Human Decision Making in UX Design

March 7, 2023

Have you ever wondered why some products are more appealing to users than others? Why do some apps or websites make us feel happy, satisfied, or even addicted, while others frustrate us and make us want to quit? The answer lies in how these products influence our decision making process.

Decision making is the cognitive process of choosing among alternatives based on our preferences, goals, beliefs, and emotions. It is a complex and often subconscious activity that involves many factors, such as attention, memory, motivation, heuristics, biases, and social influences. Understanding how humans make decisions can help UX designers create better user experiences that match the users’ needs, expectations, and behaviors.

In this blog post, I will introduce some of the key concepts and principles of human decision making and how they can be applied to UX design. I will also share some examples of good and bad UX design practices that illustrate these concepts.


Attention is the process of selecting and focusing on certain stimuli while ignoring others. It is a limited and selective resource that can be influenced by internal and external factors. For example, we tend to pay more attention to things that are novel, salient, relevant, or urgent than things that are familiar, dull, irrelevant, or delayed.

UX designers can use attention to guide users’ actions and choices by making important information or features stand out from the rest. For example, using contrast, color, size, animation, or sound to highlight key elements or call-to-actions; using whitespace, hierarchy, or grouping to organize information and reduce clutter; using progressive disclosure or chunking to break down complex tasks or content into manageable steps or pieces.


Memory is the process of encoding, storing, and retrieving information. It is divided into two types: short-term memory (STM) and long-term memory (LTM). STM is the temporary storage of information that can hold about 7 +/- 2 items for about 15-30 seconds. LTM is the permanent storage of information that can hold unlimited amounts of information for indefinite periods of time.

UX designers can use memory to help users remember and recall information or actions by making them easy to encode and retrieve. For example, using clear and consistent labels, icons, or metaphors to represent concepts or functions; using mnemonics, acronyms, or rhymes to aid memorization; using recognition rather than recall to reduce cognitive load; using repetition or spaced repetition to reinforce learning.


Motivation is the process of initiating and sustaining goal-directed behavior. It is influenced by intrinsic and extrinsic factors. Intrinsic motivation is the internal drive to perform an activity for its own sake, such as curiosity, interest, or enjoyment. Extrinsic motivation is the external reward or punishment for performing an activity, such as money, praise, or feedback.

UX designers can use motivation to encourage users to engage with a product or service by making it rewarding and satisfying. For example, using gamification elements such as points, badges, levels, or leaderboards to provide feedback and recognition; using social elements such as likes, comments, shares, or reviews to provide social proof and validation; using personalization elements such as preferences, recommendations, or customization to provide relevance and value.


Emotions are not just feelings that we experience in response to events or stimuli. They also play a key role in shaping our preferences, judgments and choices. Emotions can affect how we perceive information, how we evaluate alternatives and how we act on our decisions. For example, positive emotions can enhance creativity, curiosity and exploration, while negative emotions can trigger avoidance, caution and risk aversion. Emotions can also influence how we remember our experiences and how we anticipate future outcomes.

As a UX designer, you should be aware of the emotional impact of your design on your users. You should aim to elicit positive emotions that align with your users’ goals and values, such as joy, satisfaction, trust and confidence. You should also avoid or minimize negative emotions that may hinder your users’ performance or satisfaction, such as frustration, anxiety, boredom and disappointment. You can use various design elements to influence emotions, such as colors, shapes, sounds, images, words and feedback.


Biases are systematic deviations from rationality or objectivity in human decision making. They are often caused by heuristics, which are mental shortcuts that help us process information quickly and efficiently, but sometimes lead to errors or inaccuracies. Biases can affect how we search for information, how we interpret information and how we select information. For example, confirmation bias is the tendency to seek or favor information that confirms our existing beliefs or hypotheses, while ignoring or discounting information that contradicts them. Availability bias is the tendency to judge the likelihood or frequency of an event based on how easily we can recall examples or instances of it from our memory.

As a UX designer, you should be aware of the biases that may affect your users’ decision making and try to mitigate them or use them to your advantage. You should provide clear and accurate information that helps your users make informed and rational choices. You should also avoid presenting information in a way that may mislead or confuse your users, such as using ambiguous language, misleading visuals or hidden costs. You can also leverage biases to nudge your users towards desirable actions or outcomes, such as using social proof, scarcity or authority.


Context is the set of circumstances or factors that surround a decision situation. It includes the physical environment, the social environment, the temporal environment and the personal environment. Context can affect how we perceive information, how we evaluate alternatives and how we act on our decisions. For example, physical context can influence our attention span, mood and comfort level. Social context can influence our norms, expectations and peer pressure. Temporal context can influence our urgency, patience and planning. Personal context can influence our goals, values and preferences.

As a UX designer, you should be aware of the context in which your users make decisions and try to adapt your design accordingly. You should consider how your design fits into your users’ environment and situation. You should also consider how your design affects your users’ environment and situation. You can use various design elements to enhance or modify context, such as location-based services, personalization features or gamification techniques.

These are some of the other aspects of human decision making that you should consider when designing UX. Of course, there are many more factors that influence decision making, such as personality traits, cognitive styles and cultural differences. The key is to understand your users’ needs, behaviors and motivations and design solutions that match them.

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