Summary: 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know about People by Susan M. Weinschenk
Summary: 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know about People by Susan M. Weinschenk

Summary: 100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know about People by Susan M. Weinschenk


Principle Takeaway
What you see isn’t what your brain gets What you think people are going to see on your web page may not be what they do. It might expend on their background, knowledge, familiarity with what they’re looking at, and expectations.


You might be able to persuade people to see things in a certain way, depending on how they’re presented.

Peripheral vision is used more than central vision to get the gist of what you see People use peripheral vision when they look at a computer screen, and usually decide what a page is about based on a quick glimpse of what is in their peripheral vision.


Although the middle of the screen is important for central vision, don’t ignore what is in the viewer’s peripheral vision. Make sure information in periphery communicates clearly the purpose of page and site.


If you want users to concentrate on certain part of the screen, don’t put animation or blinking elements in their periphery.

People identify objects by recognizing patterns Use patterns as much as possible sine people will automatically be looking for them. Use grouping and white space to create patterns.


If you want people to recognize an object (e.g. icon) use a simple geometric drawing of an object.


Favor 2D over 3D ones. Eyes communicate what they see to brain as a 2D object. 3D representations may slow down recognition and comprehension.

There’s a special part of the brain for just recognizing faces People recognize and react to faces on web pages faster than anything else on the page (at least who aren’t autistic).


Faces looking right at people will have greatest emotional impact because eyes are most important part of the face.


If a face on a page looks at another spot, people will also look at the same spot. It doesn’t necessarily mean they paid attention to it just that they physically looked at it.

People see objects tilted and at a slight angle above People recognize a drawing or object faster and remember it better if it’s shown in the canonical perspective.


Draw the icons from a canonical perspective.

People scan screens based on experience and expectations Put most important info in top 3rd of the screen or in middle.


Avoid putting anything important at the edges.


Design screen or page so people can move in normal reading pattern. Avoid patterns where they must bounce back and forth.

People see cues that tell them what to do with an object Give people cues about what they can do with an object (e.g. buttons, links).


Use shading to show when an object is chosen or active.


Avoid providing incorrect affordance cues.


Rethink hover cues for touch devices.

People can miss changes in their visual fields Don’t assume people will see something on a screen just because it’s there.


Put additional visual cues (such as blinking) or auditory cues (such as a beep) so people notice a change.


Be cautious about how you interpret eye-tracking data. Don’t ascribe too much importance to it or use it as the main basis for design decisions.

People believe that things are close together belong together If you want items to be belonging together, put them near.


Before using lines / boxes to separate items or group them together, try experimenting with amount of space first. Sometimes white space is enough. You’ll also be reducing visual noise that way.

Red and blue together are hard on the eyes Avoid putting blue and red or green and red near each other.
9pc of men and 0.5pc of women are color-blind Check your images and web sites with or to see how they’ll to those who are color-blind.


Use a redundant coding scheme (thick lines, boxes) to imply a certain meaning.


Consider colors that works for everyone.

The meanings of colors vary by culture Choose your colors carefully, considering their meanings.


Pick a few major cultures that you’ll be reaching out and check color associations for that culture.

It’s a myth that capital letters are inherently hard to read People perceive all capitals as shouting.

Save all caps for headlines, and when you need to get attention.

Reading and comprehending are two different things People are active reader’s What they understand and remember from what they read depends on their experience, point of view and instructions given beforehand.


Don’t assume people will remember specific info in what they read.


Provide a meaningful headline. It’s one of the most important things you can do.


Tailor the reading level of your text to your audience. Use simple words and fewer syllables to make your material accessible to a wider audience.



Pattern recognition helps people identify letters in different fonts Serif and sans serifs are equal in terms of readability.


Unusual or overly decorative fonts can be counterproductive.


If people have trouble reading font, they think the subject is hard to understand.

Font size matters Choose a point size large enough for people of different ages to read comfortably.


Use a font with a large x-height for online viewing so the type will appear to be larger.

Reading a computer screen is harder than reading paper Use a large point size for text that will be read on a computer screen. This will help to minimize eye strain.


Break text up into chunks. Use bullets, short paragraphs and pictures.


Provide ample contrast between foreground and background. Black text on a white background is most readable.


Make sure your content is worth reading. It all boils down to whether the text on the page is of interest to your audience.

People read faster with a longer line length, but they prefer a shorter line length Use a longer line length (100 chars per lien) if reading speed is an issue.


Use a shorter line length (45 – 72 chars per line) if reading speed is less critical.


For a multipage article, consider using multiple columns and a shorter length (45 chars per line).

Short-term memory is limited Don’t ask people to remember info from one place to another.


If you ask people to remember things in working memory, don’t’ ask them to do anything else until they’ve completed that task. Working memory is sensitive to interference – too much sensory input will prevent them from focusing attention.

People remember only 4 items at once The rule of them is include no more than 4 items in each chunk.


People tend to use external aids (notes, lists, calendars, appointment books) so they don’t have to rely on memory.

People must use information to make it stick If you want people to remember something, go over it again and again. Practice really makes perfect.


Reason you do customer research is to identify their psychographics as well as demographics.


If people already have a schema that relates to information you’re providing, make sure you point out what that schema is. It’ll be easier form them to learn and remember info if they can plug it into an existing schema.

It’s easier to recognize information rather than recall it Eliminate memory load whenever possible.


Try not to require people to recall info. It’s much easier for them to recognize than recall it from memory.

Memory takes a lot of mental resources (more so than visual and motor) Use concrete terms and icons. They’ll be easier rot remember.

Let people rest (even sleep) to retain info.


Don’t interrupt people if they’re learning or encoding info.


Information during presentation will be least likely to be remembered.



People reconstruct memories each time they remember them Don’t rely on self-reports of past behavior. People will not remember accurately what they or others did or said.


Take when people say after the fact – when they’re remembering using your product, for instance, or remembering the experience of calling your customer service line – with a grain of salt.

It’s a good thing that people forget People are always going to forget.


What people forget is not a conscious decision.

Design with forgetting in mind. If some info is important, don’t rely on people to remember it. Provide it for them in your design, or have a way for them to easily look it up.

The most vivid memories are wrong If you know that someone had a dramatic or traumatic experience, understand 2 things 1. They’ll be convinced that what they remember is true 2. It’s not exactly true!
People process information better in bite-sized chunks Use progressive disclosure. Show people what they need when they need it. Build in links for them to get more info.


If you must make a trade-off on clicks vs thinking, use more clicks and less thinking.


Before you use progressive disclosure, do your research and know what most people want and when they want it.

Some types of mental processing are more challenging than others Evaluate loads of existing product to see if you should reduce one or more loads to make it easier to use.


When you design a product, remember making people think or remember (cognitive load) requires the most mental resources.


Look for trade-offs, e.g. reduce cognitive load by increasing a visual or motor load.

Mind wanders 30pc of the time People will only focus on a task for a limited time. Assume their minds are wandering often.


If possible, use hyperlinks to grab onto this idea of quickly switching from topic to topic. People like surfing because it enables this type of wandering.


Make sure you build in feedback about where people are so that if they wander, it’s easier for them to get back on track.

The more uncertain people are, the more they defend their ideas Don’t spend a lot of time trying to change someone’s ingrained beliefs.


The best way to change a belief is to get someone to commit to something very small.


Don’t just give people evidence their belief is not logical, or tenable, or a good choice. This may backfire and make them dig in even harder.

People create mental models People always have a mental model.


People get their mental models from experience.


Not everyone has the same mental model.


An important reason for doing user or customer research is so you can understand mental models of your target audience.

People interact with conceptual models Design the conceptual model purposefully. Don’t let it backfire by technology.

Secret to design intuitive UX is making sure the conceptual model of your product matches, as much as possible, the mental models of your target audience. If you get that right, you’ll have created a positive and useful experience.


If you’ve a brand-new product that you’ll know not match anyone’s mental model, provide training to prepare people to create a new mental model.

People process information best in story form Stories are the natural way people process info.


Use a story if you want people to make a casual leap.


Stories aren’t just for fun. No matter how dry you think your info is, using stories will make it understandable, interesting and memorable.

People learn best from examples People learn best by example. Don’t just tell people what to do. Show them.


Use pictures and screenshots to show by example.

Better yet, use short videos as examples.

People are driven to create categories People like to put things into categories.


If there’s lot of information and it’s not in categories, people will feel overwhelmed and try to organize in their own.



Time is relative Always provide progress indicators so people know how much time something is going to take.


If possible, make the amount of time it takes to do a task or bring up information consistent, so people can adjust their expectations accordingly.


To make a process seem shorter, break it up into steps and have people think less. It’s mental processing that makes something seem to take a long time.

There’re 4 ways to be creative Deliberate and cognitive creativity.

Deliberate and emotional creativity.

Spontaneous and cognitive creativity.

Spontaneous and emotional creativity.



People can be in a flow state Give people control over their actions during the activity.


Break up the difficulty into stages. People need to feel the current goal is challenging yet achievable.


Give constant feedback.


Minimize distractions.

Culture affects how people think People from different geographical regions and cultures respond differently to designs. In East Asia, people notice and remember the background and context more than people in the West do (Westerners tend to be more solitary)


If you’re designing products for multiple cultures and geographical regions, then you had better conduct audience research in multiple locations.


When reading psychology research, you might want to avoid generalizing the results if you know that study participants were all from one geographical region. Be careful of overgeneralizing.

Attention is selective People will pay attention to only one thing and ignore everything else if you give them specific instructions to do so, and the task doesn’t take too long.


A person’s unconscious constantly scans the environment for certain things. These include their own name as well as messages about food, sex and danger.

People filter information Don’t expect that people necessarily pay attention to information you provide.


Don’t make assumptions. What is obvious to you as the designer many not be obvious to the people using what you’ve designed.


If you think people are filtering info, use color, size, animation, video and sound to draw attention to what’s important.


It’s critical that people pay attention to certain info, make that inform stand out 10x more than you think is necessary.

Well-practiced skills don’t require conscious attention If people perform a series of actions again and again, the action will become automatic.


If you require people to perform a sequence repeatedly, make it easy to do, but realize that the trade-off is that people may make errors because they no longer are paying attention.

Make it easy for people to undo not only their last action, but also an entire sequence.


Rather than requiring people to perform a task over and over, consider a design where they can choose all the items they want to act on and then perform the action on all the items at once.

Expectations for frequency affect attention People will build an unconscious mental model of how often an event occurs.


If you’re designing a product or application where people need to notice an event that rarely occurs, use a strong signal to get their attention when it does.

Sustained attention lasts about 10 minutes Assume that you have at most 10 minutes of a person’s attention.


If you must hold attention for longer than 10 minutes, introduce novel information or a break.


Keep online demos shorter than 7 minutes.


People pay attention only to salient cues Decide what the salient cues are for your audience.


Design so salient cues are obvious.


Realize people only pay attention to salient cues.

People can’t multitask People will tell you they can multitask, but they can’t


Those who describe themselves as multitaskers are probably the worst at it.


Young people do not multitask better than older people.


If you require people to multitask, expect them to make lots of errors and build in ways for them to fix them afterwards.

Danger, food, sex, movement, faces and stories get the most attention It may not always be appropriate to use food, sex, or danger in your we page or software application but if you do they’ll get a lot of attention.


Use images of up-close faces.


Use stories as much as you can, even for what you think is information.

Loud noises startle and get attention If you’re designing app, you may have control over sounds e.g. making mistake, reaching a goal donating money.


Pick a sound that’s appropriate to the amount of attention you need.

For people to pay attention to something, they must first perceive it Think about what you need to do with your design based on 4 quadrants of the signal detection chart. If a false alarm is worse, then tone down the signal. If a miss is worse, then make the signal stranger.
People are more motivated as they get closer to a goal The shorter the distance to the goal, the more motivated people are to each it. People are even more motivated when the end is in sight.


You get extra motivation even with the illusion of progress (case A you receive a reward card with 12 boxes where 2 is filled, case B you receive a reward card with 10 boxes). Both has 10 boxes to go but Case A has more progress, shorter distance to the goal and hence more motivating.


Motivation plummets right after the goal is reached. This is called a post-reward resetting phenomenon. If you have a second reward level people won’t initially be very motivated to reach that goal.


You’re more at risk of losing your customer right after a reward I reached.

Variable rewards are powerful The reward must be something the audience wants. Hungry rats want food pellets. What does your audience really want?


Use a variable ratio schedule for the maximum behavior repetition.

Dopamine makes people addicted to seeking information People are motivated to keep seeking information.

The easier you make it for people to find info, the more info-seeking behavior they’ll engage in.

Unpredictability keeps people searching Pairing cues such as sounds with arrival of information motivates people to seek more.


Giving small bits of info when providing a way for people to get more results in more info-seeking behavior (notification)


The more unpredictable the arrival, the more people will be motivated to seeking it.

People are more motivated by intrinsic rewards than extrinsic rewards Don’t assume money or any extrinsic reward is the best way to reward people. Look for intrinsic rewards rather than extrinsic.


If you’re going to give an extrinsic reward, it’ll be more motivating if it is unexpected.



People are motivated by progress, mastery and control If people must do a task that’s boring, you can help motivate them by acknowledging it’s boring and then letting them do it their own way.


Look for ways to help people set goals and track them.


Show people how they’re progressing toward goals.

People’s ability to delay gratification (or not) starts young People who are not good at delaying gratification will be more suggestible to images and messages of scarcity (for e.g. only 3 left in stock, only available till end of the month)
People are inherently lazy Assume that people will get things done with the least amount of work possible.


People will satisfice (satisfy + suffice), that is look for good-enough solution rather than the optimal solution.

People will look for shortcuts only if they’re easy Provide shortcuts if they’re easy to learn and use.


Provide defaults if you know what most people will want to do most of the time.

People assume it’s you, not the situation (FAE) If you’re interview people about how they use the product you’re designing, be careful of how you interpret or analyze the reviews. You’ll tend to think about “what people re going to do” based on personality and miss the situational factors.
Forming a habit takes a long time and requires small steps Give people a small, easy task to do, rather than a complex one.


Give people a reason to come back and do the task every day or almost every day.


Be patient. Creating a habit takes a long time (average 66days and up to 254 days).

People are more motivated when there’re fewer competitors Competition can be motivation but don’t’ overdo it.


Showing more than 10 competitors can dampen the motivation to compete.

People are motivated by autonomy People like to do things themselves and are motivated to do so.


Make sure your self-service is about having control and being able to do yourself.

The ‘strong tie’ group size limit is 150 people There is a limit of 150 people for your survival community near. If you don’t feel you have that tribe around you, you may feel alienated, isolated and stressed.


Your relationships with large numbers of people on social media are likely weak ties.


For strong ties, build in some amount of physical proximity and make it possible for people to interact and know each other.


For weak ties, don’t rely on direct communication among all people in a person’s network or physical proximity

People are hard-wired for imitation and empathy Don’t underestimate the power of watching someone else do something. If you want to influence someone’s behavior, then show someone’s doing the same task.


Research shows stories create images in mind that also trigger mirror neuron. Use stories if you want to get people to act.


Video at a website is especially compelling. Want people to get a flu shot? Then show a video of other people in line at a clinic getting a flu shot. Want kids to eat vegetables? Show a video of other kids eating vegetables. Mirror neurons at work.

Doing things together bonds people together Many of our online interactions are asynchronous, including most social media (twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn). Although asynchronous social activity fulfills other social needs, it does not fulfill our desire and pleasure from synchronous activity.


Because most online interactions don’t take place with others in physical proximity, there’re limited opportunities for designers to build in synchronous activity.


Look for opportunities to build synchronous activity into your product, using live video streaming or a live video or audio connection.

People expect online interactions to follow social rules Do the interactions follow rules of a person-to-person interaction?


Many usability guidelines for products are guidelines that connect to social expectations for interactions.

People lie to differing degrees depending on the media People lie most on the phone and least with pen and paper.


People are more negative toward others via email than with pen and paper.


With surveys, realize that people are likely to be more negative than they would be using pen and paper.


Phone surveys will not get you as accurate a response as email or pen and paper surveys will.


Getting customer feedback is most accurate when done in person.

Speakers’ brains and listeners’ brains sync up during communication Listening to someone talk creates a special brain syncing that helps people understand what is being said.


Presenting info through audio/video where people can hear someone talking is an especially powerful way to help people understand the message.

Don’t rely on reading only if you want people to understand clearly.

The brain responds uniquely to people you know personally All social media re not alike. Social media for friends and relatives versus those for people you’re not already connected to are different.


People are programmed to pay special attention to friends and relatives. You’re more likely to check your Facebook than your LinkedIn.


Laughter bonds people together If you want people to laugh, then laugh yourself. Laughter is contagious.
People can tell when a smile is real or fake more accurately with video If a smile looks real, it will engage the viewer and build trust.
7 basic emotions are universal Joy, sadness, contempt, fear, disgust, surprise and anger are universal emotions.


Decide which emotions drive your target audience. In addition to basic demographic information, document psychographics.

Emotions are tied to muscle movement and vice versa If the font is too small and people are squinting and frowning to read it, that may prevent them from feeling happy or friendly.
Anecdotes persuade more than data Information is processed more deeply and remembered longer if it has an emotional hook.
Smells evoke emotions and memories Scents are used in retail stores, hotels, mails and other places to evoke memories, emotions and associations.
People are programmed to enjoy surprises Things that are new and novel capture attention.


Although consistency Isa good thing, providing unexpected content and interactions is good if you want people to comeback to see what’s new.

People are happier when they’re busy People don’t like to be idle.


People will do a task rather than be idle, but the task must be seemed as worthwhile. If a task is cumbersome, they prefer to stay idle.


People who are busy are happier.


Get them to do something when they’re waiting.

Pastoral scenes make people happy People like pastoral scenes. If you’re looking for a nature scene to use at a web site, try to pick one with the pastoral elements.
People use look-and-feel as their first indicator of trust Color, font, layout and navigation are critical in making it through the first trust rejection phase.



Listening to music releases dopamine in the brain Music can be intensely pleasurable. People have favorite music that induces euphoria.


Music is very individualized. What induces euphoria in one person may have no effect for someone else.

The more difficult something is to achieve; the more people like it Filling out an application, meeting certain criteria, being invited by others – all of these be barriers to entry, but they may also mean people who o join care more about the group.
People overestimate reactions to future events Be careful of believing customers who tell you making a change to a product or design will make them happier or cause them to never use again.


Their reactions may not be as strong as they imagine it.

People feel more positive before and after an event than during it Make the planning phase longer (e.g. going on a trip, arranging a business event, building a house).


You’ll get more positive ratings if you ask people a few days after the interaction than if you ask them while they’re interacting.

People want what is familiar when they’re sad or scared Brands are a shortcut. If someone has had a positive experience with a brand in past, then that brand is a signal of safety to the old brain.


Messages of fear or loss may be more persuasive if your brand is an established one.


Messages of fun may be more persuasive for a new brand.

People will always make mistakes; there’s no fail-safe product Make sure the same end-users are testing the prototype.


Write error messages and guidelines in plain language.

People make errors when they’re under stress Research which situations might be stressful. Make site visits, observe and interview people who’re using your product, determine the level of stress, then redesign if stress is present.
Not all mistakes are bad Note whether each error sequence is positive, negative or neutral.


Concentrate on redesigning to minimize or avoid errors with negative consequences first.

People make predictable types of errors Collect data on which category of errors people are making.
People use different error strategies Don’t assume a population will be unable to finish a task just because they’re older. They may do it differently, may take more time but they’ll get it done as many tasks as younger counterparts.


People make most decisions unconsciously Know unconscious motivations of your target audience. Skeptical about what they say.
The unconscious knows first People respond to unconscious signals of danger.


Unconscious acts more quickly than the conscious mind. This means people often take actions or have preferences but cannot explain why they do so.

People want more choices and information than they can process Resist the impulse to provide too many choices.


People will always say “give me all options”. Limit the choice to 3-4.


If you have to offer more options, try to do so in a progressive way (first 3-4 then choose from a subset).

People think choice equals control People need to feel they’re in control and that they have choices.



People may care about time more than they care about money The best thing to do, of course, is to know your market or audience. If they’re influenced by prestige and possession, they met on money (brands like designer clothes, luxury brands).


Be aware most people, most of the time, are more influenced by time and experiences that produce a personal connection.

Mood influences the decision-making process You can influence someone’s mood easily, for example with a short video clip.


People in a good mood will rate a product as being more valuable if they’re asked to make the decision quickly based on their first feelings.


People in a sad mood will rate a product as being more valuable if they’re asked to make the decision in a more deliberate way.

Group decision-making can be faulty Give people a way and time to consider all relevant information on their own before they see what other people think.


Ask people to rate how confident they’re in their decision before they show that decision to others.


Once opinion sharing starts, make sure people have enough time to discuss their disagreements.

People are swayed by a dominant personality If you design as a group, be careful of following the first solution because it’s first.


Have each member write down ideas ahead of time and circulate those before the meeting.

When people are uncertain, they let others decide what to do Use testimonials, ratings and reviews if you want to influential behavior.


The more info you provide in ratings and reviews, the more influential the rating or review will be.



People think others are more easily influenced than they’re themselves Don’t believe if they say, “ratings and reviews don’t’ ‘influence my decision” Remember people are largely unaware of what is affecting them.
People value a product more highly when it’s physically in front of them Brick and motor stores may retain an edge if they have products on hand, especially when it comes to price.


Having a product behind glass or barriers may lower the price the customer is willing to pay.