How bias plays a part in design research

Does bias really have no part to play in research?

It is commonly believed that research studies should be unbiased and fair. Yet, biases are very much human and commonly found in research, especially qualitative studies. Jieyu shares how biases should be something to look out for when conducting design research, but also help to guide the synthesis of data and add richness to the research work.


  • Depending on how you define it, there can be both a good or bad kind of bias
  • A good bias is having a different perspective that stems from your own experiences—this enriches the research work, and creates dynamism and vibrance
  • A bias to look out for is a deep ingrained mindset that might be unfair (e.g. biases against a certain culture or organisation)
  • If you are able to spot a bias from a respondent you’re speaking to, that’s where you want to dig further to find out why they speak, think or act in certain manners
  • Secondary research is a good way to get up to speed with current happenings and future trajectories in the industry you are conducting research in, in order to curtail any assumptions and bias you may already have
  • As a design researcher, you have to be aware of your bias, so that you can surface new things from your respondent instead of overclouding the information with any of your ingrained perspectives
  • However, in the synthesis phase where there are a plethora of ways to synthesise the same data set, your own perspective and bias will naturally come into play
  • Synthesis is guided by what you believe, what you want to push for, and what you hear—then fairly present a point of view that you know is beneficial and honest to your clients

Full Transcript

I also want to find out how come he or she is thinking this way, because that’s where you start uncovering rich details about something.

That bias that we all have seems to be kind of a good thing. Because you know, when people hear “bias”, it’s like, “Oh, why are you so bias?” or “You have this bias!” And then it has that negative connotation, but from the way you said it, it’s like having different bias, different experiences such that each design researcher can bring that bias into the design research to make it an addition to the project. So it becomes this good aspect of design research.

I think so. It’s just being discerning about what kind of bias.

If the bias is about different perspective or disagreement because of different perspectives, that’s good bias, because that’s enriching, right? That’s dynamism, that’s vibrant.

There’s another kind of bias that I think researchers watch out for. It would be the inset mindset, or a deep, ingrained mindset that might be unfair. Let’s say, biases against a certain culture, bias against a certain organisation. So the things that the respondents might actually convey, right?

We might want to recognise—are those biases fair? Or rather, not even to say it’s fair, because then you’re judging. It’s just to be able to recognise that, are these biases ingrained?

Biases that might have been experienced by that particular respondent? So then it’s more about finding out why he or she says or performs certain behaviours and says certain things. And that’s where you want to dig. But then you always want to make sure that you recognise that certain biases happening.

So I think there are also two kinds of bias for me. And maybe it’s just for simplicity’s sake, I don’t really rationalise it as clearly as always, because, you know, it happens so fast, right? But I tend to always try to recognise that it is a different perspective, or is this just a kind of bias that they have? And if it is a bias, I also want to find out how come he or she is thinking this way, because that’s where you start uncovering rich details about something.

Maybe personally, do you take any steps to acknowledge the bias that you have? Is it through conducting thorough secondary research to better understand the background? Is it through speaking to clients to really understand where they’re coming from? And then seeing how that fares against your own perspective? Are there any steps that you personally take to address this bias that you have?

It’s always tricky. For me, it’s that you also ask yourself the question: when do you realign until you lose your perspective? It’s always a tricky kind of balance for me. But you’re right in a way that secondary research informs. So being able to… I’m actually quite academic in that way. I like to get a lot more information about the subject matter. And the more the merrier. The only reason for that is also because most of the times when you enter a project, you typically have not spent like 10-20 years on that subject matter.

And it’s quite important to be able to get up to speed with what’s going on in the industry at this moment in time as well as for future trajectories. So, secondary research is important for that.


On general assumptions in design research.

So, once you have a certain group of people or group of problems that relates to certain groups or categories of users or people, you will have to qualify them quite well. Number two is then certain qualifications or qualifying processes will always still yield different kinds of people.


On the one thing to be aware of as a design researcher.


As a design team, I think the number one thing is to be aware that you are also human and you are biased. And that is necessary to try to control that bias in the interview sessions because you want to surface things. At that moment, you want to surface things, you don’t want your story or your perspective to overcloud the information or understanding phase.

It’s fair game when it comes to creation, synthesis and things like that. Typically there’s like a million and one ways to synthesise the same data set, right. But it’s usually guided by what you believe, what you want to push for, what you hear, and to also then fairly present a point of view or story that you know is beneficial and that you know is honest to your clients. So it doesn’t mean it has always to be the good things, right. It’s good to surface out, honestly, what is going on. And again, you see, all these terms are all very subjective: honest, beneficial… all these are all subjective terms, which there’s a biasness to it already right, how you define it.

Desiree Lim, Kevin Yeo, Matthew Wong


This post doesn't have any comment. Be the first one!

hide comments

This is a unique website which will require a more modern browser to work!

Please upgrade today!