Confirmation bias is a psychological phenomenon which affects how we perceive things and make design decisions. The term was first introduced by psychologist Peter Wason in 1960. He described Confirmation bias as a cognitive error that occurs when people pursue or analyze information in a way that directly conforms with their existing beliefs or preconceptions. Confirmation bias will lead people to discard information that contradicts their existing beliefs, even if the information is factual. 1
We process information to confirm what we already think or believe.
The role of Confirmation Bias in UX Research and Design
Confirmation Bias in UX design can make change or growth increasingly difficult because it’s difficult to identify where problems exist. For UX designers, it can lead to stagnation and leave them unable to adapt to changes they never saw coming or address critiques they never knew existed. 2 Confirmation bias in the UX research process can result in well-designed products that nobody actually uses.
3 ways to overcome Confirmation Bias in UX Research and Design
1. Ask the right questions
One of the biggest sources of confirmation bias in UX research is the use of leading questions in the feedback process, as designers ask questions based on their beliefs about the interaction with the product. Biased questions can make users unintentionally confirm designers’ opinions instead of sharing their own perspectives. 3 It is also important to be a good listener, without adding your own thoughts about processes.
Example of the question asked in the research survey:
“Did the placement of the button make it difficult for you to finish the checkout process?”
Question itself says that there is a problem with the placement of the button. It may be true, but there might be other problems that make the process difficult for the users. It’s a close-ended question, meaning that users may answer it using “yes” or “no”, it leaves no room for the context and the experience users had using the product. The way the question is formulated makes users think about the issues of the button, rather than deciding if there are issues with it.
More successful way to ask a question in a research survey would be:
“How was the checkout process? Please share your experience using the service.”
The open ended question would help to understand the user’s experience without confirming the designers’ assumptions about it.
2. Differentiate the feedback you receive
UX research should collect data from diverse respondents. There should be multiple segments of users included in the research based on their demographics and interests. Getting feedback from diverse audiences will make it easier to challenge researchers’ assumptions about the design and help to reduce confirmation bias in the user research process. 4
3. Make decisions based on different data sources
It can be easy to find one research finding to match your assumptions, but more difficult to do with data coming from several different sources, such as user testing, analytics or quantitative studies. 5
To conclude, confirmation bias is a natural psychological phenomenon. However, the more we understand how confirmation bias affects user research and how to overcome it, the better positioned we are to minimize its impact. If there is a disagreement between design assumptions and feedback users provide, it is important to understand the reason behind it. Having an open mind, recognizing and overcoming confirmation bias will help to create better products and user experiences.
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