Mental Notes: A Must-Have Addition to Your UX Toolkit

Psychology and User Experience Design are by nature highly intertwined fields.  In order to effectively design for our users we must understand their behaviors and motivations, which is something Psychologists have been studying for far longer than User Experience professionals.  However, how often when we design for certain user experiences do we mindfully consider psychological factors that may contribute to how users interact with our designs? We may think in terms of tasks, or the best way of communicating a message in an easily understandable manner.  We may consider high level motivations for using a product, but not necessarily what motivates people at a more micro level.  Since Psychology focuses on the study of behavior, and UX focuses on changing/influencing behavior, we would benefit from developing a closer connection between the two fields and incorporating psychological concepts into our design thinking.

A new product has been launched that helps us do just that – think about how to merge psychology and design.

Mental Notes

Stephen Anderson has launched a new product called Mental Notes to help us “bring a little psychology to web design.” Mental Notes is a card deck of 52 cards each representing a different insight from psychology.  Each card defines the concept, explains how it applies to human behavior, and suggests ways of applying this concept to web design.  Sample concepts include: gifting, recognition over recall, social proof, curiosity, pattern recognition, delighters, and the peak-end rule (download a PDF of these sample cards here).

A quality product with a quality purpose

I recently received my set of Mental Notes and was extremely impressed with the quality of the cards and gorgeous packaging that they come with.  Clearly, a lot of love and attention to detail was put into these cards to make sure that they were as useful as possible.  As I flipped through the pack of cards, I thought about the projects I’m currently working on and just within a couple of minutes was filled with ideas of how I could apply the concepts to my work.

Mental Notes can be used for a wide variety of purposes.  Stephen suggests that they can be design starters used at almost any stage of product development and can help find creative solutions to problems.  One way to use the cards is to ask yourself “How can we use [Mental Note] to [goal]?” The brainstorming power of these cards becomes evident very quickly as ideas start to connect together.

Example of how Mental Notes can be used when designing user experiences

I experimented with using Mental Notes while I was consulting with a new social gaming startup.  While the game’s primary interactions and rules were already determined, the team wanted to figure out what design elements would create an “addicting” game environment that increases user attachment, enjoyment, and long term engagement through various phases of gameplay.

Mental Notes allowed us to take our high-level goal of designing a positive experience that leads to long term game loyalty and engagement and figure out at a more micro level what psychological principles we could use to achieve this goal.  To use one of the Mental Notes concepts, “it’s easier to recognize things we have previously experienced than it is to recall those things from memory.”  That’s where the real power of Mental Notes comes into play.  It’s often hard to recall every possible solution to a design problem, and the cards allow you to focus on how to apply the concepts as opposed to trying to recall the concepts themselves.

Some of the Mental Notes generated high-level engagement ideas, such as how the game could better capitalize on competition to incent people to frequently interact with the game, or how reputation and status could be used as a way of encouraging players to play until they achieve a new ranking. Other concepts generated more micro level ideas, such as how feedback loops could clarify how actions taken to the game cause certain results, or how delighters could be scattered throughout the game to create unexpected and playful expereinces that lead to a favorable memorable impression among game players.

We were able to find potential uses for almost all of the 52 Mental Notes in a very short amount of time.  The team is now looking into evaluating each of these ideas and determining which will bring the most value to the game.  Without Mental Notes, this type of brainstorming exercise wouldn’t have been nearly as effective.

Purchase Mental Notes

The best way to see the value of Mental Notes is to try it out for yourself.  If you’re interested in purchasing Mental Notes, you can find out more at  You can also follow Mental Notes on Twitter.  If you have a pack of Mental Notes, I’d love to hear more about how you’re using them or have found them to be useful.

My sickness is that I’m fascinated by human behavior, by what’s underneath the surface, by the worlds inside people. – Johnny Depp (as quoted on the Mental Notes packaging)

Catriona Shedd

I am a User Experience Designer with a passion for making people’s lives better through design. I have helped over a dozen organizations obtain a competitive advantage by delivering great user experiences across desktop, mobile, tablet and other channels.

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