Decision-Making Biases: Why Terrible Designs Seem Like a Good Idea at the Time

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Everyone has biases. We all like to think that we are level-headed, rational people, but our brains are actually hard-wired to jump to conclusions.

As designers, our biases seep into our work and cause us to create concepts that seem like a great idea at the time… until we expose them to the light.

Simply recognizing our own biases is an important first step in addressing the effects they might have on our design work. We may never be able to rid ourselves of bias, but by keeping an eye out for it, we can become better designers and better business people.

Action-Oriented Bias

Humans are optimistic beings.

We tend to believe that the things we do will work out for us, and therefore we have a bias toward action. This means that we sometimes make changes that don’t need to be made and create complications where none are needed.

Because of our action-oriented bias:

  • We feel pressure to take action.
  • We are (sometimes overly) optimistic about results.
  • We dismiss the possibility of negative outcomes.
  • We are overconfident in our ability to influence events.
  • We disregard the impact of chance occurrences.

What this means for designers:

  • We don’t do research before jumping into mock ups or screen designs.
  • We also become way too confident in our designs, overlooking criticism.
  • Making a change for the sake of making a change leads to concepts that are different without being better. Without pausing to think actions through, designs become muddled.

Self-Interest Bias

Also known as the “status-quo bias,” self-interest bias is when we have a tendency to like and expect things to stay the same. Deep down, we prefer the world to match our perception of how we think things work.

Because of our self-interest bias:

  • We create incentives that reward the wrong behavior, or we create conflicting incentives.
  • We have silo thinking. We don’t consider the big picture or other people’s perspectives.
  • We’re motivated to obtain a favorable outcome for ourselves or our unit at the expense of others.

What this means for designers:

  • We create designs that please our clients but don’t actually work for the customers who they serve.
  • We move forward on designs that match current trends regardless of the actual quality created.
  • Or we might create designs that rely on stereotypes because they are easy rather than moving the conversation forward and representing people as they really are.

Pattern-Recognition Bias

As humans, we love patterns. Patterns are comfortable. They make us feel like there is sense and order in the world. As a result, we have a tendency to imagine patterns where none actually exist.

Because of our pattern-recognition bias:

  • We give more weight to recent events.
  • We pay more attention to highly memorable events.
  • Once we have formulated a theory, we pay more attention to items that support it, and ignore evidence that disproves it.

What this means for designers:

  • We will add design elements based on recent trends or recent feedback instead of taking the time to notice the bigger problem.
  • We will design based on our own worldview, which can be extremely limiting. For example, rich kids in Silicon Valley will think up a pizza delivery app, but an entrepreneur who grew up poor in India will design a better toilet to conserve water and keep his village clean.

Social Harmony Bias

Humans hate conflict in their own lives.

Our tendency is to stick with the herd, go with the flow, and generally stay out of other people’s way. We’d love it if we could rise to the top of the pack, but very few of us are willing to ruffle feathers in order to get there.

Because of our social harmony bias:

  • We are deeply influenced by office politics.
  • We support our own groups, our own leaders.
  • We strive to keep people happy instead of challenging them.
  • We expect people to conform to the accepted way of thinking.

What this means for designers:

  • Office politics keep us from making daring decisions or going out on a limb.
  • We fear proposing alternative ways of doing things to our clients or our bosses. Or we create designs that are bland, crowd-pleasing, and thus totally forgettable.

Stability Bias

Most of us work nine-to-five jobs, because we are uncomfortable with the prospect of working for ourselves and not knowing where our next paycheck is coming from.

While this isn’t always the case for designers, we still favor stability in many ways. It’s why we always order the same things at our go-to restaurants and stay in the town where we grew up.

Because of our stability bias:

  • We take comfort in doing things the same way again and again.
  • We do things a certain way, because that’s the way they’ve always been done.
  • We avoid risks, and punish each other for taking chances that might end in failure.

What this means for designers:

  • Our stability bias causes us to waste time and energy using old methods that we know are outdated simply because we are unwilling to change. We also use design templates and styles that we have grown accustomed to instead of breaking the mold and trying new things.
  • Be self-aware.
  • Everyone has biases. But the designers who are most successful are the ones who are able to recognize their biases and actively work to counteract them.

As designers, we can never be complacent about our designs, our work processes, or even our worldviews.

If you’ve recognized other types of bias that affect your design work, please share them in the comments. Suggestions for how to combat natural biases are also welcome.

About the author

Michael Abehsera, United States
member since December 15, 2015
Michael is a UI/UX designer and front-end developer originally from Israel and France. He specializes in designing landing pages and user interfaces. In addition, his background in marketing and data analysis helps him make better decisions in landing page designs and user interface construction. [click to continue...]
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Comments

Ankit Parikh
Very insightful article.
Madalena Galbiati
I really like the psychological aspect of this article. It can be aplied to pretty much any profession. Beautifully writen and illustrated. ;)
Ahsan Idrisi
Nicely done
Richard Potgieter
thanks for the article. made me think :)
Paw Jacinto
Mostly true. What it really means is, designers, as much as the diverse people of the world, think differently.
Marcin Kordacki
This scenario is good for general cases, but terribly wrong for strategy or objective oriented behavioural design. To many general assumptions and way overdose on generalised design principles. In the end it works only on the minimal edge for mass services or products in my opinion.
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About the author
Michael Abehsera
Designer
Michael is a UI/UX designer and front-end developer originally from Israel and France. He specializes in designing landing pages and user interfaces. In addition, his background in marketing and data analysis helps him make better decisions in landing page designs and user interface construction.