Blog Image
Lotte van Gelderen

Lotte van Gelderen

UX Researcher

How to go from Psychology to UX Research

Where did the mindset that UX research is a profession suitable more for tech heads, or computer whizzes, come from? Was it merely the image that this career path meant using a computer for the duration of your working day? Or was it because people assumed that IF your job was to ‘create a strategy for a website’ or ‘test an application’s usability’, you must also know how to code? And know exactly how the computer that you are using works, inside and out?

This idea is very far from reality. The truth of the matter is that you do NOT have to be fascinated by the intricacies of a motherboard. You also don’t have to know everything else about how your computer’s inner tech functions. Rather, you need to learn to understand how a person functions WITH this computer. For this, holding a degree in anthropology, psychology, or sociology, is highly sought after. And I will explain why, by talking about a very common experience.

The Social World of a University Student

When entering into higher education for the first time, many people’s anticipation is centered around the raised stakes in academia, and for good reason. University’s structure puts a large emphasis on academic success and excelling for the good of future opportunities. However, the biggest change from secondary to postsecondary education is not academics. It is the complexity of social interactions, professional responsibilities, and understanding that the world of high school is as unique as it was temporary. You are put into a space that forces you to be alone, for some people for the very first time. For a lot of students, it is learning how people truly operate. For others it is how to navigate foreign social situations. But both learn how to build relationships that may very well be completely different from the ones you have had previously. For psychology students, this experience is no different.

The added component of having the opportunity to study the human experience both outside, and inside of the lecture hall, makes the psychology degree experience a unique one. It adds a layer of understanding of the biological, social, and cultural aspects of the human experience. When students finish their degree, they come out with not just knowledge of how to navigate their enriched social world. They also learn how to come closer to understanding the inner world of everyone around them.

Applying Psychology to UX Design

The interesting thing is that the journey for psychology students does not stop there, if they transition into the user experience field (also known as UX). While the university was all about the interaction humans have with each other, UX looks at the interaction between people and products. Whether these products are a speaker, a website, or a kindle ebook reader, user experience tries to understand the relationship between the product and the product’s users.

Let us take the example of a music speaker. When first thinking about purchasing a music speaker, many people will have a list of criteria that they will look for when they make their trip to the store or to a retail website. Once at the store, they will judge the speakers based on their aesthetics, durability, range of sound, portability, and so on. These criteria are important, because not only will they dictate if the person will make a certain purchase, but they will also determine if the person is satisfied with the product. And perhaps whether they would recommend it to someone else in the future.

Interacting With a Product

While the interactions are not entirely parallel, the similarities between social interactions and product interactions are easy to see. More often than not, social groups attract similar people. Commonalities like music and hobby taste, aesthetics, humor, conversational topics, etc. All these commonalities make it easier to relate to certain people. And predictable to see someone’s pattern to seek out certain characteristics. Once someone has made a friend, they are more likely to keep them if they make them feel good about themselves. Or they are able to easily laugh with them, for example. The positive interaction that someone has with a new friend, just like when they bought the music speaker, makes it more likely they will continue the interaction in the future.

Forming a Relationship with the Product

The correlation between psychology and UX does not only apply to a direct interaction, however. The relationship with a product truly starts long before someone directly interacts with the product. The reason certain people may prefer one speaker over another does not only have to do with a difference in aesthetic taste, such as wanting a pattern design over a black-and-white design. It has much more to do with how an individual experiences the world around them. Both in the present and in the past. Let us say we were to compare two people’s professions: a contractor, let’s call him Nathan, and a personal fitness instructor, Josephine. When looking for a music speaker, what Nathan and Josephine look for in the product could be wildly different. Nathan is going to look for something that he can use while he is working on building the attic of someone’s house for example. The music speaker should be able to project enough so that he can hear it, but not enough for it to project throughout the entire house. But maybe he wants something he is able to clip onto his belt or control the volume on his phone.

Finding a Solution for Them

Josephine has a very different approach. She wants a music speaker that can be heard at the very back of her studio. She will have it right beside her most likely, so the bass should not be loud enough for her voice to be drowned out, but good enough to have the class feel the rhythm of the music. It does not have to be portable per se, but should be something she can pick up and put in her trunk when she is finished with class. You can see that an individual’s profession and use would have a large impact on which speaker they will gravitate toward. The same can go for most demographics, such as age, gender, and income, as well as what is called psychographics, which focuses more on an individual’s lifestyle, values, personality, and interests. This is why we often find in UX research that demographics and psychographics are poor predictors of the behaviour people have with a product.

Understanding Both Worlds

Nathan and Josephine are but two people out of hundreds of thousands of individuals who may be interested in buying the ‘right’ music speaker on any given day. As much as every UX researcher and designer wants to be able to cater the best product to every one of their potential users, they will find, just like in the world of psychology, that this feat is unattainable.

The best thing for both fields to do is to understand your audience’s behaviours as best as possible and deliver an experience that will glean a bit of happiness into their day!

Lotte van Gelderen

Lotte van Gelderen

UX Researcher

Lotte has always been interested in what drives people. Whether in the context of mental health or in UX, she has shifted her focus to what drives people to dislike and like in their daily interactions. Whether this is what candles they burn in their house, or which photoshopping tool they prefer using over all others – understanding people as a whole is what gives her energy. She aims to continue to try to understand what makes people tick and is happily progressing in this journey of discovery.


Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.

Learn how your comment data is used by viewing Akendi's Blog Privacy Policy

Related Articles

About Akendi

Akendi is a human experience design firm, leveraging equal parts experience research and creative design excellence. We provide strategic insights and analysis about customer and user behaviour and combine this knowledge with inspired design. The results enable organizations to improve effectiveness, engage users and provide remarkable customer experiences to their audiences.