Neuroscience in Website Design: Why Your Brain Craves Good UX Design More Than Coffee


Neuroscience reveals that our brains process visuals far more quickly than text, influencing design strategies in various sectors, from Apple’s clean visuals to McDonald’s emotion-evoking colours. Design principles like minimising cognitive load and understanding eye-tracking patterns like the F-pattern and Z-pattern, help in placing crucial elements effectively on a webpage. In critical fields like healthcare, these neuroscience-backed design principles are applied to create user interfaces that minimise errors and enhance safety, as seen in the design of MRI machines.


The allure of a morning coffee is undeniable, but did you know your brain might be craving something else even more? Good design. Before you turn into a keyboard warrior, hear me out. The field of neuroscience has provided fascinating insights into how our brains process visual information, and these findings have profound implications for design. Good design isn’t just aesthetically pleasing—it’s a carefully crafted tool that can significantly impact our perception, memory and decision-making. Neuroscience, the study of the nervous system and the brain, has become the Sherlock Holmes of website design, offering clues as to why good design is not just eye-candy but brain-candy too.

The Power of Visuals

Did you know the human brain processes visuals 60,000 times faster than text? This is why platforms like Instagram and Pinterest are so popular — they offer visual stimuli that our brains can rapidly interpret, appreciate and respond to with a like or share. Imagine a post showing a steaming cup of coffee placed beside a book on a rainy window. It isn’t just about the coffee. It’s an entire mood, suggesting coziness, warmth and a moment of escape. This reassuring scene resonates deeply and immediately with viewers, who might feel a rush of nostalgia or longing without even fully understanding why. Neuroscience reveals the secret behind this by pointing to our brain’s visual cortex, which excels in swiftly decoding visual cues, connecting them to emotions, memories and deeper experiences more efficiently than textual narratives.

Emotional Impact Through Colours and Shapes

Colours and shapes have the power to evoke specific emotional responses. For instance, red is often associated with urgency or excitement. McDonald’s brand employs bright red and yellow in its logo and outlets. Neuroscience tells us that red can stimulate appetite and yellow can evoke feelings of happiness; a perfect combination for a fast-food chain aiming to attract hungry, on-the-go consumers. A bit like an espresso shot your brain didn’t know it needed.

Cognitive Load and User Experience

The concept of cognitive load refers to the mental effort required to process information. Overloading it with too much information or complex designs can lead to cognitive fatigue, making it harder for the audience to absorb the message. A well-designed user interface minimises cognitive load, making it easier for users to complete tasks. Apple’s iOS interface is a prime example. Its clean, minimalist design reduces cognitive load, allowing users to focus on their tasks. Apple is the Marie Kondo of website and user interface — clean, simple and it sparks joy in your neurons. This is in line with neuroscience research, which suggests that reducing cognitive load can enhance focus and improve decision-making.

The F-Pattern and Z-Pattern

Eye-tracking studies have revealed that people often scan web pages in an F-shaped pattern, which is not to be confused with the grade you got in art class. It’s about focusing primarily on the top and left-hand side of the screen. Amazon’s website is designed with this in mind. The most important information, such as product names and prices, is placed where users are most likely to look first.

Alternatively, the Z-pattern is used for pages that don’t have a lot of text, where the eye moves from the top-left to top-right, then diagonally to the bottom-left and finally to the bottom-right.

This design choice is backed by neuroscience, which shows that our eyes are naturally drawn to certain areas of a screen due to the way our brains process visual information.

Knowing these patterns can help designers place important elements like CTAs, logos, and key information where they are most likely to be seen.

Real-World Application

In the world of healthcare, where stakes are incredibly high, the role of design transcends aesthetics; it’s about ensuring functionality, accuracy and most importantly, safety.

Take the example of GE Healthcare’s CARESCAPE R860 ventilator. This device doesn’t boast an interface laden with advanced graphics or complicated menus. Instead, it features a touchscreen with icons that are as straightforward as a child’s drawing (but way more life-saving) But there’s a deeper science behind this simplicity. The brain, when presented with complex information or clutter, tends to experience increased cognitive load. This means it has to work harder to process the information, leading to potential errors or slower response times.

By making the interface intuitive and simple, designers are tapping into our brain’s innate ability to quickly recognise and process visual information. It’s a direct application of how our neural circuits prefer organised, clear visuals over cluttered, complex ones. The result? Medical professionals can operate the device quickly and accurately, without the need to wade through unnecessary complexities. This design choice not only ensures the device is user-friendly but more critically, it directly impacts patient safety. In the delicate balance of healthcare, where a single mistake can have dire consequences, neuroscience-informed design proves to be an indispensable ally.

The Bottom Line

Understanding the neuroscience behind good design allows us to create more effective, engaging, and impactful visual content. Whether it’s a marketing campaign, a user interface, or an infographic, the principles remain the same: cater to the brain’s preferences for simplicity, visual stimuli and emotional resonance. By doing so, designers can significantly influence how information is perceived, processed and retained, making good design an invaluable tool in any field.

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