It’s been suggested that UX designers apply psychology in their process. In this post we’ll uncover practical insights of incorporating cognitive psychology into the design process

In the last few decades there has been ground-breaking cognitive psychology research done on the principles of Use Specificity, which states that a user’s learned skills aren’t transferable to other settings. At the same time, however, the principle of Conceptual Integration argued that learned skills are flexible enough to work across contexts, dependent only on training.

This is important to take into consideration as designers plan for how end users will interact with their product. Perhaps even more importantly, designers are going to have to explain why they made their decisions to stakeholders. Enter cognitive psychology.

Uncover the practical insights of incorporating cognitive psychology into your UX design processClick To Tweet

Advocating for user experience 

Nowadays, as designers are working on interconnected products with almost limitless user expectations, it is more important than ever not to hinder usability. We have to deal with these new challenges effectively when designing useful and usable products and applications, and incorporating psychology can help remove a lot of the guess work. 

Advocates for the user experience can make use of cognitive psychology principles when trying to figure out, for example: Are user’s interaction skills transferable across different UI designs or platforms? Just how much are their learned skills and expectations locked to the context of specific content and technology?

Interconnected products & near limitless user expectations means usability has never been so importantClick To Tweet

Without going too deep into neuroscience or drowning in scholarly psychology research, the following three mental processes can be used to answer these questions and effectively transform skills into delight – resulting in an enhanced user experience.

Mental Processes that transform skills into delight

Concept Learning

What it is: Developmental or learning process involving identification of commonalities in interfaces, devices, goals or feelings when using an app, usually triggered by color palettes, typefaces, design styles and interaction flows. The human mind tends to apply those learned skills and generalizes usage to new apps and products.

How it helps: Concept Learning puts users at ease by using smart friction. Also, by reducing the amount of UI interactions, we’re closing the gap between users and the goal they’re trying to achieve.

Skill Acquisition

What it is: When the human mind perceives connections between an interaction and objects in the environment. Highly applicable to Internet of things and other interconnected products and experiences. Deals with the cognitive process of obtaining knowledge, skills, or behaviors by instruction, study, or experience.

How it helps: Skill Acquisition speaks to the internal hunger that people have to belong or satisfy a meaningful experience. This motivates them to learn and adopt any particular interface or ways of interaction.

Knowledge Representation

What it is: The human mind’s way of encoding knowledge or explanations for objects, events or qualities in the physical world. A critical component in artificial intelligence products that takes into account systematically developed structures from knowledge of human experiences.

How it helpsKnowledge Representation taps into biases people possess regarding technology. Recognizing and understanding these opens up new possibilities for designers to design truly useful and usable products.


Exploring the principle of conceptual integration reveals the cognitive processes occurring in the human mind almost subconsciously when engaging with a product or app. Our job is not to ignore or hijack these, but engage with them. This is why making the case to include cognitive psychology as part of the UX design process is important, because it will enable designers to explain their design decisions intelligently.