Web Development, Psychology, and Design

How intersections of my interests are informing my career

Photograph of sky by Lydia Gregory

If you’re familiar with my background, you know that software engineering was not always on the horizon for me. As a Cognitive Science major in undergrad, I took classes like Sociolinguistics, Philosophy of Happiness and Rational Choice, and Brain Systems Involved in Memory. I was interested in how people communicate, how we think and make decisions, and what goes on inside our brains.

I’ve also always had an interest in art. While painting was my medium of choice since I was young, college classes like Photography and New Media opened the world of digital media to me. I took a part-time graphic design job which dominoed into other design opportunities, including an architecture studio class, a web design apprenticeship, and plenty of freelance print and layout design work.

Spurred by my experience in web design, some coding classes I took in and after college, and a general interest in technology, I enrolled in a Software Engineering Bootcamp program at the Flatiron School. I thought my interests in psychology and design only overlapped in marketing or advertising, both of which failed to appeal to me for a number of reasons — most of which, my fear of having to sell anything to anyone.

Diving into the world of web development has not only opened many doors for me, but it’s also helped to reframe what I thought were disparate interests into a collection of logically interwoven experiences. Here are some of my takeaways on why intersections of these experiences are important, especially in the world of web developement.

How web development, psychology, and design help clarify each other

Development + Psychology

The field of web development is inextricably linked to human psychology. The industry, ushered in by the invention of the Internet has radically changed the way that people communicate, form relationships, and get information. It is changing the way that we think about ourselves and how we understand the world around us. While we are still uncovering the implications of the relationship between us and our applications (many of which are explored in the hit Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma), one thing is true — the Internet is not going anywhere and it’s a reckoning we are going to have to face.

Right now, we’re living through an important moment in our relationship with technology. As a student of the human brain and technology, I understand that the brain is a limited organ and is vulnerable to the infinite and rapidly growing pace of technology. Developers, Engineers, and UX Designers have a responsibility to understand how the applications that we are building and algorithms that we’re writing have a real impact on people’s psychology and lives. It means that we need contributors from all backgrounds working to understand the power structures at play and interdisciplinary collaboration and understanding of experts.

Development + Design

Especially in how it applies to Front-End web development, this intersection is arguably the most concrete. Front-End developers are translators of a designer’s vision and collaborators with the designer. Just like UX Designers who learn HTML and CSS to understand if the feasibility of a design in development, understanding core design principles makes communication more efficient and enjoyable for both parties. Not only is this interdisciplinary knowledge an asset on the job, for me, it’s also helped give me clarity in the types of jobs that interest me as a junior developer in an expansive field.

Design + Psychology

Understanding human psychology is the key to good design. While good design is often aesthetically pleasing, designing is not an art, it’s problem-solving. We solve problems by understanding how humans interact with and respond to our tools. Just like designing a computer mouse means understanding the anatomy of the human hand, we design web and mobile applications that work with the user’s intentions, not against them. It means understanding the user’s perception and thoughts.

Understanding human behavior, how memory works, how we perceive things (Gestalt laws), and how we encoded meaning into language, are some of the many contributions of psychology to the world of web design. Psychology helps give us a roadmap for designing and developing accessible technology, explains why an application can be pleasant to use, and even what makes some of our technology addictive.

As always, thanks for reading! Feel free to check out some of my web dev projects, and design work. Happy coding :)

Full-Stack Software Engineer, Designer, and salsa dancer.