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Three Psychological Theories to Help You Design the Best Community

Written by Molly Talbert | on August 4, 2016 at 8:30 AM
Three psychological theories to help you design the best online community

Psychology helps you motivate members to take action -- but can it help you design a great website?

Community design is important, not an afterthought. Depending on its layout and ease of use, the UX can make or break a member’s experience. And you want to make their experience great and full of value, not frustrating.

Knowing a few psychological hacks can help you create a website that’s not only easy to use, but helps members take action. Here are three hacks to keep in mind when designing -- or redesigning -- your community:

1. Von Restorff Effect

This effect can be summarized in one common phrase: “That sticks out like a sore thumb.” In other words, compared to everything else, something -- it could be an image, a font size, a color -- sticks out and draws attention away from other aspects of your website.

That’s the Von Restorff Effect, otherwise known as the Isolation Effect. When you look at a series, you notice what’s different.

You can use this to your advantage if you want to call attention to something. By using differences in text size, font, color or texture, you can draw the viewer’s eyes to certain parts of your community, encouraging them to take an action,like logging in, downloading an eBook, or reading about upcoming events.

Most calls to action use this tactic. Can you see where we use the Von Restorff Effect to encourage viewers to take a certain action?

Von Restorff Effect

But this can also work to your disadvantage. Look at your site and see where your eye is drawn. Is the Von Restorff Effect drawing people to look at a jarring color, a font irregularity or a typo? Be sure that users pay attention to what you want them to see, not something that distracts them from participating or absorbing good information.

2. Selective Disregard

Imagine walking down the same busy street every day on your way to work. After a few days, you stop noticing advertisements in the subway, cars honking or people bumping into each other. You’re so used to your surroundings that nothing in particular stands out.

That’s selective disregard -- it’s where you stop paying attention to things you’re accustomed to. This happens in websites as well as in our daily lives, especially when pages are cluttered with too much information. When there is too much information to absorb, people just stop absorbing and tune things out. Pages packed with too many advertisements are a great example. After a while you stop seeing the same advertisements or pop-ups -- especially if they aren’t relevant to them.

Here’s an example of a cluttered page. There are so many options to click and several ads, including the scrolling banner ads in the middle. Rather than paying attention to the ads or the options that running down the left side, most people will probably either leave or opt for the search bar at the top.

Selective Disregard

Rather than using the Von Restorff Effect to combat selective disregard (i.e. keep everything as is and highlight certain features through difference), declutter. Simplify your community so that each page and each feature has a meaning.

Redundancy fuels selective disregard -- if it’s not helpful, people will quickly stop paying attention. So make sure that everything has a point. If your community includes banner ads, change them frequently so they don’t get old, and ensure they pertain to your members’ needs.

By going through your community and cutting images, text boxes, ads or buttons that aren’t necessary, the pages will look cleaner and members will gravitate towards what you want them to check out. It makes their experiences and engagement richer.

3. Cognitive Load

Do you ever leave a website because it’s too hard to figure out?

That’s because it’s cognitive load is too high.

Cognitive load is the effort your brain takes to figure something out. Think about doing your taxes with paper forms versus TurboTax. Which has a higher cognitive load? The paper version. TurboTax is very intuitive, easily leading the user through each page and each option.

There will always be an inherent level of brain work, no matter how simple or intuitive your website design is, but you should work as hard as you can to reduce the load.

Here’s the website for the movie, Space Jam -- which hasn’t been touched since the movie came out in 1996. It’s easy to understand the options you can click on, but the colors are jarring, especially against the stars in the background. Although this website could give any ’90s kid nostalgia, there’s a reason we don’t use highly textured backgrounds and highlighter colors any more.

Cognitive Load

Reducing cognitive load isn’t as hard as you’d think. And paying attention to the Von Restorff Effect and Selective Disregard will help you. Declutter your website, make each feature count, pay attention to color, font size and contrast -- if people strain to read or have trouble seeing dark grey on a light grey background, the cognitive load is too high.

Accessibility for all

The better your website design, the easier it will be for everyone to use, which greatly increases your audience. Anyone will be able to use your community if you minimize distractions, make important information easy to find, and design text to be readable for all audiences,including people with visual or physical impairments. And an easy-to-use website means a happier and more engaged community.


Topics: Online Community Management, Marketing, Online Community

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