I'm a software developer trying to make better interfaces.

I'm looking for the name of the concept for how our brains process different layouts. I saw a really great presentation many years ago about how different ways to layout text can dramatically change the way we process the information, but I can't seem to figure out what to search for to find that type of presentation / class again.

I signed up for a UX class online, and it ended up being a bunch of buzz about how to manage a project, with a few interesting clues on how that ties into making the interface more useful.

I signed up for a Graphic Design class online, and it's talking about different ways to draw an apple.

I want a class that dives deep into perception of visual elements. A class about how contrast impacts our view, or what things humans focus in on first, or what is distracting from the design - - All things that I think of as "UX", but from my UX class I'm now learning that's just one small piece.

What terms should I be searching for to help me find these resources? (also, I know StackExchange isn't a link site, and we get voted down if we ask opinions, but a few links to resources you think are worthwhile would be appreciated)

  • 1
    Not a class but the book "100 Things Every Designer Needs to Know About People" might give you a great place to start: amazon.com/Things-Designer-People-Voices-Matter/dp/0321767535/…
    – Chromarush
    Feb 8, 2016 at 15:35
  • @Chromarush - The visual on page 3 with the 4 words "STOP NOW PEACE WAR" and they draw the lines/colors two different ways to change the message - - that's a powerful demo I saw like 15 years ago. I was looking for a collection of those concepts. What do they call those concepts about how people process visuals?
    – Baronz
    Feb 8, 2016 at 19:06

2 Answers 2


The various subdisciplines of design are much more Venn diagram than distinct categories, and people tend to use the terms somewhat interchangeably and/or not-entirely-accurately (your first UX course being mostly about project management is a great example -- you weren't using the wrong term, arguably the course designers were.)

Several of the issues you list crosscut several subdisciplines: things like color contrast or "what distracts from the design" could be placed more on the visual, graphic design end of the spectrum; while questions about layout and guiding focus could be classed as interaction design or even information architecture (the latter tends to be more about the overall structure of an app or site than about individual components of it, but again, lots of overlap here.)

So, that said, some terms widely used and misused alike are

  • User Interface Design (UI)
  • User Experience (UX)
  • Human Computer Interaction (HCI) or Human Interface
  • Information Architecture (IA)
  • Interaction Design (IxD)
  • Usability (and its very important pal Accessibility)

I think you are talking about cognitive psychology. This type of science is concerned with attention, working memory (short-term, long-term), perception and other general capabilities of human brain to perceive, process and act upon stimuli.

Alternatively, you want to read more about information architecture which is concerned with how to display information so that people will understand it easier. Its concerned with how to organize your web content, how to label it, how to design the navigation, and how users search for information in a interface.

You should read mainly about attention and working memory. Also, read about:

Cognitive psychology and information architecture essential for UX designers, as it gives you the capabilities and limits of the human brain, and how to overcome them.

About your question about which layout is better, cognitive psychology will give you the following answer: the one that the users are most familiar with. This is because they will need much less energy to recognize something already seen than to learn it all over again (where the home button is, where is my account information, etc.)

P.S. I've given you links from the web for easier reading, but if you want to add academic articles, just let me know.

  • 1
    Even this list is going to keep me busy for a while! It's a good thing that I like to dive deep when I am curious about a topic! This is a great list.
    – Baronz
    Feb 10, 2016 at 1:01

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service and acknowledge you have read our privacy policy.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.