If you didn’t have a chance to participate and you simply want to refresh your memory, here’s the wrap-up of the whole presentation.
Overcoming cognitive bias in product design
It probably isn’t too bold to say that every innovation starts with design. However, designing for a complex human nature, especially in this crazy ever changing world, is a challenging task even for the most visionary innovators out there. As digital product consultants, we have witnessed these struggles multiple times, and it has become obvious that the problem (oftentimes limitation) lies deep within ourselves. Today, we’d like to address this topic by drilling down the phenomenon of cognitive bias. We’ll tell you what it is, where it comes from, and how to cleverly tackle the issue in your product design.
Everything starts with idea
We gained a significant experience by interacting with diverse companies, people within them, and most importantly – different levels of advancement and refinement of their ideas. Some were better, some were worse, but after spending a while in this line of work we push ourselves not to judge their market relevance and a chance to succeed. At least not too early in the process.
Bad idea… or is it really?
Sure, it’s quite tempting when a lot of them are somewhat calques of already existent successful business models – Uber for tools, matching apps for particular social groups (for any reason), or yet another marketplace. Nonetheless, the experience has taught us that both market success and market failure may come to the least expected companies. Businesses prone to succeed fail, and the ones doomed to fail bounce off.
Ignorant by design
But let’s start from the very beginning – from ourselves. As controversial as it may sound, humans tend to be ignorant and lazy. And we’re not saying that to make you feel bad about yourself. The truth is, we’ve been like that since the dawn of time, because it helped us survive.
Okay then, but why call it ignorant?
We spend each day looking for a quicker and faster way to accomplish our goals – and that’s not ignorant at all, but actually smart and efficient! We are so overstimulated by the media around us that it would be nearly impossible to cope with reality without looking for shortcuts. But there’s a trap we may fall into – when doing something without putting a lot of thought into it, there’s a large chance of missing out on a detail. And that’s when ignorance jumps in.
What are heuristics?
The process of us being lazy has a really nice, scientific name – heuristics – which comes down to using mental shortcuts in order to arrive at certain decisions. These are simple strategies that humans, animals, organizations, and even machines use to quickly form judgments, make decisions, and find solutions to complex issues. It often involves focusing on the most relevant aspects of a problem or situation to formulate an adequate remedy. These mental shortcuts are created thanks to our parents, school friends, as well as bad and good experiences.
And here’s an example that we’d like to dedicate to Steve Jobs:
It’s easier to select that one favorite pair of jeans from your closet than to choose carefully from the rest of your wardrobe. It may not be perfect, it may not be trendy, but it’s for sure convenient and fast. Unfortunately, this approach is kind of limiting as well.
Now a little bit of Matrix talk – we all have our own perception of reality that we live in. And because we tend to be judgemental, we often become biased about things.
What is cognitive bias?
Time to introduce you to the key definition of this article – the cognitive bias itself. It is a systematic pattern of deviation from norm or rationality in judgment. Individuals create their own “subjective reality” from their perception of the input, and its construction may dictate their behavior in everyday situations. Yes, our brains are powerful, but they still have some limitations. Cognitive biases are the result of their attempt to simplify information processing.
A few quick examples:
We learn a little about a topic and then assume we know everything about it.
We blame others when something goes wrong even though it’s clearly our fault.
We love to assume that everyone else shares our opinions or beliefs.
However, what we’d like to emphasize is that not all biases are wrong and harmful. And what’s more important – they are all natural.
Types and examples of cognitive biases
First example we’d like to talk about is a selection bias – once again related to fashion.
Let’s think about the scenario in which we want to get to know women’s favorite type of shoes. We have a decent amount of money to prepare a survey and we’re able to interview 1 million female responders. The most common answer is sneakers. Does it mean that all women in the world prefer sneakers over flip flops? No.
What we’re trying to say here is that our research participants may differ from the population of interest. But don’t get us wrong – it doesn’t mean that surveys are a bad idea. It’s just that we like to think that we’re right and have all the answers, and the reality is that we don’t.
A form of selection bias is also the survivorship bias which is a logical error made when we concentrate on the things that made it past a certain selection process while overlooking the ones that didn’t. We focus on the data points that ‘survived’ which can lead to the wrong conclusion when analyzing any information.
The tendency to perceive a specific, often meaningful image in a random or ambiguous visual pattern is pareidolia or simply put – the human tendency to see shapes or make pictures out of randomness. It results in the frequent phenomenon of seeing faces in clouds and buildings. You surely know what we mean.
Well traveled road effect
We tend to overestimate the time required to travel a road we don’t know, and underestimate the amount of time required to travel a well known path. In business it often means we overestimate the effort required for innovation, while underestimating the effort required to maintain the status quo.
In the context of product ideation, one wrong assumption about the value added, a consumer or a market can be extremely painful and question the legitimacy of the entire idea.
Up until now we focused strongly on the early stages of ideas processing, but well existing and prospering businesses are exposed to the risk, too.
The Blockbuster fiasco
You may be familiar with the story of Blockbuster – the biggest American-based video rental retailer who went out of business due to lack of understanding its customers’ needs. If you look closely at their downfall – what do you think really happened on the decision level when, for any reason, they refused to evolve their service in response to changing expectations of their user base?
Did they fall victim to conservatism bias and insufficiently revised their beliefs when new evidence and market reports were presented?
Maybe it was normalcy bias and they refused to plan ahead for the disaster that simply never happened before?
Or they’ve suffered from the well traveled road effect and overestimated the scale of effort necessary to carve new paths, and, in effect, backed out from strategic investments when the market was calling for it?
It may have been a combination of all the above and possibly some other relevant points – we’ll never know for sure.
The Netflix success
A counter-story is the one of our contemporary streaming giant, Netflix, which actually started off by sending DVDs via post. What is crucial in this case though – the company perfectly diagnosed that people who want to rent movies value convenience more than anything else and adjusted their services accordingly.
But what really determines success?
So, what do these stories really tell us? What kind of lesson should we be looking for in the plethora of failed or successful products?
Unicorn Investor, Bill Gross, who is the founder of an incredibly successful startup studio Idealab and who’s behind Google’s business model, has actually done the math for us. His company GoTo.com ‘pioneered the pay-per-click advertising model that has made Google hundreds of billions of dollars over the past decade’. Idealab has also founded over 100 companies resulting in many successes, and many great failures. In a 2015 TedTalk, Bill took a look at 100 Idealab companies and 100 non-Idealab businesses to analyze which factors were most prevalent in the correlation of successes and failures.
The example of Airbnb
Bill argued that out of the analyzed factors it was timing that played the most important role, calling out the example of Airbnb. The company used to be famously passed on by many smart investors, simply because people thought that no one would ever be comfortable enough to rent out space in their home to a stranger. Aside from a great idea, business model, and excellent execution, one of the main reasons for its success was its timing. It came out right during the height of the recession when people really needed extra money which perhaps helped them overcome the objection of renting out their homes to strangers.
The example of Uber
Remember your mom telling you specifically not to get into stranger’s cars and not to take candy from people you don’t know. Today, we not only notoriously take rides with strangers, but many of them actually do offer candy.
How to design for cognitive bias?
Okay, onto the BIG question for today. How to design for cognitive bias? Good news, it is possible and there is a high probability that you already do it.
Human-centered design – less user, more human
First of all – our beloved human centered design. For some – an amazing approach, for others – an outdated buzzword, and for us – something quite obvious that we don’t really think about a lot.
The beauty of it is that you don’t have to follow a certain process. The main idea is simple – no matter what you do, you keep thinking about HUMANS. The problem is that at some point many innovators switched from human to user and thus dehumanized the humans.
Lately, listening to Don Norman talking about human centered design, we heard a sentence that captured its clue: While designing something for healthcare, you don’t only think about patients. You think about their families, nurses, medical personnel, technicians, people who clean the space, and so on. What’s key here is that it’s never only one patient, but rather the whole system that creates a hospital.
Using one approach can be helpful but using a well put together combination is even better. And there is one package that we find most helpful:
Design Thinking which is all about empathy, experimenting more as well as testing early and often.
Systems thinking – remember the example about creating a product for healthcare?
Computational thinking – very logical approach to solving problems.
Combine them all and your perspective and knowledge will get much wider. It worked everytime we used it, even when the case was difficult to solve.
Let’s focus for a bit on systems design – look at the picture below and imagine that each node is our stakeholder. Orange lines between them represent connections, and all of them combined create a net of relationships. They influence and interact with one another, creating a unique ecosystem. This combination of human-centered design and system thinking is called stakeholder-centered design. Again – not focusing on one party only, but considering the whole net.
Being human while designing for humans
Now, you have some idea on how to create a bias-proof product. But there’s one more thing you should always take into consideration. Successful products, such as mobile apps with lots of downloads, can be addictive, causing anxiety and FOMO. Being human while designing for humans is crucial, because at the end of the day nobody wants to be the bad guy.
On this stage is essential to be aware of the fact that on one hand we are all different, but on the other we are pretty much the same. If you remember that combination and have an open mind, you’ll see that your horizons will expand and your ideas will get better.
Thinking about inclusivity, we mean the situations when you put your designer’s ego in the pocket and decide to create a design that won’t be artistic in trends but will be easier to use by a wider audience. It may be sometimes connected with bigger contrast, scalable fonts, as well as clean and intuitive UI. At the end of the day, you’re not designing just for yourself and your client.
Assumption audit – the 5 whys method
Another thing is to audit your assumptions. It’s time for you to become that small, frustrating kid again who questions everything that comes his way. And don’t forget to use the 5 whys method.
Who are we?
Okay, so let’s start easy with self-identification. Who are we? Who are they? Identify all parties involved in the design process and let everybody take a stand. You can start simple by race, age, and profession. But remember that the more questions you’ll ask, the more complex the answers can get.
What impact does it have?
Once we know each other pretty well, we can move on to another question. Our identities impact the process and everything around us – it’s a given. So now think about that impact, what it means for the product and for you as an ecosystem. Discuss these relationships until you scratch through the surface. Be aware of these connections.
Who is not in the room?
Above all, this one’s our favorite questions. Who is not with us? Who are we forgetting?
We particularly remember being a part of a workshop with a client who wanted to create an app for taxi drivers. Everything was almost ready for the testing phase, but for some reason we got to interview one taxi driver beforehand. Interestingly enough, it turned out that everything that we assumed up till now was wrong. We were wrong about his needs. We were actually wrong about everything and created a product that would be a nightmare for him to use on a daily basis. We missed his perspective and, in a way, failed.
So, a lesson for you here is to look around and see who’s missing. At the end of the day it might be helpful or even crucial.
What is the loss?
Knowing about the loss of not having people that should be included is also very insightful. Learn your lesson and draw conclusions because it will, again, create a more vivid picture.
What might we do?
And finally – act. Do something to be inclusive. Invite that taxi driver early on and listen carefully to his needs. Once again, become that little kid asking too many questions.
Fortunately, there are plenty of very interesting tools that can come handy in the design process.
The psychology of design
It only makes sense to mention the directory of 106 Cognitive Biases & Principles that affect your UX. Growth.design did a fantastic job gathering over a hundred cognitive biases with explanations and examples. This source will provide you with plenty of useful information on product design – all served in a very comprehensive manner.
The map of trends
The Map of Trends, published on a regular basis since 2018, is a tool by infuture.institute and can be treated as an insightful radar for all the innovators out there. It basically tells you how mature a given trend is and how much time it needs before it evolves. You can treat it as a great indicator while designing for a particular trend crucial in terms of timing, helping you check if the assumptions you’re making are not wrong or inaccurate.
Tarot cards of tech
The Tarot Cards of Tech are our personal favorite, and by the way, they have nothing to do with esotericism. Each card contains provocations that will not only help you foresee unintended consequences, but also reveal opportunities for creating a positive change.
There are five things for you to habituate:
Keep looking around
Ask every question twice
Do empathy right