We’re digital professionals. We’re supposed to have opinions. How can we prevent our unconscious biases from leaking into the user experience?
As a designer, carving out a career in user experience is interesting. If I’m doing my job correctly, most users never notice my work. This makes it difficult to not only answer my friends and family when they ask, “So… what is it you do, again?” but also to colleagues (not just designers) in the industry with less experience in UX practice who may confuse personal preferences for user preferences.
Recently I sat on a TechFluence Meetup UX panel hosted by 24Seven and eROI, where we discussed how failure can lead to success in UX. The moderator asked the audience what they found more challenging to their UX work process: technology or people? We responded overwhelmingly—including most of us on the panel—that what we found the most challenge were people.
Okay, so maybe that isn’t so mind-blowing. When working in UX, it can be really difficult to define who the user is, especially with stakeholders who have their own experiences as users. So how do you navigate all these different points of view while trying to create a great product that works so effectively, users won’t even notice?
Identifying Unconscious Bias in User Experience
Let’s first define who exactly “people” are. When applying this to a UX-heavy product, we can define these three key players: Colleagues, Clients, and Users. Within the first two groups, problems can arise when people confuse their personal preferences with those of the user. This problem is identified as unconscious bias, one of the biggest hurdles in creating great UX.
Unconscious bias is used often when speaking about diversity, but it’s just as applicable to UX. In Unconscious Bias—Making Millions From Theory, management consultant and business psychologist Sylvana Storey defines unconscious bias as “refer[ing] to a bias that happens automatically, is outside of our control and is triggered by our brain making quick judgements and assessments of people and situations, influenced by our background, cultural environment and personal experiences.” This bias can show up when team members offer feedback based on their own personal tastes; when clients don’t delineate the line between themselves and their actual users; and with the end user who, not matter how much research we may do, are the ultimate litmus test of whether or not we did our job correctly.
But what we all need to remember is that we’re part of the “people” problem as well. Overcoming these biases can be difficult, but it is our job as UX professionals to navigate bias to the best of our abilities—through education and best practices — while making users our highest priority in decisions about our end product.
America’s Test Wireframes
The intent of a wireframe can vary depending on your digital end product—email wireframes are about content hierarchy; multi-page website wireframes flesh out user journeys and the overall experience. But wireframes can become the MVP of the UX process, by serving as a virtual America’s Test Kitchen for all your project stakeholders. Like test cooks and editors who try to blow up a recipe to help home cooks recreate foolproof dishes, wireframing can serve as the lab or testing ground for your digital product.
Often, the wireframing process can get condensed or misinterpreted as a client deliverable or precursor to your comps. But by approaching wireframes intentionally, you can help solve the “people” problem. Wireframing can help UX professionals “make sure that everyone on the team, from product managers to customer support, understands their role in improving the user’s experience and how crucial that is for the business.” That way, once your digital product is ready for the design process, your stakeholders should all align on the best UX. And when your brilliant creation finally reaches your user—fingers crossed!—it’ll work so well, they won’t even notice.
Outro: Read Up
There are a million and two articles on wireframing: what it is, how and when to use it, and how important wireframing is to your overall design process. Start with What is Wireframing? on the blog experienceux. Then take advantage of the extensive library of free e-books, offered by UXPin, which includes multiple writings on wireframing.