How to design for unconsciously-biased data
We encounter unconscious biases through every interaction we experience each and every day. They are a part of our universal psyche and have a both positive and, more often, highly negative presence in our inherited and learned toolset that helps us understand the complexities in the world around us.
But how does our environment shape our biases, that in turn shape our perception of the objects and people we interact with, and ultimately, our identities?
Phenomenology is the study of structures of experience, or consciousness. This involves the observation of things as they appear in our experience, or how we experience these things, from the subjective or first person point of view.
The data that is collected through phenomenological research is termed as the “data of the conscious experience”, or “capta”. Capta requires a much deeper and contextual understanding of what is being researched. In contrast to typical data collection, that is assumed to be given, measured and observed; capta is data that is actively taken.
When we analyse data that is related to humans, it is always biased. It can be objectively measured, and empirically studied, but inspire actions that overlook the context and the ‘why’ someone did something. For example, we can code gender into two distinct categories: male and female. However, our gender identity is much more complex, fluid, and dynamic.
We know that there is so much more richness in qualitative over quantitative research, however, its results can be so delicately influenced even by the smallest of circumstance, such as the tone and body language of the interviewer. With this knowledge, can we use capta over data in designing future products and services?
Every one of us is complicit in the biased perception of the world around us. Some people more, some people less. It is a natural phenomenon that affects all of us, showing us that our brain is working properly, noticing patterns, and making generalisations, that help us understand what we see and experience.
As we begin to share our experiences, we can observe how our biases can affect how we view ourselves as individuals, and what role our social environment plays in this aggregated self-perception. It is deeper than just a moment, built upon a history of ideas and ideologies, societal development, media and communication, our childhood, to the people we choose to coexist with in our social and professional circles.
At FJORD, we believe there are steps can we take to overcome, and welcome, the existence of unconscious biases. These are a few of our core considerations in our design process.
- We can become more aware of our biases as they arise, and unlearn them.
- We can offer a range of perspectives, rather than one perspective.
- We can be more conscious of the framing and narration of data.
- We can unearth and shed light on possible stereotypes before research is carried out.
For more knowledge and views on this topic, we can thoroughly recommend checking out the book Digital Humanities by the MIT Press.
For this year’s Berlin Design Week, FJORD Berlin held a series of talks across topics ranging from sustainability, spatial experiences, to diversity and inclusion within design. We also hosted an exhibition that highlighted the power of experimentation to encourage this free-thinking in our daily work.
Check out our other articles from the Berlin Design Week…
Experimentation as a tool for innovative and differential product creation
Viva la vulva 2.0
The plights and joys in the transition towards a more sustainable workplace and culture
Design for spatial experiences