Human Brain: Working & Its Application in Design

Abhishek Narayan Singh
5 min readJul 2, 2021

This article shares a few of the learning I gained from taking the course “The Brain and Technology: Brain Science in Interface Design” on the IxDF learning platform. I will recommend this course to anyone interested in knowing the working of our mysterious brain.

Source: VectorStock
  • Computer evolved from the hardware(mechanical; IBM PC, Macintosh) to software(informational; MS-DOS, MS Office) to computer-mediated human communications(Psychological; email, google search, phones, www) to computer-mediated online communities & actions(social; Facebook, Twitter, Airbnb, Uber). So, computer technology can fail and do fails due to non-technical reasons. Ex- computer technology not supporting people or society will fail. That’s why UX design is so important today.
IBM Personal Computer | Source: Wikipedia
  • Information overload is a fact of human life & we have evolved for millions of years to deal with it, but this should not be the case in digital space. We can use the technique of i)prioritising, ii)simplifying(by chunking info into meaningful-logical groups), iii)directing attention(we have a unique ability to focus on one sound out of many) & iv)contextual just-in-time methods to reduce information overload.
  • Engage the full brain: Try to engage various parts of the brain through your design to evoke many aspects of the brain processing to give a fuller human experience. It supports attention & increases memory. For example, use sound, text, image, colour, texture, motion, etc., to communicate/design. Different parts of the brain will process these different types of sensory input & will give a richer experience. That’s why multi-media are engaging. And remember engaging the brain is not information overload.
Source: Pinterest
  • Human attention is always moving. We scan the visual field & the text. We do not necessarily read. Attention evolved to handle danger & opportunity. Sudden movements, emotional things and unusual things attract attention. It’s limited. So when designing, keep this in mind and grab the attention wisely.
  • Limit the options in interface design: As the number of options increases, so does decoding time. People recognise numbers(7 is one of 10 numbers) faster than letters(A is one of the 26 letters). So, “50% off” is easier to read than “Half the price” or “Two for one”.
  • Nothing should interfere with border: Border is fundamental in the activity of seeing. Anything that messes up with the object border will be hard to see. While designing, be mindful of it.
  • Our brain has evolved to identify the context(prior processing) and uses it to deal with information overload. For eaxpmle, you can esaily raed tihs snetecne, beacsue yuor biran is uinsg the folw of tihs snetecne (or any sentence) as a cotnext to reudce the aomunt of prcosesing. In other words, to reduce information overload. So when designing, use the context to reduce the information overload.
Both are exactly the same image | Turn 90 degrees to see
  • Bias is when a prior processing context predisposes a particular perception. E.g., bearded men are bigger. Bias is a problem for science, but priming the brain based on context is necessary to handle life.
  • Design for consistency: Consistency means people do not have to learn new things as they move around a site. It helps to minimise brain processing changes because even a small change like font, colour, etc., requires the brain to retool its corresponding neural machinery. For older people, consistency is even more critical because it’s challenging to retool the neural machinery as we age. That’s why older people are not comfortable around technology.
  • Attract the amygdala: Visitors judge your site in less than 1/10th of a second based on the look & feel of your website. It’s the intuitive brain(amygdala) making the decision. Scrolling down depends on it.
  • We do not see with our eyes; we see with our brains. Interestingly, our visual processing evolved to be useful, not to be correct; and predict not to see outer reality. See the below images. You will see two triangles, one with the black outline facing up and the second with almost no boundary facing down. You will also be seeing that the triangle with almost no boundary is brighter than the one facing up, but the fact is it’s a PNG image with no background. This means the brightness for both the triangle is the same but your brain is processing it otherwise. Interestingly, Knowing it’s an illusion does not alter what the brain sees. If you notice, you will see that the facing up triangle is not broken but the facing down triangle is obscuring it but in fact, the facing up triangle is broken. We do not see the reality, we see what our brain wants us to see.
Kanizsa’s Triangle | Source: Wikipedia
  • Icon Design: Recall that we scan the visual field. We do not necessarily see/read. While scanning any visual area, our brain looks for the key features & anchoring points. That’s why when a toddler starts drawing the human body; he draws only face & limbs. He will not draw the trunk because that’s not important to the brain when it comes to recognising a human body. In Miki mouse, have you noticed that only 4 fingers are there? So when you are designing the icons, identify the key features, omit non-key features and exaggerate/enhance key features for an intuitive icon design.
  • Our human intellect(neo-cortex) evolved to justify & to make excuses, not to innovate. So when you are challenging a cultural/social/personal belief through design, be mindful. Humans are not forward-thinking(working logically from facts to new conclusions) but backwards-thinking (working from the desired conclusion to explain new facts).

Thank you for your time. I would love to hear your thoughts. Feel free to comment.



Abhishek Narayan Singh

UX Designer | Usability Analyst | Wongdoody(Infosys XD) | IIT Guwahati