6 common UX research biases and how to reduce them
UX research is an important step of the UX design process. As designer this is where we get to understand the problem we are trying to solve and the users we are solving for. The results from UX research are useful when coming up with ideas to solve the existing problem and it’s critical that they’re reliable and free of bias. Depending on your current team, UX research might be undertaken by a UX researcher or a UX designer.
As UX designers, we want to prevent biases from getting in the way of accurate research. So here is a list of biases and how we can avoid minimize them.
This bias occurs when we start looking for evidence to prove a hypothesis we have. We’re drawn to information that validates our views and prejudices because we believe we already know the answer. Let’s say we believe that women prefer red to men’s preference for blue, we’ll gravitate toward evidence that supports this belief as we research, and we’ll use it to support our case, even if it’s not necessarily true.
Some of the ways you can avoid confirmation bias are:
- Ask open-ended questions when conducting interviews, this is done so that the individual being interviewed can respond freely and provide more information rather than just answering yes or no.
- Listen to what your respondents have to say without trying to insert your own thoughts. That means you’re not leading your interviewees toward the response you want them to give.
- Include a large sample of users. Make sure you’re not only looking for a tiny set of individuals who share your assumptions. You want a large number of people with a variety of viewpoints.
False consensus bias
This is the assumption that others will think the same way as we do. In UX research, the false consensus bias happens when we overestimate the number of people who will agree with our idea or design, which creates a false consensus. It’s possible for the false consensus to go so far as to assume anyone who doesn’t agree with us is abnormal. For example, we might live in a community that often identifies with certain cultural beliefs. And when we meet a new person, we might assume they share our cultural beliefs, because we both live in the same town, but that isn’t necessarily true.
Some of the ways you can avoid false consensus bias are:
- Identifying and articulating your assumptions so that you may do research to prove them right or wrong (avoid falling into confirmation bias)
- Rather than selecting a few people who share your opinions and assuming they represent the entire community, survey a huge number of people.
Recency and Primacy biases
Recency bias is when it’s easiest to remember the last thing we heard in an interview, conversation, or similar setting, because it’s the most recent. When talking to someone, we’re more likely to remember things they shared at the end of the conversation.
Primacy bias is where we remember the first participant most strongly. Sometimes the first person we meet makes the strongest impression, because we’re in a new situation or having a new experience.
Some of the ways you can avoid recency and primacy biases are:
- Interview each participant in the same way. It’s easier to compare and contrast things across time when they’re consistent. Consistency increases your chances of remembering the unexpected and significant events that occur during your investigation.
- For each interview or conversation, take detailed notes or create a recording. This way, you may go over everything that was said in each conversation, not just the memorable first or last impressions.
Unconscious bias, also known as implicit bias, is a collection of attitudes and stereotypes we connect with people without being aware of it. One of the most typical forms of implicit bias in UX is when we exclusively interview people who fit a specific set of identity profiles, such as race, age, gender, socioeconomic status, and ability, because we feel uneasy interviewing people with different life experiences.
On the other hand, because of our internalized stereotypes, we may choose to interview people from traditionally underrepresented groups, but then ask potentially insensitive questions. Both of these instances are problematic because they result in a lack of representation in our research and design process, as well as skewing our results.
Some of the ways you can avoid recency and primacy biases are:
To overcome our biases, we can reflect on our behaviors, and we can ask others to point our implicit biases. That’s one of the best ways we can become aware of our biases.
Everyone has implicit biases. When conducting UX research, it’s important to understand the biases that may affect that research. One tool that can help you identify and explore your own implicit biases is the Implicit Association Test (IAT), created by researchers at Harvard University. Take the test to find out what biases you might have.
Sunk cost fallacy
This is the idea that the deeper we get into a project we’ve invested in, the harder it is to change course without feeling like we’ve failed or wasted time. The phrase “sunk cost” refers to the time we’ve already spent or sunk into a project or activity. For UX designers, the sunk cost fallacy comes into play when working on a design. You might have invested hours into designing a new feature, but then learned that the feature doesn’t really address a user problem. It’s easy to keep working on a design that you’ve invested time into. But ultimately, you need to focus on work that positively impacts users.
Some of the ways you can avoid sunk cost fallacy are:
- Break down your project into smaller phases, and then outline designated points where you can decide whether to continue or stop. This allows you to go back based on new insights before the project gets too far along.
Bias is a limitation that extends well beyond the fields of UX design and user research. They can creep into the ways we make friends, manage projects at work, and communicate with family members. Now that you know about these biases, you might even start noticing them in your daily life. The more that identifying bias becomes a habit, the better you’ll get at avoiding bias in your design process. Keep these tips in mind for overcoming biases, and you’ll be on your way.