Perception and the User Experience

How do you make sense of the world around you?

We are bombarded with a  huge amount of sensory  information every day.   We could not possibly process all of this information – our energy is a finite resource.    The cognitive process of Perception helps us select which information we play attention to, and how we interpret  that information.

So how does Perception work?

we see with our brains

  • Sensation is the reception of sensory information. Perception is the organization and interpretation of sensory information
  • Sensations are messages carried by the nerves to the brain about events going on around us.
  • Vision is probably the most important of the senses; through our eyes we see fluctuating light waves but it is not until our brain translates those images into objects do we perceive or see them. 

“We don’t see things as they are but as we are– Anais Nin

  • Perception is largely a constructive process influenced by our needs and values
  • A distortion illusion is a visual display in which the viewer is likely to make mistakes in judgments of size
  • An Ambiguous figure is an object that can be seen two ways
  • Ambiguous figures and distorted illusions show how each of us interpret what we see in our way and can be influenced by our own experience
  • We often make mistakes in our visual perception regarding size, movement and distance of objects cues in the environment such as Relative size help us interpret perspective
  • What we perceive is based on our personal past experiences, stored information, our motivations and expectations
  • We do not perceive or see every bit of information but our brains compensate by filling in the blank and we form a hypotheses of how we see the truth

perception is our best guess

  • This often leads to perceptual bias and/or error
  • Perceptual defence is when somebody refuses to see or accept the event as it happening. They perceive it in a different way to suit themselves


Perception and the User Experience

Understanding your customers perceptual set

Perceptual sets or templates describe our tendency to perceive things in a certain way. We construct these templates though experience (Henriques, 2013).  These templates help us classify or filter stimuli we are exposed to; they can be deep rooted and persistent and will colour how we experience things . Or how users engage with something.

Mental model

A better understanding of your customers mental templates will allow you to contruct mental model diagram highlighting your users’ needs and expectations as they engage with your product and should help design a more aligned experience.


Constructing the user experience; Gesalt principles:

The Gestalt principles, developed by German psychologists in the 1920s, are rules about how people group or classify objects as they perceive them.    The word Gestalt means “whole” and the psychologist’s behind these principles believed that when it comes to how humans perceive things, that “the whole is greater than the sum” of its individual parts

whole greater than the sum

We as humans tend to group what we see into different categories or patterns so it quicker and easier to interpret or recognise objects.  An understanding of these principles allows us to design better user experiences:

  • Similarity – we group things together on how similar they are to one another.  We normally perceive similar objects as a group or as a pattern
  • Proximity – this principle states that when we see objects that are placed close together we tend to perceive them as a group.
  • Closure –  -when an object is incomplete, yet there is enough for us to make a guess, our perception will complete the picture