Why a Psychology graduate is in UX

Thursday, June 23, 2016



Today marks the one month’s into my first UX job. I dived into UX immediately after graduating with a bachelor in Psychology. Within this month, I’ve had so many people asking me what exactly am I doing and how is this relevant or related to what I’ve studied. Eventually, I grew exhausted from answering these questions and I even came up with a standardised answer.

“Psychology is the study of human behaviour, attitudes, and emotions. UX is all about understanding the cognitive and perceptive capabilities and limitations of humans and applying these knowledge into designing systems and environments to complement the capabilities and limitations of humans.”

This week’s topic would further explore why I got into UX and how relevant Psychology can be in UX.

Firstly, what is UX?

UX, short for user experience, is all about the behaviours, attitudes, and emotions about the interaction with a product, service, or environment. It all began when Don Norman, a computer scientist and cognitive researcher, came up with the term user-centered design.

I took up Human Factors Psychology as a course module while I was still doing my Psychology Diploma in Temasek Polytechnic. I never really thought much of it initially but at the end of the course, I found myself in love with Human Factors Psychology. Eventually, I took on an internship with NUS HCI Lab and that really ignited the passion.

In UX, we use applied psychlogy, which is the use of psychological concepts and methods to solve practical problems of human behaviour and experience. Psychology concepts and theories can be applied into almost anything, from organisational behaviour, to even designing technology and engineering.

I enjoyed the applicability of what I’ve learnt in my academic years and the more I got into UX, the more I realised how relevant Psychology was to UX. The skills I’ve picked up in Psychology, such as qualitative research and cognitive psychology, were extremely useful in UX. I was also glad I could apply these knowledge into something besides writing theses and dissertations.

Cognitive Psychology is all about the study of mental processes such as human memory, perception, decision making processes and thinking. In UX, the ability to understand humans’ cognitive abilities is essential when developing a system, environment, or experience for humans. With a better understanding, we can develop something that does not strain on the cognitive abilities and also to reduce humans’ cognitive load.

Moreover, UX is all about understanding the users, and as a Psychology graduate, humans intrigue me and I’ve always wanted to understand more about humans, their behaviours and thought processes. Naturally, I felt a connection with UX as it allowed me to get into the minds of users and understand their behaviours and thoughts.

Active listening and empathy are skills that are very useful (some may say it’s a requirement). These are skills we, Psychology graduates, develop. We always empathize and put ourselves into the shoes of others. We listen to people talk about their lives, their experiences and not be judgmental. This is exactly what a UX professional does. As a UX professional, we often have to try to see things in the users’ perspectives and apply listening techniques when talking to users.

While Psychology is quite relevant to UX, not many in Psychology in Singapore do venture into UX. There is still a lack of awareness of how relevant Psychology can be to UX. I really do hope this blog can inspire more Psychology graduates to take on more applied roles and join me in the dark side, UX.

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