User experience (UX) research can provide insights into why users are interacting with your website as a whole, how they interact with certain design elements and possibly why they might abandon ship - of course, you don’t want that to happen! So, how can design influence behaviour?

The challenge - Cognitive overload

We are constantly exposed to marketing and information. A simple trip to the supermarket can leave us bamboozled over which can of beans (of the 15 brands available) is the one we really want. Simple decisions are complicated by hyperchoice.

The same goes for online experiences. Users can become inundated with a whole host of alternatives while browsing for goods and services online.

In psychology, ‘cognitive load’ refers to a theory (developed by John Sweller) of how much memory capacity is used to translate or complete tasks (i.e. learning). In its simplest form, the theory suggests that ‘instructional design’ can be utilised to alleviate the demand, AKA cognitive load. This principle aligns with interaction and user experience design theory.

How to facilitate decision-making

Great UX design supports your users in achieving their goal, by reducing the number of actions and steps required to achieve said goal. Amazon, for example, launched their one-click purchase path back in 1997. This allowed returning consumers, to make purchases by simply clicking on a “Buy now” button, with all transaction data automatically populated, meaning the transaction could be completed in one simple action (with the technology doing all the heavy-lifting behind the scenes). The elegance of this solution, led to increased purchases and revenue for Amazon, as well as heightened consumer expectations. So, it’s not surprising that many others have since followed suit.

Top tips aid a user decision-making:

  • Split complex processes into smaller steps
  • Shorten the decision-making process - try to remove unnecessary steps and let technology work on behalf of the user (i.e. personalisation, automation, data storage, etc)
  • Minimise visual clutter
  • Provide visual cues and meaningful interaction design, which provide indicators of intent and action
  • Reduce distractions - great online purchase paths tend to be isolated from other web content, thus ensuring the consumer stays focused on completing the purchase. This can be enhanced by carefully placed call-to-actions and other visual cues.

Processing fluency - Building familiarity with visual aids

With so many potential customer touch points , it’s important to strive for consistency throughout. Creating familiarity and a recognisable online presence, will build confidence in your brand across channels and communications.


A great example of this is Nike, with their “Find your greatness” campaign. Building on the look and feel of the highly successful “Just do it” campaign, they created a consistency in font and structure that clearly shouted Nike (despite not always having explicit branding present).

Top tips for creating familiarity:

  • Consistent images and fonts
  • Colour pallete - ensure that branding materials consistently adhere to the same colour palettes.
  • Congruent with the messages and brand voice being used throughout all marketing platforms.

Manage expectations

Filling out forms, applications or details for a free download, registration or purchases can become a laborious and mundane task. Rather than having your users ask ‘why bother?’, you want to encourage them to see the task through to the end. Keeping the user informed along the way will encourage them to fulfill the task required.

Top tips for aiding conversions:

  • Keep their eye on the prize - Tell users where they are in the process and what is left to complete
  • Create a sense of urgency - for example, telling them that “tickets will be held for 10 minutes only” once purchase path has been entered
  • Allow for simple saving of information, so that they can return to the journey at a later point should they be unable to complete at that time
  • Make it easy to continue their journey with you thereafter - this doesn’t have to be goodbye!

Reward good behaviour


Little rewards/treats can trigger positive responses from a user. Associating benefits for interacting with your content, goods, services or brand creates positive reinforcement and encourages loyalty.

A reward can come in many forms, from as little as a ‘thank you’ email for participating in a survey, to giving a 10% discount for registering as a new member or indeed the instant gratification of a match pop-up post right-swipe.

Fitness wearable brand FitBit effectively use a reward system within their current app and product. When the user successfully achieves their daily goals (steps, calories and or distance walked), the FitBit product will vibrate, as well as alerting the user on their connected device. This lets the user know that they’ve achieved something in a gamified manner, allowing them to feel good about themselves and remain engaged with the product.

Top tips for rewarding:

  • Incentivise customer retention - It’s not all about new customers. Users who continually shop with you, need to be reminded that their sales are appreciated. Large supermarkets like Tesco have become pioneers of this, with the use of their “Clubcard” loyalty scheme.
  • Entice acquisition - A common practice is referral schemes, whereby discounts or money back is offered in exchange for contact details. This acts as a reward for providing potential new leads.
  • Recapture - remarketing is a great way to recapture users who may have dropped off from the purchase path and an opportunity to show them that you care with an offer that teases them back.

Great online design is all about supporting users in their online learning. To do this you need to understand who they are and what they want to do. So remember, once you’ve got a grasp of this - simplify, familiarise, guide, be explicit and reward.