5 Things Product Managers Can Learn From User Psychology

Renuka Savant | 6 min read

As a product manager, you’re not totally off track for believing that user psychology comes under the UX domain. But this quote by Frank Chimero puts things in a different light –

“People ignore design that ignores people.”

Almost every tome on product management harps about the importance of understanding the users in order to build a product they need. User psychology is an inherent part of the product creation process, which is why it ought to become a priority for product managers.

Understanding human psychology comes in handy to product managers as they play an active and lead role in the product creation process. By studying the principles of behavioral psychology, a PM can better understand the potential strengths and flaws of a product idea and drive the creative process towards creating something impactful and worthwhile for the users.

User Psychology for Product Managers

user psychology

The underlying patterns of human behavior can be studied and quantified and put to good use to enhance user experiences. User psychology is an invaluable tool in the PM’s arsenal which helps navigate the vagaries of user behavior and create a delightful experience. Common UX issues can be overcome beforehand by incorporating some key principles of user psychology into UX decisions, resulting in improved outcomes. So, here we go.

How can Product Managers make the most of User Psychology?

The essential bit needed is to let go of the frameworks, priorities, and feature requests for a second and look at it from a purely human perspective. What triggers people, what irritates them, what motivates them and what moves them often shed more light into a user’s perception and behavior than a standalone usage report that throws light on the what but never the why.

1. Understand what motivates humans

Users are humans, and humans are emotional beings. They cannot be expected to behave as we intend them to – they’re not always linear, not always rational. Although UX practitioners strive to create a user-friendly product even that sometimes fails to engage users efficiently.

One revelation that most PMs experience while creating new products or features is that what users say and what they actually do can be radically different. Therefore, it is important to understand the triggers behind human motivations by learning user psychology. This is what forms the base for leading user research in the right direction and designing a product that is more efficient. It helps PMs to understand the limits of user interviews as a research method and pushes them to take a more proactive approach such as taking time out for observational research.

2. Not think of themselves as the user

The false-consensus effect as mentioned in this great NN article refers to “people’s tendency to assume that others share their beliefs and will behave similarly in a given context. Only people who are very different from them would make different choices”.

The article describes how, unlike scientists, “layperson psychologists” (that is, all of us who are put into the position to guess how others would behave) tend to overestimate how many people share their choices, values, and judgments, and perceive alternate responses as rare, deviant, and more revealing of the responders.

So, it wouldn’t be wrong to say that along with UX designers and developers, PMs can also assume that people who will use their interfaces are like them. That they and their colleagues are the perfect set of users, and it’s alright to make generalizations based on that example. But products, especially great products are made keeping the users in mind, and not people who are like the users.

Therefore, it is important for PMs to acknowledge this bias and educate themselves about it. And, then discover that the best way to overcome this bias is to invest in testing with real users and learn how they respond to the designs by watching them. It is the only way to stop making assumptions.

3. Too much of anything is never good

A restaurant like The Cheesecake Factory can be a nice experience until you have to pick from their wide selection of cheesecake flavors. It can be a surprisingly stressful choice. There is an explanation for it – Hick’s law – which is based on a study that examined the correlation between the number of stimuli presented with their reaction time. It discovered that participants find it increasingly difficult to make a choice when presented with larger amounts of stimuli. User experience is no different – the larger the number of options, the more difficult it becomes to make a choice. Therefore, the best way to relieve the user from the unwanted stress of making a choice, always to provide a limited set of options.

4. Positivity always receives a positive response

Positivity is infectious and its impact isn’t lost on humans, no matter how skeptical. Positive feedback and reinforcement help in creating an affirmative mindset that then permeates simple, basic actions such as getting a query resolved or signing up for a service.

Applying these principles in the user experience through encouraging messages for completing a multi-step action or a process creates a lasting, pleasurable impression and helps in establishing a secure, long-term relationship with the users.

5. There’s always a method to the madness

Mental models refer to how a person perceives things in the real world through experience, and designers trying to replicate those experiences in the virtual world to bring in a sense of familiarity. For example, the recycle bin on your computer is represented by an actual wastepaper bin icon or the checkout icon on eCommerce sites resembling actual shopping carts or bags. Even the search icon is represented by a magnifying glass and is placed on the top right corner of the page. Designers acknowledge these mental models while making decisions regarding graphics, colors, shapes, and their placement as well. Users have been known to follow set patterns from their real world in their usage of online tools and mental models help designers replicate those experiences. It is just an effective way to establish a secure and helpful user experience.

A Product Manager’s primary responsibility with regard to the product is to ensure that it provides value and delivers the right user experience while keeping the business’ goals in the picture. Getting a grasp of user psychology holds the key to creating an experience that is not just helpful but also reinforces positivity. PMs who acquaint themselves with the basics of user psychology are in a better position to take user-centric decisions and deliver products that tick all the right boxes. Therefore, among the many skills that a PM needs to be proficient in, user psychology is right up there as well.

PMs who acquaint themselves with the basics of user psychology are in a better position to take user-centric decisions and deliver products that tick all the right boxes.

More Resources:

7 Healthcare Blogs & Publications Every Product Manager Should Follow

Usability Testing for Enterprise Products

How to Prioritize User Test Research Questions Effectively

About Author:

Sr. Content Writer at Koru UX Design, Renuka loves to write, discuss, research, and read up on the latest in user experience design. When she’s not doing that, she spends her days watching crime thrillers and sports.

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