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Jun 20 / Rolaine Dang

The Truth About our Perception and How to Apply it on the Web

As I anticipate the day the team gets in the design phase, I thought it would be helpful to learn more about how people think and behave on a scientific level. I found this book “Designing with the Mind in Mind” by Jeff Johnson to be very helpful in explaining perceptual and cognitive psychology in relation to design.

In chapter one, Johnson talks about how our perception is not a true depiction of what is actually there. We essentially perceive what we want to perceive. Our past experience, our current situation and our goals are the factors that shape our expectations and therefore our perception.

Our Past

Perception mainly based on past experience is called “Perception bias by experience.” Our past contributes in forming our perception. In situations where we find ourselves in a similar occasion from our past, we tend to automatically presume the same outcome or result. For instance, in the image below, the user would perceive that the button on the right will always be the “Next” button. Based on the “Perception bias by experience,” users tend to get ahead of themselves and click the button with little regard, automatically presuming that all buttons in the same location are the same based on past experience.

Screen Shot 2013-06-10 at 11.17.44 AM

The Present

When our experience is influenced by the present surrounding context, this is called “Perception bias by Current Context.” The image below is great example of this bias. The meaning of “Polish silverware” can take on different meanings depending on the context it is used in. “Polish silverware” could mean the act of polishing or buffing as what the first example meant. “Polish silverware” could also mean a set of silverware from Poland.

Screen Shot 2013-06-20 at 12.13.39 PM

The Future

Our perception can be influenced by our goals. This is called “Perception bias by goals.” When we search or look for something, whether it be a physical object or something on a website, we tend to scan for things related to what we’re looking for. Everything unrelated to our goal gets filtered out and even goes unnoticed. Below is an example of a homepage that Jeff Johnson used to illustrate a particular task for a user to complete only to prove a point that a user could completely ignore the fact that they have won $100 while performing a particular task. The information about winning is unrelated to the original task and therefore was ignored.

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So how should we use these biases to our advantage to make our user’s experience better on the web? Johnson gave us three things to keep in mind.

  1. Avoid ambiguity – Assuring that information is being interpreted in the same way for all users. Resort to priming users in cases where ambiguity is unavoidable.
  2. Be consistent – Placement of controls or information and use of color, font, etc. should be consistent throughout for ease of recognition.
  3. Understand the goals – Because users always come with goals and those goals are a strong influence to their perception, make sure relavant information is prominent and use proper signaling to help identify its main intent so that users can notice/recognize and evidently use the information.

Hope this helps you as I hope it will for us. If you’d like to read along and perhaps have a discussion, grab a copy of the book at your local library or bookstore.

Designing with the Mind in Mind: Simple Guide to Understanding User Interface Design Rules by Jeff Johnson
ISBN-10: 012375030X  |  ISBN-13: 978-0123750303