User research biases to be aware of Part 2: confirmation bias


Confirmation bias describes the tendency that we as humans seek out, favor and pay more attention to those information that confirms our pre-made assumptions and beliefs and we selectively ignore information that disconfirms our beliefs.

When people would like something – like an idea or hypothesis – to be true, they tend to believing it to be true. This bias can cause that people will stop gathering further information when the pieces of evidence gathered so far are confirming the pre-made views and hypothesis one would like to be true.
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User Experience Retrospective: Designing For People, 1981

This video from 1981 from the AT&T Archives of Human Factors Research (which is not ergonomics) explains why its important to include potential users early in the process when designing complex systems.

„The challenge of human factors is to design services for customers, such that are easy to access and once they accessed them that they fulfill a need – a useful need.“

Designing for people, not systems

„People performing in systems have in common that they are each somebody, doing something, someplace”

Human Performance Model (Bailey, 1996)

So we have three components to consider here as claimed in Bailey’s Model of human performance.
The human (people with needs, goals, fears, questions). The context (environment). The activity (tasks)

Sounds too simple, no? But these components are often neglected: As the goal is to improve human performance in some area when designing/ developing a digital product, designers and developers should consider these three components throughout during the design and development process.
Whereas the human is the most complex of these elements, and too often, during the design / development of a digital product the focus is on activities (tasks) of those people and the system and not on the people with their goals who will be using it.

Book: Human Performance Engineering: Designing High Quality Professional User Interfaces for Computer Products, Applications and Systems (Bailey, 1996)

The seven stages of action


Don Norman’s famous book „The Design of Everyday Things“ which was released in 1988 has had big influence on the fields of human computer interaction and user experience design.
One of the topics he covers in his book is a model/framework of how people act when they’re interacting in the world to reach their larger goals. This model is called the seven stages of action (or Norman’s Action Cycle)
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Design principles: Recognition over recall

Avoid asking users to memorize stuff. People will have a much easier time recognizing an option if they see it rather than recalling it from memory.

Speaking of the autocomplete example above: of course we have to start with a recalled search term first – but this might be sometimes only be a vague base of what it is that we think we are looking for – but as we type it we can see other suggestions. This might help us fill the form out because we have recognized the term we were looking for.

The classification of information

Question: Which goes with the cow together? Or: Which two items go together? Please answer spontaneously for yourself (your first thought)

I recently stumpled upon this again and I think it’s a quite interesting test and food for thought. What you see above is a triad of objects and it’s about classification/ categorization of these objects.
More important: there is no right/wrong answer on the question which two are alike or go together. In fact, your answer may depend on where you were born and raised.

This is important because quite often cross-cultural studies of websites and user experience design do focus on things language bias in general, imagery, tone of voice and the appropriate use of colors and icons (see for example El Said, G. and K. Hone, 2001) – but little work appears to have been done concerning the overall structure, taxonomy and information architecture of websites which deals with the different mental models based on how you are socialized in cultural terms.

Besides that, I think it’s also a nice demo on all the different mental models and cognitive schemas we have in our minds if you have to deal with endless discussions about taxonomies/IA and vague „I—like/I-think“ -discussions“ – ;)

More info about triads and cognitive schemes based on cultural background known as the „cow, chicken grass“ studies here:
Cow, Chicken, Grass. Which two go together? Your answer depends on where you were raised.

Cultural differences are not always reducible to individual differences, Nisbett et al, 2010

Img source: The Geography of Thought: How Asians and Westerners Think Differently…and Why (Nisbett, 2003)

Visual perception: design principles that can help delivering a better user experience

A lot of eyetracking studies showed – most of them were performed by Jacob Nielsen – that people tend to follow an F-shaped reading pattern when looking at different types of web pages: two horizontal stripes followed by a vertical stripe.This means, that people don’t necessarily see everything (equally) even if that information is put in front of them.

So here are three key principles we should keep in mind when designing web pages which can help to guide us towards delivering better user experiences because they take advantage of that knowledge:

1) Valuable and important information and actions should be clearly visible: Information that is not immediately visible and perceivable by people is less likely to be noticed. Plus: if there is an extra effort required to find it, the number of people that will find it and take action on it is gonna be reduced significantly.

2) When designing, keep the F-Shape in mind
Take advantage of this F- shaped reading pattern that people tend to pursue when they visit a webpage and place the most valuable information and elements by following this pattern.

3) Even when testing, always question why people did not find the information
When evaluating a webpage through user testing or an expert review, and people (or in case of an expert review: you) missed some important information: ask yourself always critically: did people actually see this information and they ignored it because it seemed not relevant to them for some reason or did they miss it completely because they followed the F-shaped reading pattern and the information was not placed by taking advantage of that pattern?

So, as we see we can clearly taking advantage of the knowledge how people read through a page when designing these or conducting evaluations.

Visual perception: How people pick up information

a) Saccades (sequential eye fixations or: „scanpaths“) of humans when reading a western language. This is how we read text information because we learned how text is supposed to flow.

b) Saccades when browsing a web site (gazeplot recording)

It’s always good to keep in mind that just because we put something on a screen (or poster, image) it doesn’t mean that people will look at it.

Img source
a) https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Reading_Fixations_Saccades.jpg
b) https://www.flickr.com/photos/cinteractionlab/4311903342/in/photolist-7z2CD5-7z2CEN/ (CC BY 2.0)

Related article: F-Shaped Pattern For Reading Web Content/

A visual introduction to statistics

This is just great! Daniel Kunin, a student of Brown university has created a visual introduction to statistics! As we learned in our university stats course understanding (basic) statistics and especially the term „statistical significance“ is becoming more and more important (yes, even when you’re a designer!)

„The goal of the project is to make statistics more accessible to a wider range of students through interactive visualizations.“

Oh would I only have known this last year when I was fighting with probability theory, combinatorics, ANOVA, confidence intervals, cohen’s d & co in the stats course.

Visit and learn: http://students.brown.edu/seeing-theory/index.html