5 Cognitive Biases that Impact UX Design

Cognitive biases can impact every aspect of the UX design process – from ideation to usability testing. After all, as creative professionals, our own cognitive biases influence our decision-making and our understanding of user behavior. Do you desire to create physical or digital products that people love? To understand the pain points of a product design and gain a better understanding of the customer experience, UX designers need to consider which cognitive biases influence their own work. 

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What is Cognitive Bias?

A cognitive bias is a subconscious error in one’s thought process. For product designers, UX designers, and other interaction design professionals, understanding the nuances of cognitive bias can help identify a blind spot in the design process (or interpret user research findings without one’s own opinions getting in the way)

“People make 35,000 decisions a day under conditions of uncertainty, limited knowledge, and a constant bombardment of information. About 95% of these decisions are unconscious, owing to the brain’s utitlization of mental shortcuts and rules of thumb that enable normal daily function. At the same time, these mental shortcuts can be bias judgement and lead to irrational or wrong decisions.”

– Marina Shapira, Ph.D. How to Inprove Experience Design By Managing Cognitive Biases, UX Collective. 

Have you ever heard of confirmation bias? Sometimes, people tend to see patterns in analytical information that support their existing beliefs or assumptions about a product design. When present in UX research, confirmation bias impacts a person’s ability to analyze data effectively. 

Unfortunately, that’s not the only dangerous bias pitfall to look out for. There are many biases that can impact a UX professional’s ability to interpret qualitative data or conduct user testing in an efficient way. 

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5 Types of Cognitive Biases 

We already know that cognitive bias has an impact on our ability to make sound design decisions – thus, it impacts our thinking on individual and group projects with our design team. And don’t forget. It’s not just your own biases that you have to worry about. Users have cognitive biases as well. Human psychology is complex, isn’t it? But, don’t fret! This article includes 5 common cognitive biases that impact UX design. 

Knowing these cognitive biases will come in handy when brainstorming your initial idea, working to develop your product, and sifting through user feedback – so, watch out for them at every stage of your design process! 

“Cognitive biases can have a tremendous impact on the product design process. When UX practicitioners aren’t aware of their own biases, they can end up falling into the trap of faulty conclusions. A systematic error in thinking caused by cognitive biases can affect the judgements and product design decisions that team members make.”

– Nick Babich, Product Designer, How to Overcome Cognitive Bias in User Research, Adobe XD Blog

1. Confirmation Bias

Confirmation bias refers to people’s tendency to look for evidence that supports their previously-established claims. The interpretation of UX research findings can suffer when confirmation bias is present in the UX practitioner. However, with the right strategies in place, this common cognitive bias can be leveraged to influence the end user. 

2. Hick-Hyman Law

Named after the psychology duo, this cognitive bias explains how the introduction of more options can cause dilemmas when it comes to decision-making. In a nutshell, the more decisions or options that are presented to the user, the more likely they are to become overwhelmed. This can impact a user’s overall experience with a product. 

3. Anchoring Bias

First impressions are important. But when users rely on the first bit of information they see on a website, mobile application, or physical product; it can lead to anchoring bias. 

Luckily, when UX professionals understand the potential anchoring biases that a user could establish, they can leverage them to design solutions that influence the user’s opinion of the product. 

4. The Endowment Effect

Many UX design professionals struggle with the Endowment Effect, or a tendency to overvalue one’s own product or service. And while it is always good to have confidence in one’s work; this cognitive bias can have negative impacts on one’s overall design process. 

The good news is that UX designers can combat this common cognitive bias by gaining an in-depth understanding of their users through the implementation of UX research strategies and other essential UX design practices

5. Framing Effect

Have you heard the phrase ‘it’s not what you say, it’s how you say it?’ Well, sometimes, the same can be applied to UX design. After all, people will react differently to a message depending on how it’s phrased and the tone and inflection that is applied. 

In the UX design process, this may impact a practitioner’s ability to interpret user research findings or conduct a usability study that will lead to insightful information. An example of the framing effect in action could be seen during a user interview that includes leading questions. 

For instance, asking a user “how much do you like this mobile application?” is a leading question that exemplifies the framing effect. Instead, try to avoid these types of questions, as they tend to guide users toward a specific answer. Ask them more broad questions to get their honest opinions. Something as simple as “What is your opinion of this design/feature?” may yield more accurate UX research results. 

Bonus: 3 Tips for Avoid Bias Pitfalls

Human psychology is a dynamic field of study. But one that is certainly worth exploring for those who work in user experience design. So, as you navigate your design process, keep these tips in mind.

  1. Create a strategy for analyzing data, especially when it come to qualitiative data analysis. It may help to establish a system of taxonomy that allows you to categorize data points to review with your UX design team.
  2. Try to understand diverse perspectives in addition to practicing creative empathy. Doing both will provide a more comprehensive view of the user.
  3. Identify your own assumptions and discuss your concerns with your UX team. Other UX pros may be able to provide insight or triangulate data analysis to futher help you avoid cognitive biases.