2013/10/10 11:00 “Interliminal Design: Mitigating Cognitive Bias-Induced Design Distortion” | DeAunne Denmark | Relating Systems Thinking & Design 2013

Digest of presentation at #RSD2 by DeAunne Denmark @infourd @playthink sketchnote on Interliminal Design at Relating Systems Thinking and Design 2 at AHO Oslo School of Design and Architecture

This digest was created in real-time during the meeting, based on the speaker’s presentation(s) and comments from the audience. The content should not be viewed as an official transcript of the meeting, but only as an interpretation by a single individual. Lapses, grammatical errors, and typing mistakes may not have been corrected. Questions about content should be directed to the originator. The digest has been made available for purposes of scholarship by David Ing.

Not trained in design or systems thinking

  • M.D.

Developed new course in collaborative design

Interliminal Design

  • Interliminal as a new word
  • Liminal, as a threshold, used as ritual about to change
  • Preliminal, rites of separation
  • Liminal, rites of transition
  • Post liminal, rites of integration

Also use liminal in transitional space

Design distortion

Based on cognitive work of Daniel Kahneman

  • Cognitive heuristics and biases
  • Decisions are made in the interliminal space

Heuristic have cognitive bias, unknown, unseen, unacknowledged and uncompensated

Interliminal methods mitigate biases that cause design distortion

Deliberate altering of rules, viewpoints, roles, positions, etc. to enhance perception

[Abstract of talk from http://www.systemic-design.net/]

Donald Harker, Andrew McCollough and Deaunne Denmark.
Interliminal Design: Mitigating Cognitive Bias-Induced Design Distortion

Abstract: The presence of cognitive biases and heuristics induces design distortions, unintended mismatches between desired and actual design outcomes. Interliminal Design is an intentional, adaptive and imaginative design process that mitigates design distortions. The process involves intentional and agile maneuvering between various personal cognitive and structural systems, thereby overcoming negative impacts of cognitive biases and heuristics.Cognitive heuristics are mental shortcuts adapted to enable rapid interpretation of the complex environment in which we evolved and live. These heuristics are inherent in human cognition and resist modification. When applied outside the appropriate context, these heuristics often give rise to systematic errors in human reasoning. Cognitive biases are the result of the context-inappropriate application of cognitive heuristics. Unfortunately, cognitive bias in design thinking often goes unnoticed and unaddressed, resulting in all degrees of design distortion that often affect multiple dimensions of an issue.Design distortions induced by cognitive biases are most apparent in failures to address complex, wicked and super wicked problems. These problems are characterized by incomplete, changing, intricately interdependent, yet contradictory, requirements. They frequently have short timelines, no central authority, and are caused by the same entities charged with solving them using existing irrational policies. We propose a design methodology, emerging at the Collaborative Design program at Pacific Northwest College of Art, to specifically mitigate the contributing factor of irrationality to design. The authors developed and taught an MFA course called Design Thinking and Cognitive Biases to explore the influence of cognitive biases on design and formulate techniques to raise awareness and reduce design distortion induced by cognitive biases.

Interliminal Design recognizes design thinking as an ecosystem comprised of evolving individuals in conscious and subconscious relationships with each other where learning, emergence and adaptation are frequent and nonlinear. Individuals in collaborative design groups working on various dimensions of the design process must effortfully mitigate biases on a personal level. In addition, group-level biases must also be addressed. Counter-intuitively, individuals in groups do not “average out” their biases; instead, biases common across individuals, as well as group dynamics, can result in the strengthening of design biases that further distort the design process and outcomes. Thus, the collaborative group as a whole must also work to mitigate bias.


Version 1.0 of Interliminal Design is modeled below. The arrows emphasize the flux between systems and processes, crossing between divisions, nodes and boundaries. This highly interconnected flow recognizes the non-linear process of design and addresses all design aspects. Interliminal Design makes explicit the knowledge that biases in the design process must be actively mitigated and that individual biases are magnified in collaboration with others. This bias mitigation comes in two forms – structural and personal. Structural bias mitigation derives from how the system operates on processes, ideas and knowledge, specifically through group collaboration. Personal bias mitigation comes through the active practice of intentional methods to enhance the accessibility of deliberate and corrective thought processes. Collaboration and systems thinking are in vogue among designers; with intention, they can be used to mitigate bias.

We will examine the following heuristics that impact designers and result in design distortion. In the process, we will discuss cognitive bias mitigation techniques from mindfulness to “devil’s advocate,” and how they might be applied in collaborative design, especially when approaching wicked problems.

1. Framing Heuristic
Our perception of the frame or context of the problem determines the solution.

2. Anchoring and Adjustment Heuristic
We show tendency to anchor on a reference point or piece of information when making decisions, even if that data point is irrelevant to the task. The resultant value is then “adjusted” up or down. These adjustments are often much to small, resulting in inaccurate and biased results.

3. Availability Heuristic
We often judge the frequency or probability of an event based upon the ease with which it comes to mind, estimating what is more likely by what is more available in memory. This tendency is biased toward vivid, unusual, or emotionally charged images and examples.

4. Affect Heuristic
We are unduly influenced by what we like or what we have an emotional attachment to, regardless of whether it is the appropriate model or solution.

5. Attribute Substitution Heuristic
We propose the solution we have rather than a solution we must invent. We address the question that we have an answer for, rather than the question that was asked.

6. Prospect Theory
Our current context determines our valuation of decisions and processes.

7. Temporal Discounting
The tendency to value the present and immediate rewards over long-term thinking.

The above heuristics commonly result in specific kinds of biases, including:

1. The status quo bias
The tendency to defend and bolster the status quo. The status quo might be defined as what has worked so far, which may account for the reluctance to change it.

2. Remoteness of impact bias
Discounting of those things that might or will likely happen in the future. The further removed the consequences of our actions in time and space the less motivated we are to change behaviors.

3. Optimism bias
Overestimation of the likelihood of encountering future positive events, and underestimation of experiencing future negative events.

4. Confirmation bias
The tendency to search for or interpret information in a way that confirms our preconceptions about things for which we feel certain.

5. Herding bias
Sometimes called norming, groupthink, or the bandwagon effect. The tendency to do (or believe) things because many other people do (or believe) the same.

Specifically, we propose a design method that reveals biased and heuristic thought, where inappropriate, and increases the availability and applicability of the appropriate cognitive model or analysis technique. The increased accessibility of corrective or rational thought, and the resulting ability to flexibly shift between perspectives and states, will reduce the likelihood of design distortion in individual and collaborative design processes.

[Photo by Manuela Aguirre]

RSD2 Symposium


#design, #interliminal, #rsd2