Behavioural Insights and their Application in Web Design

Behavioural Insights and their Application in Web Design

Recently, Custom House in Sydney had an opportunity to welcome some major researchers in the field of Behavioural Economy, where they had the chance to present the latest trends to more than 150 attendees.

Among the other invited speakers, the behavioural economist and UCLA academic professor Shlomo Benartzi discussed his research in people’s online behavioural tendencies. We found his study interesting because it partly relates to people’s perceptions of web pages and may help web designers identify the most effective ways to position different web design elements.

Although professor Bernartzi’s research examines multiple aspects of people’s behaviour, we were mostly attracted by the point he made about the way they make decisions on-screen.

Presenting information online

“In the online world where people are bombarded with more and more information, understanding where attention and focus are attracted can help in the design of more effective communication.”

– Behavioural Insights community blog in relation to the research

Indeed, professor Bernatzi’s research suggests that although most behavioural tendencies online reflect those off-screen, online information must be presented in the most effective way. This view is based on the finding that the tendencies people show when reading a text or looking at images online differ from those relating to traditional print resources. Since the amount of information they regularly encounter on the Internet may be overwhelming, certain elements can even trigger banner blindness.

Banner blindness is a notion most web designers are already familiar with and is certainly something they should avoid presenting on pages. Instead, they need to understand what people focus on when landing on a page and design all the elements – from images and text to navigation – according to this understanding.

Rating a website’s visual appeal

The study professor Bernartzi’s team at Digitai carried out using heat maps reveals some interesting pieces of information web designers should take into consideration. Namely, the study shows that upon landing on a page most peoples’ attention is focused on the top left hand box. However, this mostly depends on a screen’s layout, because another test showed that when nine test boxes were laid out evenly on screen, the attention shifted to the center of the screen.

This is in a slight contrast to research findings by Nielsen and Pernice who outlined somewhat different behavioural patterns few years ago. Namely, they found out that people in most cases first gravitate towards upper-right screen (50%) and upper-right quadrant (44%). Obviously, people’s behaviour may depend on both layout and the type of information presented, but it is important to understand the most common patterns.

The implications for web designers

Heat maps and similar eye-tracking tests can relatively accurately determine people’s reaction to elements on a web page and should represent cues for web designers to help them determine where the most important ones should be. For example, one may decide to place some key elements such as a call to action or login button exactly where a visitor may notice them first – in the central part of the screen.

Therefore, in order to present a piece of information in the most impactful way, designers could consider previous research or do their own. Professor Bernatzi’s study may have defined some general behavioural tendencies, but web designers can also benefit from doing specific A/B tests for their own pages in order to create excellent experience.


The team at Digitai is currently doing various other studies via their website and these are expected to bring some new, even more interesting results. Professor Bernatzi’s book The Digital Mind: Why we don’t think clearly when we go online is due in May next year and could be a relevant source not only for web designers, but also for digital marketers.

To learn more about the topic, you can always visit Behavioural Insights Blog where NSW Department of Premier and Cabinet share some interesting resources on current trends in behavioural economy.