What is Bias?
Bias is the way humans interpret and evaluate the context and information about something according to how these are presented or how they perceive these through the lens of their values and beliefs. Bias can impair judgment and decision-making, so designers work to overcome insight problems by taking fresh approaches.
Learn about bias and how it affects design.
“The world is full of people who have never, since childhood, met an open doorway with an open mind.”
— E. B. White, Author of popular children’s fiction such as “Charlotte’s Web”
Bias – an Ancient Ally and Ongoing Obstacle
In a far more immediately dangerous world, prehistoric humans learned to quickly frame situations to help them react with lightning-fast decisions. Millennia later, bias has the more negative associations of social prejudice, disadvantage and otherness. Still, it’s part of the human condition, complexly intertwined with instinct but at odds with rationality. For example, bias can let us accept words from some people (e.g., politicians who represent our values) which we’d reject from others. Nevertheless, if we don’t check our biased assumptions, they can cause false predictions and bad judgments.
Bias—like the umbrella term cognitive biases—is a barrier to ideation, especially from an organizational standpoint. It also arises in designers, simply because all humans are subject to some form of unconscious bias, and it’s far easier to detect bias in others than within ourselves. We have blind spots to how we perceive the world. In everyday linear thinking, the apparently logical steps we take to find solutions to problems sometimes depend on the biases we have. Moreover, even as processes such as design thinking prompt us to think more openly, the first obstacle is often the same bias that colors our views elsewhere. And as we push to explore the edges of the design space and think outside the box, it can become harder to notice how far we shift from rational objectivity as we go along with our own, subjective “realities”.
Major biases that can affect ideation include:
Anchoring – When you frame your questions in a certain way, you can influence the responses: e.g., asking users “Using 1–5 stars, how would you rate this design?” versus “How flawed would you say the design is: 70%? 30%?”.
Bandwagon – It’s easier to go along with the majority’s view than derail a discussion by countering with opposing ideas. Also called groupthink, this is a particular risk in ideation sessions.
Confirmation – We typically prefer looking for evidence to support our hypotheses or existing views of things. This leads to foregone conclusions. So, even if conflicting data arises (e.g., “35% of users dislike this feature”), it’s more comfortable if we downplay/overlook its value.
Beat Bias to Behold Broader Views
To help improve your ideation efforts, design’s success and more, here are some tips:
Define your problem accurately so you can start to understand it fully. When starting your project, mind how you word the problem – the terms you frame it with can create bias. That’s why design thinking is so helpful, as you can begin to empathize with your users. And the personas you make can help wrench away assumptions to reveal how users from other backgrounds might truly experience things.
Swap in other actors in user stories (when you use storytelling). This can help if you’re concerned about accidentally making assumptions about your users regarding their gender, ethnicity, etc. By changing the actors and background in the story, you can spot if your view had distorted the previous version. Then, you can ask yourself why you made those assumptions about (e.g.) elderly users.
Look past “logical” norms (e.g., when you notice yourself thinking “This solution won’t work because the world doesn’t work that way!”). Your team may unconsciously act on preconceived generalizations about (e.g.) users’ socio-economic status or accessibility needs. For example, “Users with disabilities won’t need this high-intensity fitness app!” is a rotten foundation.
Get disruptive and suggest different (even unrealistic) scales to a problem. Challenge yourself to challenge the notion that a single approach is “the done thing”. Because bias can have outrageous effects, try to be outrageous and go for (e.g.) bad ideas to get a new perspective. This can break your bias and fixation on “the way to do it” – and help expose other ways of seeing the problem and different kinds of solutions. If you were to (e.g.) create a smartphone that was the size of a football field, what would that take? How would you have to adapt to the problem?
Use Six Thinking Hats. This method helps you adopt alternative viewpoints. You examine problems from six perspectives, one at a time (e.g., red hat = focusing on knee-jerk reactions/feelings; black hat = focusing on potentially negative outcomes), and so can achieve a tighter grasp of what your problem truly demands.
Overall, remember that bias is natural but—as it can slant your view of even the most innocent aspects of your users, etc.—is something to keep in check throughout your design process.
Learn More about Bias
Take our Creativity course, including bias: https://www.interaction-design.org/courses/creativity-methods-to-design-better-products-and-services
This blog explores several impactful biases from thought-provoking aspects: https://livesession.io/blog/post/cognitive-bias-ux/
Here’s another insightful piece, with helpful handling tips: https://blog.prototypr.io/empty-your-cup-how-to-address-biases-in-ux-fe4e53bbb823
Consider these insights about bias from another angle: https://www.webfx.com/blog/web-design/cognitive-bias-user-experience/
Literature on Bias
Here’s the entire UX literature on Bias by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:
Learn more about Bias
Take a deep dive into Bias with our course Creativity: Methods to Design Better Products and Services .
The overall goal of this course is to help you design better products, services and experiences by helping you and your team develop innovative and useful solutions. You’ll learn a human-focused, creative design process.
We’re going to show you what creativity is as well as a wealth of ideation methods―both for generating new ideas and for developing your ideas further. You’ll learn skills and step-by-step methods you can use throughout the entire creative process. We’ll supply you with lots of templates and guides so by the end of the course you’ll have lots of hands-on methods you can use for your and your team’s ideation sessions. You’re also going to learn how to plan and time-manage a creative process effectively.
Most of us need to be creative in our work regardless of if we design user interfaces, write content for a website, work out appropriate workflows for an organization or program new algorithms for system backend. However, we all get those times when the creative step, which we so desperately need, simply does not come. That can seem scary—but trust us when we say that anyone can learn how to be creative on demand. This course will teach you ways to break the impasse of the empty page. We'll teach you methods which will help you find novel and useful solutions to a particular problem, be it in interaction design, graphics, code or something completely different. It’s not a magic creativity machine, but when you learn to put yourself in this creative mental state, new and exciting things will happen.
In the “Build Your Portfolio: Ideation Project”, you’ll find a series of practical exercises which together form a complete ideation project so you can get your hands dirty right away. If you want to complete these optional exercises, you will get hands-on experience with the methods you learn and in the process you’ll create a case study for your portfolio which you can show your future employer or freelance customers.
Your instructor is Alan Dix. He’s a creativity expert, professor and co-author of the most popular and impactful textbook in the field of Human-Computer Interaction. Alan has worked with creativity for the last 30+ years, and he’ll teach you his favorite techniques as well as show you how to make room for creativity in your everyday work and life.
You earn a verifiable and industry-trusted Course Certificate once you’ve completed the course. You can highlight it on your resume, your LinkedIn profile or your website.