How UX and Product Designers can use cognitive biases to their advantage
What is Cognitive Bias?
Cognitive bias is an error in judgement that occurs when people process and interpret information about the world around them. This error occurs not because our brains are ‘faulty’ but because our brains are trying to do their job – categorising and storing information in a systematic way. Sometimes in performing this task, our brains will simplify information and create shortcuts that allow us to make instinctive decisions under pressure. In some situations, this can lead to bad judgements and irrational decisions, and give rise to a host of cognitive biases.
What has this got to do with UX design?
Because cognitive biases affect the way people process information, they directly influence how users respond to the designs they see in front of them. For UX and Product Designers, it’s important to be aware of the most common cognitive biases, understand how they affect user perception and behaviour, and try to account for them in the early stages of the design process. Here are some of the important ones, and how to work around them:
Confirmation bias: is when we look for information that confirms our existing beliefs and ignore evidence that contradicts them. This can lead us to make design decisions based on our personal biases rather than what is best for the user. However, by conducting thorough user research, we can help to avoid this bias by keeping the user’s needs at the forefront of our design decisions..
Framing: is when our perception of a situation is influenced by how it is presented to us. For example, if we are given two options, and one is framed as being riskier than the other, we may be more likely to choose the less risky option even if it is not the best option overall. As designers, it’s important to acknowledge that the decisions we make when presenting content will influence how users perceive. It’s worth considering everything from language, colour, typography, backgrounds and surrounding imagery.
Status quo bias: People are creatures of habit, they like things to stay the same. Yet there is a tendency in certain industries to want to disrupt, differentiate and constantly innovate. Status quo bias says less is more when it comes to innovation. For UX and Product Designers tempted to break design conventions, it’s important to have a very good reason for doing so, ideally one backed up by user research.
Ambiguity effect: We tend to avoid options that are unclear or uncertain, instead favouring simplicity and clarity. It is especially important in content design when presenting different product options. By using the KISS model (Keep It Short & Simple), we can help to overcome this bias by keeping our designs simple and avoiding ambiguity.
Availability heuristic: This is when people attach high importance to information that is easy to recall or readily available. By acknowledging this, UX designers can make effective design choices, such as the avoidance of obscure visual or linguistic references in favour of current or topical imagery and language, which can help make their product more memorable and relevant to users.
Bandwagon effect: In moments of uncertainty, we look to others for cues about what to do, gaining confidence when something is popular or because other people are doing it. This tendency can be harnessed by UX Designers, especially in scenarios where users have to make decisions. Using social proof; testimonials, case studies, reviews and ratings are all useful tools to help customers make confident decisions based on the behaviour of others.
These are just some cognitive biases UX Designers may want to consider during the design phase of a product or service. Having an awareness of the most common biases, and a basic understanding how they affect perceptions and behaviour, can help us design products and services that are clear, easy to understand and simple to use.