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The psychology of UX Design for financial services

Judit Toth
Reading Time:
4 minutes

Thriving businesses evolve around the needs and wants of users; they successfully implement psychological theories and create products, and services to use with ease and desire. 

Psychology, as the study of mind and behaviour, does not provide the secrets to what people need or want but it arms us with guidance on how to find more accurate and reliable answers to the right questions. 

I attended a workshop to find out more about the key theories and their practical relationship to UX design. Below are a few of the basics we talked about. 

Joe Leech


A Procedural knowledge - Helping users reach their goals even with their eyes shut

A basic task like entering a pin number requires one to remember each digit, until it becomes a well-practised pattern that we see in front of us even with our eyes closed.

At that point what has originally been declarative, fact-based knowledge turns into procedural, performance-based knowledge and does not require (much) conscious effort from an individual.

Exploring and recognising opportunities of procedural knowledge in your service enables designing for a lower cognitive load and optimisation for a smooth process for the users to perform their desired actions.

Cognitive load - Less is more unless it’s emotional

Financial services have it difficult by providing complex services and requiring the users to learn and understand more and more at each step of the way, in addition to fighting distractions.

Situations like being at home watching Netflix and cooking dinner, while comparing and mastering insurance quotes, puts a heavy load on an individual’s (working memory) resources.

A simplified interface and process can reduce cognitive load and amount of mental effort a task may require and help the users to complete their tasks, winning against distractions.

But why stop at functional and usable when you could create a pleasurable experience? Understanding the user’s emotions does reveal more than guidelines for efficiency, it unveils clues for a desirable experience.

Mental model - Don’t disregard what’s already there

There is a first time for everything but unless you are an introducer in your sector, it is highly likely that even your new users have already developed a mental model on how they expect a specific service to work. These models are formed based on an individual’s perception and belief, rather than facts. Researching the mental models users have already developed is a great starting point to discover flaws between user’s and business’ expectations.

Biases - Acknowledge the pitfalls

If a customer, stakeholder, project manager and designer sat down in a room and were all tasked to draw or describe a single object, a cup, all their results will have a different story. The concept of a cup is widely recognised by most people but the series of decisions, before the final drawing is put down on paper, are all exposed to bias.

The many examples of cognitive biases can provide an unreliable shortcut to understanding and lead to a skewed perception of new insights. Tips to recognise them deserve their own article but acknowledging their existence is the first step to interpret them correctly.

Only when you observe does it appears that their words speak differently from their actions, revealing new, covert opportunities. Those in search of what users want to do, instead of what they have to do, will be able to disrupt routines and build new ones.Based on all these, it’s no surprise that users don’t like change. Mundane activities, repeated often, don’t require thinking from the users, they become automatic and convenient.

Based on all these, it’s no surprise that users don’t like change. Mundane activities, repeated often, don’t require thinking from the users, they become automatic and convenient.


Joe to his friends is the author of the book Psychology of Designers. A recovering neuroscientist, then a spell as a primary school teacher, Joe started his UX career 14 years ago after completing an MSc in Human Communication and Computing. He has worked with organisations like MoMa, Raspberry Pi, Disney, eBay and Marriott. Every year $3 billion goes through the products he has designed. Joe also works with many start-ups in Bristol, London, Oxford and Cambridge helping them define user need and plan the product build. 

Judit Toth
Judit is a UX Designer at Dock9.