping track of things in short term memory is work. When we reach a goal, we often let everything related to it fall out of short term memory, that’s why we often forget “loose ends” of tasks.

Display “whole” quickly, fill in the detail later

Applying design rules in real UI designs is not simple & mindless, constraints happen forcing tradeoffs. Sometimes we must violate one rule to follow another, more important one.

You can also download the audio to acompany the presentation at

Found by on slideshare.

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