6 Steps to Eliminate Design Bias

As marketers, we’re at the center of making decisions that impact our culture. This comes with the heavy burden designing for mankind and the betterment of society. But, admit it, in the design process, we’re really the critics (even when we do not fit the target audience).  When preparing to share our work with others, we ask, ‘Would I use this? Would I buy this?’ This is just the first instance of bias that seeps its way into even the most well-intended design processes. Rework your design process with these 6 tips to start eliminating biases.

Early in the process:

  • Find the audience early.

We all know to talk to the audience, but we’re usually talking to them too late in the process. The way we frame and brief the problem to begin with automatically excludes a whole set of solutions—since we’re approaching it from our own perspective and not using the audience to set-up the problem. Think of it like the staging of a house when it is for sale—after seeing the vision, you tend to overlook other solutions and think mostly of what you were shown. Double-check your frame (or the client’s framing) and context of the problem to ensure the audience’s voices is reflected over anyone elses.

  • Co-create with an audience committee.

If you’re a designer, ‘design by committee’ likely sounds like the worst idea possible. Where this gets messy, is when each member in the committee is a decision maker—but what if they were there to give inspiration?  Often we find that to tackle new problems, we look to our past for inspiration. The problem is we shouldn’t just look to our past, but rather be looking to the audience to influence our ideas. Building opportunity for critique and collaboration from end-users into the design process helps infuse work with new perspective. One way to design by committee (without the impact of deciding by committee) is to host a tissue session (an informal workshopping session) or visual briefing session with the end users. Work through the problem together by creating a visual moodboard with pictorial representation and verbal description of how the problems would ideally be solved. The visual moodboards can later be used as evidence to support the design process and keep the “voice of the user” in the room.

  • Outsource your recruit.

We have a tendency to prefer people like us. It’s called an ingroup bias. As a result, even the most thoughtful and inclusive design process can be infused with bias — especially if your recruit involves phone screenings. Take recruiting inspiration from the classical music world. The industry holds blind auditions, where the participants audition behind a sheet, so that the musician’s identity is not known and the judges can focus on what really matters—the musical performance. By outsourcing the recruit, the recruiter can focus on the necessities of matching your audience, but the final decision can be focused on what truly matters in the project, like the audience’s personal opinions.

Throughout the design and build stage:

  • Look at the fringe data.

We tend to solve for the most common problems or the largest user base—effectively the “midpoint of the bell curve.” This practice, while effective for returns and measurement, often results in outlier cases. Rather than only focusing on the core use cases, examine the fringe. This can unearth truths of human behavior or reveal biases in the design process. For instance, there may be an instance where a certain user group behaves slightly different due to a cultural pattern.

  • Think big-picture, beyond your client’s problem.

Sometimes the design process is caught up in the minutia of the role of the project in the client’s industry—we forget that there may be a larger impact on society. Take voice commerce, for instance. Currently, this is creating all new interaction patterns with your users.  At a point in the design process, set up a design critique to ask, “What’s the bigger picture?”; “Are we solving a world need?”;  “What’s the downfall?”  Then make an action plan to help mitigate any issues that arise.

In the build and measurement stage:

  • Dwell on the dwell.

The quality assurance or measurement processes most of us have in place look at the break points and points of dropoff, which certainly help overlook the obvious oversights in the design or development process. How often is dwell time considered? It may be that looking at where people hover, but don’t click, or where people stand in front of a display at retail is more telling than the metrics usually monitored. It helps the design team uncover where they’ve made assumptions that are actually stumping the user. A great tool for this include video session monitoring.

While this may not completely eradicate bias from the design process, it is certainly a step in the right direction for our community. What steps can your organization implement? Share your thoughts with us on Facebook or Twitter.