The Serial Position Effect in UX Design: From First Impressions to Conversions

Discover how the Serial Position Effect impacts user onboarding, navigation, and conversions

Craig Barber

Senior Product Designer

Today, we’re going to delve into the intriguing world of cognitive psychology and its profound influence on user experience design.

Specifically, we’ll explore the fascinating concept of the Serial Position Effect and how it intertwines with modern UX design practices.

So, grab a cup of coffee, settle into your favourite reading spot, and let’s embark on this enlightening journey!

What is the Serial Position Effect?

What is the Serial Position Effect_

The Serial Position Effect is a psychological phenomenon that describes how our memory tends to recall and prioritise information based on its position in a list.

Research has shown that individuals are more likely to remember the first and last items in a list, while the middle items tend to fade away into the abyss of forgetfulness.

This intriguing effect can be attributed to the workings of our short-term memory (primacy effect) and long-term memory (recency effect).

Video explainer for the Serial Position Effect:

To better understand this effect, let’s consider an everyday scenario: grocery shopping.

Imagine you’re tasked with picking up several items from a shopping list.

As you stroll through the aisles, you may find that you remember the first few items and the last few items with relative ease.

However, the items in the middle tend to slip your mind, requiring you to refer back to the list repeatedly.

This experience perfectly demonstrates the Serial Position Effect at play.



Another example can be found in the realm of advertising.

Advertisers have long understood the importance of brand recall and capitalise on the Serial Position Effect when crafting memorable campaigns.

They strategically place their most captivating and memorable content at the beginning and end of an advertisement, ensuring that their key message sticks in the minds of viewers.

The Serial Position Effect and UX Design

Now that we have a grasp of the Serial Position Effect, you might be wondering how it relates to user experience design.

Here’s some great examples of how UX designers can leverage this cognitive phenomenon to create more engaging and effective interfaces.

Onboarding and First Impressions

Onboarding and First Impressions

First impressions matter, and they play a crucial role in shaping users’ overall experience with a digital product.

By applying the primacy effect, UX designers can focus on making the initial moments of interaction memorable, intuitive, and user-friendly.

A well-crafted onboarding process or an appealing welcome screen can leave a lasting positive impression, setting the stage for a delightful user journey.

Navigation and Information Hierarchy

Navigation and Information Hierarchy

When designing websites or applications, it’s vital to organise information effectively.

Applying the Serial Position Effect, UX designers can strategically place important content or navigation elements at the beginning and end of a page or screen.

This approach ensures that users can quickly locate essential information and maintain a clear mental map of the overall structure.

Calls to Action (CTAs)

Calls to Action (CTAs)​

CTAs are powerful tools in guiding users toward desired actions.

By incorporating the recency effect, UX designers can position critical CTAs, such as “Sign Up” or “Buy Now,” at the end of a user flow.

This placement takes advantage of users’ recent memory and increases the chances of conversion.

Error Handling and Feedback

Error Handling and Feedback​

Error messages and feedback play a crucial role in UX design.

By utilising the primacy effect ( at the top of the page for example ) designers can ensure that error messages are clear, concise, and positioned prominently.

This approach helps users recall the error information and take the necessary steps to resolve it.


Understanding the Serial Position Effect opens up a realm of possibilities for UX designers seeking to enhance the user experience.

By leveraging this cognitive phenomenon, designers can create interfaces that are intuitive, memorable, and engaging.

From optimising onboarding experiences to crafting effective CTAs, the Serial Position Effect offers valuable insights into how users perceive and retain information.

So, the next time you embark on a UX design project, remember the power of the Serial Position Effect.

By thoughtfully organising and presenting information, you can leave a lasting impression on your users and elevate their experience to new heights.

Want to learn more about the laws of UX design? Check out our post here.

Crazy Conversions landing page playbook

Showcase your work with a stunning portfolio template

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Crazy Conversions landing page playbook

Showcase your work with a stunning portfolio template

Looking to update your design portfolio? Check out the amazing portfolio templates for Framer at FolioPharmacy.

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