Bias is a Nasty Bitch (and Apps are Fucking Hard to Create)

Reading time: 7 minutes

When you study Content Strategy at the FH Joanneum Graz, a presence week in London is on your schedule. From the 8th to the 12th of May 2018, COS17 took a trip to this amazing city to get in touch with the content strategy scene there. You may think that this sounds like a nice holiday but believe me, that was one of the hardest weeks of my entire life.

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Primarily, because we had to finish our projects we started during the presence week in Graz for the User Research and Interaction Design  course with Arvid Brobeck the UX Director at Digitas LBi. The students were split into five groups and had to develop the concept for a hypothetical app that encourages children to go outside and experience the magic of nature.

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The starting point in London was the hypothesis that we had already created earlier. Based on it, we were supposed to create a prototype and a test plan based on hypothetical research results. Whenever Arvid checked in, he started by saying ‘You did an excellent job…BUT…’. And everything we had come up with was ripped apart and we were left frustrated. After that had happened three times, we decided not to show him anything until the final presentation.

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So, what was the issue? Well to summarise it, apps are harder to create than you may think and bias is always in your way. Whenever we believed that we had taken everything that is important into account, Arvid proved us wrong. The technical aspects to be considered when creating an app are manifold and strongly depend on the budget of the customer but they were not the focus of this project.

The main battle we had to fight was one against bias that lurks around every corner camouflaging in different disguises. As cognitive biases influence the results of any kind of work, it is important to know about their manifestations and to take them into account when making decisions.

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The definitions that can be found in dictionaries sound rather harmless as the example shows.

bias: [uncountable, countable, usually singular] a strong feeling in favour of or against one group of people, or one side in an argument, often not based on fair judgement (https://www.oxfordlearnersdictionaries.com/definition/english/bias_1?q=bias).

However, it is not as simple as it sounds as you will easily notice in the “bitch-list” below*.

  • Survivorship Bias: We tend to concentrate on a few successful people and think that we will be successful as well when we learn from them. However, thus we ignore the significant number of losers with the same strategy. And when failure is forgotten, we may no longer see the difference between failure and success which can lead to false conclusions.

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  • Availability Heuristic: Brains are awesome but they are also susceptible to mistakes such as the notion that examples that come to our mind first are most important or more important than alternatives. When decisions are based only on such assumptions, the real risk may be underestimated and misjudgement is possible.
  • Anchoring: The “anchor” is the first piece of information that we receive when we are about to make a decision and we have a tendency to rely on it too heavily. It puts disproportionate weight on all other data that are available.
  • Loss Aversion: We have the tendency to place a higher value on avoiding a certain loss than on acquiring gains of equal magnitude. Losses seem to have a greater emotional impact than gains. For an example, please refer to https://www.interaction-design.org/literature/article/loss-aversion-really-what-s-the-worst-that-can-happen.
  • Bandwagon Effect: We are all strongly influenced by group norms and may start adopting a certain behaviour, style or attitude because everyone is doing it and because there is enormous pressure to conform.

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  • Choice-Supportive: Whenever we make choices, we have the tendency to view our decision in the most favourable light when considered in retrospective to avoid regret.
  • Clustering Illusion: This cognitive bias makes us seeing patterns in a random sequence of numbers or events.
  • Confirmation Bias: We have the tendency to ignore information that challenges our existing beliefs and to favour information that is perceived as a confirmation of our opinions instead. This bias has an impact on how we gather, interpret and recall information which is why two people can get the same information but can still have two opposite viewpoints.

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  • Conservatism Bias: Even if we are presented with new information or evidence on a certain topic, we may not immediately acknowledge it and only react to it very slowly.
  • Unassumed Bias: We also tend to fail to notice that our own cognitive biases are a bias in itself. However, we recognise cognitive and motivational biases in others much easier.

Arvid’s advice on that is: “However, avoiding making mistakes based on bias is relatively simple. Examining whether what you see is the source or the consequence tends to allow you to extrapolate what the actual base emotion is.” Well, to actually be able to do that you need a lot of experience!

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Although it was an exhausting week, I am really thankful for this opportunity. Working with experts pays off. My personal takeaways from the project during the presence week are:

  1. Just because it seems that “every one provides an app”, not everybody must provide an app. There are alternatives that may work even better!
  2. Not everybody can create an app! You may think it is easy just because you constantly use apps but there is MUCH more to it!
  3. Think outside the box! It is hard but with some training, it can work.
  4. Usability is not about technical stuff!
  5. Be alert, the bias-bitches are everywhere!
  6. Morales are similar beasts as the bias-bitches!
  7. Content counts!
  8. Survival is more important than good grades.
  9. Frustration can be motivating!
  10. We did an excellent job!

BUT…


© Photos: Alexandra Wurian

*Based on the information in the COS-Toolkit provided by Arvid Brobeck


Listen to Marijana’s Podcast and find out about Arvid’s thoughts on UX and what it has to do with Content Strategy

More interesting insights about user research and UX design are provided in the following blog posts written by my colleagues:

Joscha UX-lesson learned: Design is not an art? Doch, ich finde schon.

Lisa Warum wir alle manchmal aus unserer kleinen Welt ausbrechen sollten!

Genya User research, Two diamonds and Gut feeling

Melanie Learnings – User Research & Interaction Design

Katrin It’s all about the hypothesis. Oder: Immer schön der Reihe nach

Cos Anonymous Biases

Stephanie Kill your darlings – breaking out of the comfort zone

Phillip R. Lessons learned: Fragen sind miese Biester 

Yvi User Experience aus der Sicht eines Newbies

Silvia What HR can learn from UX

Bernd Mäuse fängt man mit Käse und User mit „The Joy Of Use“

Philipp T. Wo bleibt die User Experience – warum Schnelligkeit alleine zu wenig ist

Sarolta UX Design: The Invisible Magic Behind Everything We Use

Babsi Just Do It. Oder warum Prototypen wichtig sind.

For more information, you may want to check out the following websites:

3 Ways to Make Less Biased Decisions

20 cognitive biases that screw up your decisions

58 cognitive biases that screw up everything we do

 

 

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