The or a high-end gaming computer, these

 

The
Design of Computers

Through
Psychology

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What is Psychology, and why is a better understanding of
the ‘psychology of the user’ important to Design?

 

Almost
all homes nowadays have a computer. Be it a small portable laptop used for graphic
design, or a high-end gaming computer, these machines all have one thing in
common, which is the user. The user is imperative to design, a good design
should be built around the user, to their wants or needs, and understanding the
user through psychology is what can make a design revolutionary. This essay
will discuss how psychology has been used in almost every aspect of the
creation of the modern-day computer, from expensive lighting effects causing
people to spend more money to the intricacies of the button layout on a mouse,
that allows people to use their muscle memory while they focus on the task at
hand. There will be mention of GUI, and how it shaped the way computer
interfaces were designed, and how the feeling of autonomy encourages people to
build PC’s by themselves, with their own free will. This essay breaks down just
how important the user is to the core of the design and the importance of
learning the psychology of the user before attempting to create something with
them in mind.

Psychology,
at its core, is the scientific study of the mind and different behaviours. What
makes psychology such a fascinating field of study is the many sub-fields
contained within. Topics such as human development, cognitive processes and
social behaviour. Each of these then contains its own topics such as memory,
arousal or visceral reactions. These many topics within many sub-fields allow
researchers and designers to harness the knowledge of what makes humans think
the way they do, feel the way they do or act the way do and channel it into the
design of products. These products are specifically tailored for us, as
consumers to buy them, use them and enjoy them, through in-depth research into
psychology.

Some of
the more relevant practices include User Psychology, User Experience Design
(UX) and Human-Computer Interaction (HCI). User psychology and UX are the
studies of everything that happens within a user’s mind as they interact with a
product or design. A strong understanding of these practices is necessary in
becoming a great designer, as having a good understanding of the user means the
design can be built around their specific wants or needs. HCI allows for a more
specific form of understanding the mind of the users, this is done through the
use of computers. Understanding how humans interact with computers is essential
when developing these electronic systems. They must be fine-tuned to allow for
the best accessibility and usability for the user.

 

Computers
can be intimidating for less tech-savvy individuals, so understanding what it
is that deters people from technology can allow designers to create the
products to help the user’s experience, by making the interface more appealing,
or the entire system easy to learn and use. This essay will cover how designers
have used a knowledge of psychology and its practices to develop the home
computers that exist in people’s homes today.

In the 1980’s,
Apple released a home computer that adopted the new-founded Graphical User
Interface (GUI). A GUI is a type of user interface that relies heavily on
visuals and graphics to allow a user to traverse the computer system. Apple
will have used GUI because it allows the user to make use of the system in the
most efficient way that they are able, whether they are proficient in their use
of technology, or they are at a beginner’s level. It is more efficient because
GUI makes use of familiar symbols and shapes to guide the user through their
experience. GUI is now used on every computer released today.

Having
the knowledge of how to create a good Graphical User Interface, requires a
solid understanding of psychology of the user. GUI falls under some topics of
psychology, specifically visceral reactions, memory and patterns. Visceral
Reactions are one of the 10 Psychological Principles and are explained as when
humans see something they recognise subconsciously and have an emotional
reaction towards it without quite knowing why. An example would be the colour
red meaning warm or danger. In GUI symbols are used to allow for ease of
understanding. A symbol such as a trash bin, this would be used for deleting
unwanted files, or having the graphic for a button, because users will
inherently want to push buttons, it is in embedded in the DNA of the human
mind.

GUI
relies heavily on the minds ability to memorise things consciously and
subconsciously. We expect things to be on our computer screens because it is so
ingrained into our memory as we use the systems over and over. In Susan M.
Weinschenk’s “100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People”, Weinschenk
states that people use computers so much that we have gotten used to the layout
of typical websites and programs (Weinschenk,
2011). So much so that when a page is opened they look at the centre, they
ignore the blank space, the borders and the logos, they instead bring all their
attention and focus to the middle of the screen. This is where they remember
all the important information is stated. So, using GUI correctly is a huge
advantage as there are more people who will be able to understand the
information that is trying to be displayed. Although designers must try make
their pages as appealing as possible, they cannot distract from the essential
areas of interest.

 

 

 

Another example of how designers use memory to promote the
enjoyment and ease of use of their product, is the design and feel of the
mouse. When computers were first released to the public, the mice that came
with the computers and keyboards were extremely simplistic. They had a single
button for clicking, and they moved to the limits that the connecting wire
allowed them. Nowadays the mice that are used in people’s homes, particularly
gaming mice, can have up to 10 or 12 buttons on them. Ranging from the left and
right clicks, to number pads, often referred to as “Numb Pads”, and a DPI (Dots
per inch) adjuster. Having this broad range of buttons allows people to use
their muscle memory such as when they are playing video games for example.
Their conscious minds are focussed heavily on the actual gameplay, whereas
their subconscious minds are using muscle memory to remember the buttons on
their mouse, like change weapon, or throw grenade. Another computing example of
how muscle memory is utilised is when an advanced or professional user is using
the keyboard to type and can instinctively know the location of each and every
key (Salisbury, 2013). They
instinctively know where the buttons are and press them to achieve the desired
effect, without having to look away from the screen. Consumers find
this to be a very desirable feature, as many people love the feeling of doing
well in a game, and this allows them to improve their skill and more overall
enjoyment of the product.

 

The way people feel when using a computer is extremely
important. There are certain aspects of today’s home computers that spark
emotional feedback from people interacting with them. Take the mechanical
keyboard. A mechanical keyboard is operated and functions in the exact same way
as a regular keyboard or laptop keyboard, it has the same purpose and usage.
The difference that comes with a mechanical keyboard is that when a key is
pressed a satisfying ‘clack’ sound is produced. This is due to the keyboard having
switches imbedded underneath the keys, that make this sound when a key is
pressed. These keyboards sell very well in the PC community, this is almost
entirely due to the feel and sound of the keys. When people receive feedback
from doing an action, and the feedback is satisfying, then they will be more
inclined to repeat the action over and over. This is due to the brain enjoying
the positive feedback it is receiving and will always want more.

In this
next section we will discuss how psychology is used when designing the look of
the computer itself, from the keyboard to the computer tower. In Don Norman’s
Ted Talk “3 Ways Good Design Makes You Happy”, Norman speaks about the design
of the objects and tools that are used by people on a day to day basis, and how
through psychology, these can be designed to be much more enjoyable and usable
than other products (Norman, 2003).
In the talk Norman explains that he purchased a juicer purely on its pleasing
aesthetics.

 

The
juicer was a gold-plated, special edition, and it came with a notice that
stated that the juicer cannot be used to make juice, due to acid in the fruits
ruining the gold plating. Norman is conveying that if something is designed in
such a way that is very pleasing on the eye, then it can cause people to shell
out any amount of money for it, even if the end result is that it cannot
perform its original task. This is interesting as to some people the juicer
would now be pointless, useless, because it can no longer extract juice from
fruits. To others however, like Norman, they enjoyed the visual design of the
juicer so much that that is why they originally purchased it, it is performing
the task that they bought it for to a further degree, which is to be visually
attractive on the eye.

This
phenomenon is also apparent in computer design. A PC gamer for instance, will
have a set up in their home with a computer tower, a monitor, keyboard, mouse,
and maybe some speakers or a headset. A certain thing that these all have in
common nowadays is lighting. These devices, especially gaming apparatus, will
more than likely have some form of coloured light source emitting from the
centre or sides or trim. People find these lights very appealing and will often
opt for the more expensive hardware if it provides them with more lighting
options.

So, like
the juicer, users are willing to spend money on certain apparatus purely on the
coloured lighting choices that it provides, even though the hardware may not do
anything more, or less, than any other, people still spend extra, so their home
set up colours can match. One of the principles of Gestalt Psychology is the
Law of Similarity. This law relates to this idea of purchasing matching
equipment. The Gestalt psychologist Kurt Koffka was quoted within an article in
which it says he summarised the law’s meaning well with this: “The whole is other than the sum of the
parts”. The article explained this with:

“The human eye and brain perceive a unified shape in a
different way to the way they perceive the individual parts of those shapes.” (Soegaard, 2017)

This
explains why the users like to see all the equipment and hardware match up like
a whole unified machine. It is more attractive on the eyes to have all the
colours match and everything set out neatly, this gives the user more enjoyment
when they use their system.

This can
be compared to what the old mice used to look and function like when home
computers were first released. They were simple and plain, they had at most two
buttons, and they did their job. Nowadays it is about the colour and shape and
features, yet at its core, the mouse still functions the same purpose as the
originals, it just costs more. Spending extra amount for these features is still
entirely up to the consumer though.

 

Autonomy
in psychology is the ability to makes choices and decisions under a person’s
free will (Lickerman, 2012). This
can be applied when discussing the design of computers today. Almost all
computers can be opened and have pieces taken out, or put in, or replaced, the
only problem before was that it was extremely complicated to do. It would
require superior knowledge of technology and the specific computer that is
being worked on. Nowadays it is becoming easier and easier for people to build
their own PC’s in their homes. It is a much more common practice now, as
computers are being built in separate, specific parts. This allows for people
to do it themselves at home by looking up a simple online tutorial, and
following the easy guidelines for assembly. This also allows people to create
their desired computer to their exact specifications and needs, letting the
user become a part of the design process, and allowing the product to become as
tailored to the consumers wants and needs as possible. The feeling of autonomy
comes from when the user builds the computer themselves, they can decide what
pieces best suit them or they can upgrade their hardware to a higher spec whenever
they like. The possibilities are endless, and they have all the control.

Building
a PC also falls under another 1 of the 10 Psychological Principles which is
Cost-Benefit Analysis. Cost-Benefit Analysis is when user’s behaviour is
altered or hindered by their perception of the difficulty of a task, in
relation to their perception of the rewards and benefits it will gain them.
This basically means that if a task requires a high energy cost to perform,
then we will not do it, unless the reward is equally as high. This relates to
building a computer as it takes some time to perform, and can cost a very high
amount of money if the user is so inclined, but the reward is extremely high in
return. The user will have a fully functioning, customisable piece of hardware
that will allow them to do the work they need to or play the games they want
to. They will put in the time, effort and resources to create it as it will
benefit them greatly in the long run.

In
conclusion, understanding the psychology of the user is essential in creating a
design for consumers. Having a good knowledge of the people who will be using
the product, will not only allow the designer to create a product that is
tailored specifically for the user experience, but will also allow designers to
evaluate how they perceive the brain to work, and apply it to creating new and
original designs. The psychological principles allow the designers to
manipulate the users mind by giving them things that they don’t even know they
want, as they can trigger subconscious emotions and attractions, that the user
does not even know is happening. Knowing the users elevates the product’s
usability, accessibility, functionality and visuals.

 

 

 

 

References

 

Lickerman, A. (2017). The Desire for Autonomy. Psychology
Today. from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/happiness-in-world/201205/the-desire-autonomy

 

Norman, D. (2017). 3 ways good design makes you happy.
Ted.com. from https://www.ted.com/talks/don_norman_on_design_and_emotion

 

Salisbury, D. (2013). Study gives new meaning to ‘let your
fingers do the walking’. Vanderbilt University. From https://news.vanderbilt.edu/2013/12/04/automatic-typing/

 

Soegaard, M. (2017). The Law of Similarity – Gestalt
Principles (1). The Interaction Design Foundation. Retrieved 13 December 2017,
from https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/article/the-law-of-similarity-gestalt-principles-1

 

Weinschenk, S. (2011). 100 things every designer needs to
know about people (p. 13). Berkeley, CA: New Riders.