Exploiting Biases

Design Psychology Module - Royal College of Art / Imperial College London
Psych Implementation & UX Design
(October 2019)

Eve Lerouge
Judyta Baczkowska
Jiarui Zu
Qi Bao

You may be an experienced designer, you may have gone to design school, but how does your knowledge stack up against your classmates?

Cognitive biases are all around us and affect everything we do every day. But what happens when these biases are intentionally used to create feelings of anxiety within you? This was our goal, to place a test in front of both GID and IDE (Innovation Design Engineering - another program at the RCA) students, questioning their knowledge of basic design facts, things that every designer should know, obviously.

This test was designed by our team, and built in Adobe XD to quickly prototype and put in front of users to see their reactions. Check out the prototype yourself [ here. ]

Understanding cognitive biases.

Our team initially was asked to select a few biases to work with, to use to our advantage and create feelings of anxiety in our users. We found that the bandwagon effect and ingroup bias were two powerful biases that affect each of us every day, and using the two groups of GID and IDE would be an easy in to exploit both of these biases. Used in combination with priming our users with potentially false facts, we designed a quiz to push our users to question themselves and their program itself.

The breakdown of our selected biases and how we planned to utilize those to create anxiety in each student. (click to enlarge.)

The quiz.

Our goal was to create a simple quiz about basic design knowledge, but to incite the anxiety that can come from being part of programs as competitive as GID and IDE, we intentionally would show what the “most popular” answer to each question was (even if that answer wasn’t necessarily correct). We did this to ideally make each student pause, even just for a moment, and reconsider their answer. That anxiety that we are all more than familiar with unfortunately.

A look into the XD Prototype.

Quiz structure. 

We began by priming studemts by reminding them the importance of knowing basic design facts. Then each question had 5 answers, but right off the start of the question, the “most popular” answer was suggested and highlighted in green, as you see to the right, and then they are allowed to select an answer. Only after they proceed are they shown what the correct answer actually was.

Lessons learned.

After putting this quiz in front of our peers in the GID program and students in the IDE program, it was easy to see how people began to quickly be frustrated by this simple quiz, which to me indicated that we had done our job. And for only a single week design sprint, we were almost nervous with the results we were getting; how easy it is to frustrate your user.

It’s a bit scary to think how little it takes for designers to truly induce anxiety or frustration, or really any other kind of emotion we feel like, just by a simple manipulation of one or two biases. This sprint was only a week long, imagine what someone could do with a massive team, unlimited budget, and worldwide userbase to experiment on. It’s a little scary.

It was thanks to this project that my deep dive into cognitive psychology and mental health really began, leading to my dissertation, The Burden of Proof, and other projects I’m hoping to finish soon. More than anything it serves as a warning sign for me, and a call to action for all designers. Hopefully someone is listening somewhere.