Art supplies maker, Crayola launched its ‘Colors of the World’ set of crayons last year to coincide with the UN World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development. This set features crayons representing a wide spectrum of skin tones and was publicized heavily – non-white kids no longer had to make do with black or brown to represent themselves. But come to think of it – why did it take Crayola close to 5 decades to launch this set?
Vintage advertisements open a similar can of worms with their despicable representation of women. Just makes you wonder – how on earth did those get approved?
As humans, we all possess some form of unconscious bias. It’s part of what makes us ‘human’. Our brain is programmed in a way that it looks for shortcuts when interpreting information, just to make the process easier. The environment we grow in plays a major part in the formation of these biases. It shapes up a set of rules that we unconsciously tap into, letting us make instant decisions and judgments.
Consequently, when we look at the advertising world of the 60s and 70s which was established and run primarily by white men, all those offensive adverts (may I daresay) make sense. Our biases stem from genetics, our curriculum, our culture, and our surroundings. And while these biases served us well from an evolutionary standpoint in the past, they are more of an impediment in the modern world – a world that offers ample opportunities for individuals to inform themselves.
The mental shortcuts – formally termed cognitive biases – may also stand to impact the design process unconsciously. This is especially true in the case of UX designers who remain unaware of the biased they harbor which leads them to draw wrong conclusions. As designers, our biases can impact the products we design – and that never ends well. From virtual voice assistants that struggle to decipher South Asian accents to the question templates used during user research – there are numerous instances of cognitive biases creeping into the design process and negatively impacting the product.
Tips to combat decision bias
The first step to keeping the bias at bay is to acknowledge its existence. Accept situations when you don’t have enough data to make an informed choice. Then look for ways to learn more about the situation. The idea is to create a team culture that is open and inclusive and an environment where members can question each other.
Refrain from making snap judgments
No human is immune to biases, more so in situations when we find ourselves to be multitasking or fatigued. Quick decision-making is a skill all designers need to master, more so if they’re a part of the agile framework. Consider a situation where you’ve tested a design, and it’s worked to satisfaction, but it encounters a glitch when it moves to development – with hours to go for its release. One is never decision-ready for situations like these and the stress pushes us to rely on our good senses to take the next step. The result? While you may arrive at a decision, its quality might not be top-notch. The only way to avoid making snap judgments is to take a step back and take some time out to think through the context and the consequences to come to a better decision. Referring to the research findings and then identifying the next best option is a good way to ensure that you’re not basing your decisions on assumptions.
Asking the “Five Whys”
The ‘step back and take some time out’ thing is easier said than done, of course. But the ‘Five Whys’ come to the rescue in combating bias in every situation. It simply entails asking “why” five times to probe the bias (if any) out of an opinion or idea redirect the conversation.
“Using color to define line graphs is a great way to help users process the data quicker.”
“Because the different colors representing different variables will make it easy to discern between them.”
High-contrast colors are a powerful tool used to gain the user’s attention to variables.
But wait… what about those who are unable to discern colors owing to physical limitations?
Color vision deficiency is a condition that affects 5 to 10 percent of the U.S. population, so it is more prevalent than imagined. So there you go – probe an idea or an opinion deep enough and you’re sure enough to encounter a cognitive bias.
This technique also aids in reigning in an emotional reaction to a biased comment. What it does instead, is that it reveals the origins of that idea or opinion, which helps counter the source of the bias.
Ensure fair testing with an inclusive and large sample size
As was apparent in the example stated in the previous point, you never really know your users until you test them. Therefore, the larger, more inclusive your sample size, the better is your chance at collecting comprehensive behavioral data and needs. Begin your research questioning who isn’t being considered. Who’s perspectives or experiences are missing? If your goal is to understand how complex statistics can be lucidly presented to users for a single-glance interpretation, but you don’t consider those with impaired vision your solution is likely to have a gaping hole. Including a wide spectrum of users is the first step towards accurately defining and understanding their needs without letting assumptions get in the way. Use this article from NN to determine the sample size and composition based on the tests you plan to run.
AI technologies when applied in conjunction with machine learning systems can track and evaluate various UX metrics including user behavior, session durations, workflows, and more. This voluminous data when put together will throw up comprehensive details regarding user behavior. Learn more on how AI can help in comprehensive, unbiased user testing in this detailed blog.
Combat the curse of knowledge
The curse of knowledge is a cognitive bias that occurs when you unknowingly assume that others possess the information to understand the situation at hand while communicating with them. The more knowledge you have about a subject, the harder it is to put yourself in the shoes of someone who’s not as aware. Once you are in a position of knowledge it is impossible to unlearn it and imagine yourself to be in the place of a novice.
How can this curse be circumvented? By conducting effective user research. Ensure that all the assumptions garnered via the curse of knowledge are verified by talking to users. You can also combat this curse in users by creating a sample of newer users or first-time users to gain a fresh perspective.
Bias is the bane of every designer’s existence – it is hard to identify and therefore, harder to overcome. It can be deeply ingrained even in the most open-minded free thinkers. But, as rightly said, bias exists in each one of us, and at Koru UX Design, we believe that acknowledging this fact is the first step towards eliminating it. This should be followed by educating ourselves and others and honing our sense of empathy by providing a free space for dialogue.