Stefanie Kegel on using social psychology in UX and interaction design

We sat down with Stefanie Kegel, also known as Guerilla Girl, to find out what Stefanie thinks of psychology in design, how she uses social psychology in her work, and the future of psychology led design…

Stefanie Kegel

How important is using psychology to your field?

The dynamic of human-computer interaction is central to how Stephanie approaches her work. She enthused that interacting with a computer is no different to interacting with another human being. This is a theory called the ‘Media Equation Theory’ coined by Stanford social psychologists Nass and Reeves1. In essence, a person responds the same way to media as they do to other people – politeness, humor, cooperation, happiness, annoyance, inclusiveness, and anger. Have you ever pleaded with Illustrator as it crashes, or laughed at a humorous cat video? Your reactions are the essence of Media Equation Theory. Putting interfaces on a par with human interaction, Stefanie puts social psychology at the top of the agenda to ensure that her work has a positive effect.

Sometimes being a designer is like being a therapist

Designed interfaces and interactions are becoming more and more prominent in our lives. With the rise of bots and chat interfaces (with Facebook leading the way with their new M Messenger bots), how they interact and influence people will become even more important.

We as designers have to be aware of how the interactions we create can affect people both consciously and subconsciously.

Which psychology theories do you use frequency?

'The Stereotype content model' came quickly to mind. This model outlines how a customer’s experience is linked to the brand. The personality of the design and interactions mirror the brand’s personality. Importantly to Stefanie, they then present physical dimensions that can be assessed. As a UX consultant, Stefanie frequently advises on how to make a client’s product and interactions more effective and likeable. Stefanie pointed to some projects as an example of the theory in action, i.e. to change how a user deactivated their account.

She mentioned how this type of behaviour reflects the conflict between business goals (of keeping users) and particular user goals (of deleting their account). As such, it may seem more appealing to a company to prevent customers from deleting their account or removing their service, but as she said, this is ‘short term thinking’.

The annoyance and sometimes anger caused by making an already annoyed customer search for the delete function only compounds the issue. Negative emotions are longer lasting than positive ones, due to Baumeister’s Negativity bias2. They take longer to process in the brain, so are more entrenched, making it more difficult to change and overcome at a later date – not great for reengagement.

How do these theories inform your design process?

As a UX consultant, Stefanie is frequently brought into the middle of a product and team, having to determine the business, user and team goals. She says the key is to collect the team around one goal. This may sound easy, but as she says, ‘Sometimes being a designer is like being a therapist’.
She uses psychological theories to suggest the correct content strategy, imagery, and tone.

When asked whether she shares her psychology research directly with her clients, she replied that she found it useful to educate her clients with key research. She frequently shares relevant snippets and insights with clients, especially in cases where it may seem counter-intuitive to their business goals – as in the case of the hidden delete function.

Where do you see the future of design?

Ethics will become ever more central to design. They will play a huge part in the development of designs and intelligent application interfaces of the future.
Given that we spend on average 8 hours a day in front of a screen3, design is ever-present in people’s lives. This direct line into our brains leaves us susceptible to manipulation and other unknown effects of an immersive design world. Facebook’s recent ‘unethical’ manipulation of a person’s wall content with the aim to influence people’s positive and negative emotions is a scary example of a potential future4.


Form for thought - A blog about by Dura design psychology and design thinking for graphic designers, web designers, ui designers, ux and illustrators. Looking into the psychology of colour, user behaviour and advertising psychology.