Patterns and Biases

Using human pattern recognition abilities to your advantage


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Human beings are pattern recognition machines. It’s part of what has gotten us as far as we have, evolutionary speaking. We are also flawed. People regularly see patterns and connect dots where there are no connections. We also fall victim to a whole host of cognitive biases which can direct us to conclude & act in ways that are not entirely rational. Sometimes the results of these irrational conclusions are benign, sometimes they are not.

When it comes to user experience we look for patterns here as well. We navigate websites & experiences, see certain solutions, and expect to see similar design patterns in other experiences. When we see these design patterns repeated we know how to act because we already experienced them. We saw a pattern and processed what to do if we see that pattern again.

If you are the designer of an application you should use this pattern recognition tendency to your advantage. Design your experience using established UX design patterns rather than fighting against them. UX firms such as the Nielsen Norman Group have lots of free information in their Articles section of their site on best practices. Beyond that though, think of the websites you already use, find the shared solutions and ideas across them, and use those. It’s true that all websites are flawed but you can get a lot of good ideas by paying attention to the common prevailing design solutions of the industry.

Easily the simplest best practice for utilizing our pattern recognition ability is to be consistent. Develop a pattern within your own experience by being consistent. 

• Use a consistent hierarchy of type (fonts, sizes, weights, etc.)

• Be consistent with the placement of shared objects across pages

• Have a universal aesthetic

• Use the same colors across your charts

• etc. 

This kind of design thinking allows users to see a pattern in your work and understand how to more quickly interact with each page rather than having to start from scratch on every page. We have been primed to see patterns and, in using established design patterns, you appeal to our own subconscious as well as contribute to the overall effectiveness of these design patterns. 

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