Full day training course offered at Usability Week San Francisco

The Human Mind and Usability

Apply psychology principles to predict and explain how your customers think and act

Behavior is strongly influenced by unconscious thought, but it is often more predictable than you might expect. Understanding the foundations of human cognition will help explain and anticipate user behavior.

If you’re involved in interface design and don’t have formal training in psychology or human factors, your work will benefit from understanding the theory that determines which designs work best.

We draw examples from websites and web-based applications, but these principles also apply to software and hardware.

"Loved it! I now have pointers to learn about theories/principles to answer the "why can't the user get it?" Or, "why does the user like this?" question."

Chinmay Panchal

Topics covered

  • Design better websites by knowing human abilities and limitations
  • Apply human factors, cognitive psychology, and human computer interaction concepts in web design
  • Explain user behavior and anticipate the impact of designs with psychology
  • Go beyond usability guidelines to understanding their underlying reasoning
  • Attention
    • Factors affecting attention, how to get people's attention
    • Cognitive load: The effects of stress, interruptions, and multitasking
    • Multiple sensory inputs for communicating information
    • Adaptation to information overload
  • Visual perception
    • Visual acuity and discerning fine detail on screens
    • Typography, legibility, and color and contrast sensitivity
    • Contextual effects in perception, how people perceive relationships among groupings
    • Eye gaze patterns, where people look
  • Memory and knowledge
    • Memory capacity, fallible memory
    • Short-term and long-term memory, information retention
    • Working memory to accomplish tasks
    • Law of practice and forgetting
  • Strategies for information retrieval
    • Recognition compared to recall, and why they matter
    • Associative priming and information scent affects time on task
    • How users select what links to click on
  • Mental models for predicting interactions and outcomes
    • People form schemas and scripts of concepts and activities
    • Considerations for mental models in interaction design
    • Perception stronger than fact
  • Language
    • Factors that influence reading and comprehension
    • Online reading patterns
    • Word and sentence processing
    • Types of readers: Normal reading and skimming
    • Scanning: Where people look and don’t look
  • Problem solving and decision making
    • Choosing between different possibilities
    • People's tendencies to choose the path of least resistance (minimize interaction costs)
    • How distractions affect cognitive processes
    • Persuasion: Perceived value, loss aversion, positive framing
  • Social psychology
    • How groups change individual behavior
    • Social proof and how it applies to testimonials, reviews, popularity
    • Group pressure
  • Emotion-driven behavior
    • Aesthetics and first impressions
    • Pleasurable and desirable experiences


The course in an interactive lecture. You will learn to apply and practice new concepts during individual and group exercises. Additionally, we conduct in-class experiments to bring traditional studies to life.

The course also includes:

  • Findings from our own usability studies, including eyetracking
  • Videos from usability testing of people's behavior in response to a design
  • Screenshots of designs that work and don’t work, and why
  • Opportunities to ask questions and get answer

Attendee Feedback

"This course struck an engaging balance between cognitive principles and actionable examples."
"I have a psychology background but know very little about usability. It was very interesting to see how these principles apply to UX."
"I enjoyed getting a chance to re-visit and learn more about cognitive psych and how it impacts user experience. It's not often we get to discuss these topics, even though we utilize them everyday."
"I think this is a course for not only designers but for project managers/business analysts as well. Gave insights as to how to look at what would work well for the user, not simply the organization."
"I really enjoyed the real life examples - what companies did poorly w/ certain concepts and where companies excelled. It will be helpful to take back to my job and put the concepts to practical use."


Raluca Budiu

Raluca Budiu is a Senior Researcher with Nielsen Norman Group. At NN/g she consults for clients from a variety of industries and presents tutorials on mobile and tablet usability, cognitive psychology for designers, and principles of human computer interaction. She coauthored the NN/g reports on tablet usability, mobile usability, iPad usability, and the usability of children's websites, and the book "Mobile Usability". Raluca also served as a judge for GSMA Global Mobile Awards 2012-2014 and Tabby Awards 2013. She holds a Ph.D. from Carnegie Mellon University. Read more about Raluca