Very few web design books I’ve seen explore the intersection of web design and psychology, which is why Neuro Web Design by Dr. Susan Weinschenk is such an interesting read. The book is not about usability or how people interact with websites; rather, it’s about why people interact with websites in terms of basic rational and emotional impulses. The book’s subtitle, “What makes them click?”, sums it up nicely.
Steeped in research
Neuro Web Design reads a lot like a textbook, citing various psychological studies that support a variety of observations such as:
- Human beings’ need to reciprocate when they feel indebted,
- Social validation as pressure to belong,
- The self-centeredness of individuals,
- If something seems unavailable, people want it even more,
- Too many choices actually make things difficult for the chooser, and
- The unconscious mind processes information as stories and pictures.
There are several more observations, but I won’t reveal all of this book’s insights. Each chapter focuses on one particular observation or rule, cites studies that illustrate how these rules operate in the real world, and then apply the rules to examples of websites. The idea is to control websites’ users’ behavior by taking advantage of the impulses we naturally share. It’s excellent material and I really got involved in reading this book, mostly because I’ve never read anything like it before. Usability books such as Steve Krug’s Don’t Make Me Think come close, but Neuro Web Design is more about natural impulses and less about usability.
Almost a book for website planners
My one criticism of Neuro Web Design is that there isn’t as much attention paid to web design as I would like. The majority of pages are devoted to the psychological material and in some chapters only a couple pages are used to apply the material to the field of web design.
Also, even though “web design” is discussed there is actually very little coverage of real design matters such as layout, color and typography. Neuro Web Design covers matters of web architecture, such as why it’s important to have product reviews (because people will want to do what others do) or try to sell fully loaded products first (because people fear losing anything). Such matters are on a different level of web design, and some web designers actually get little or no say at this stage of development—such things are sometimes decided upon by sales and marketing managers.
Neuro Web Design is an important book for any web designer’s bookshelf, and I think it applies to design in general as well. That’s partly because there is not a lot of web design-specific material in the book, which is a shame—this 150-page book could have really benefitted from 50 more pages about web design. If Dr.Weinschenk were to partner with a A-list web designer and produce a second edition of this book, I think it would be a classic.