To err is human.

But when your are responsible for the success or failure of a product, you must be careful not to let cognitive bias influence your decisions.

As you continue reading, you will discover how a cognitive bias in design can affect the UX design process.

What is a cognitive bias?

We are bombarded with millions of bits of information everyday.

Owing to evolution, our brains have evolved to take shortcuts to understand and process this information. A cognitive bias refers to these shortcuts.

Cognitive biases help us to make decisions quicker. But their fault lies in the fact that they are often based on hunches and incomplete information.

For example, anytime someone hears that 1/10 people could be allergic to something, they always consider themselves to be in the unaffected 9 unless proven otherwise. This is the result of a cognitive bias.

Our brains are prone to have a cognitive bias because they help us process information efficiently. Without these biases, we’d be spending an unimaginable amount of time trying to make simple decisions.

We all possess cognitive biases, and they are useful in our everyday lives. However, it is essential to understand how false assumptions could influence design decisions.

And just like designers might have biases when designing products, users can have them too when using them.

But because it is unrealistic to expect users to keep these biases in check, it is the designer’s job to design considering this fact.

Importance of identifying a designer’s cognitive bias in design

The process of UX design is a long one. And given this, there are different stages in the product design process where bias could seep in.

For instance, every good project starts with a discovery phase. This involves research about the business, its users, competitors, the general market, etc. Here is where designers align their goals with stakeholders.

Now imagine this. If during the UX research phase, you come across a user requesting a certain feature. And the same feature was also mentioned by your colleague a few days ago. You put the 2 and 2 together and your brain concludes that this feature is important and requested by the majority of the users. When in reality that is not the case and you are basing your conclusions on incomplete information.

This is Availability bias at play.

According to Wikipedia, availability bias is a cognitive bias in which we rely on immediate examples that come to our mind when evaluating a specific topic, concept, method or decision.

Another real-life, relatable example would be when you get a new haircut and all of a sudden you start noticing a lot of people with similar hairstyle. And although it doesn’t matter much when you think a lot of people have the same haircut as yours, it certainly does when a designer arrives at a conclusion based on incomplete data.

As a Designer, if you allow cognitive bias to seep into your product design process, the product you are designing is no longer optimized and might not be able to meet your stakeholder’s goals.

Now that we know how a designer’s cognitive bias could impact the product design process. Let us also understand why as a designer you have to consider your user’s bias when designing.

Importance of identifying a user’s cognitive bias in design

As designers, we can circumvent our cognitive bias but it is unrealistic to expect users to do the same.

Take the example of Familiarity bias.

Familiarity bias states that people trust what they’re familiar with. Thus, if you design a product that offers an experience that strives too far from the general experience in the industry, there is a high probability that you will experience low user onboarding and a high user drop-off rate.

However, as designers, we can also easily leverage biases to benefit users and stakeholders.

Consider the principle of least effort.

This cognitive bias states that when faced with multiple options for getting something done, people tend to choose the option that requires the least effort.

Most people are not casually looking for products and services in their industry. They do so when they are faced with an issue out of their routine that they do not have the tools to solve. As a designer, you could leverage the principle of least effort in such a scenario.

While other products would have a lengthy onboarding process, you could offer people a way to resolve their issues without any onboarding involved while asking for the absolute minimum information required for completing the task.

This would help your products increase their adoption rate and become the go-to solution for certain problems.

We’ve only talked about 3 biases so far and the importance of identifying and leveraging them during the product design process.

Further, we expand on a few more common biases.

List of common cognitive biases

Social proof

Do you know how people always like to check customer reviews before buying something online? That is social proof in action.

The reason we like to base our purchasing decision by looking at reviews before buying a product is that it gives us peace to know beforehand how the majority of the people have felt after buying the product.

Customer reviews of a product

Social proof derives from a deeply rooted psychological bias.

It implies that the best way to make a decision is to look at the decision other people have made. The is because we believe that the majority knows best and it’s a safe choice.

You can see this in practice when buying something online. Every product has a customer review section, which shows the general sentiment of people that have bought the product and it also displays the number of people that have reviewed the product.

Anchoring effect

The anchoring effect refers to a cognitive bias wherein an individual’s decisions are based on a reference point or an “anchor.”

A great example of anchoring bias is during the checkout process on a food delivery app. The payment phase always has an option to tip your delivery person and oftentimes there is a default amount mentioned in the payment tab. This leads to people basing their tips off of this “anchor” in the app.

Menu for tipping

In the example above, the “Most Tipped” acts as an anchor.

The same can also be seen when buying gift cards online.

Bandwagon effect

Also known as Herd behaviour refers to people’s tendency to do or believe certain things because other people do so.

Homescreen/landing page

This is the reason companies like to show off their partner companies or testimonials on the homepage to convince potential users to try their products.

Homescreen/landing page

Scarcity effect

Scarcity bias refers to people’s tendency to attach high value to limited things.

Advertisement of a sale

Many eLearning and eCommerce vendors like to promote sales and offers as “Limited time only” to draw more customers.

Advertisement of a sale

Conclusion

There are multiple ways a designer can get affected by cognitive bias in the product design process.

For example, a designer believes that their product is too complicated for users.

To confirm if this is true or not, they go through product reviews on popular platforms. Here, they search through reviews in such a way that they find a disproportionate number of negative reviews conforming to their bias. And are misled to conclude that the product is difficult to use.

To conclude, a designer’s cognitive bias in product design can lead to mistakes in the design process. And this may cause the user’s needs to be overlooked.

It is thus very important as a designer to ensure that your decisions are not being influenced by biases and also consider the potential biases users hold when using products.

Have more questions about how we design bias-free products?

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