Categories: #NYCTechAlleyTalkDesignTechThe Watch

Designing for Unconscious Bias

Our judgements and assessments of others are often inaccurate. This is because people tend to weigh their judgements heavily toward more recent and memorable information. Memorable events also tend to be more magnified as they are linked to emotional reactions. As humans, we are subject to illusions resulting from conscious and unconscious bias. If we are to conquer bias, it is important to understand the science behind our cognitive biases.

Every moment, we receive 11 million bits of information and increasing. Our conscious mind processes only a fraction of this information, 40 bits of information. At any given moment then, we are processing 99. 999996% of information unconsciously. We also have the universal ability to make instinctive decisions automatically as a coping mechanism. This innate human ability is called unconscious bias.

Unconscious bias is triggered by our brain making quick judgments and assessments of people and situations, influenced by our identities, cultural attitudes, and personal experiences. This bias can be oriented towards age, gender, ethnic origin, religion, social class, sexual preferences, infirmities, and nationality. Unconscious bias is the foundation of stereotypes, prejudice, and, finally, discrimination. It is also human and normal.

The Census Bureau projections highlight that the U.S. population will become “majority minority” in 2044. If we are able to transcend the negative influence of biases, we can harness the power of the diverse demographic and turn it into a competitive and economic advantage. Our ability to address unconscious biases will help us better respond to our nation’s growing racial, religious, class, and orientation disparity across generations.

We make countless decisions and judgements each day about people’s character, abilities, and potential, without even realizing it. For an equal and just society to thrive, we must confront and repair this operating system.

Rafael Sergio Smith, senior designer at IDEO.org, explored how we can use design and technology to mitigate the negative influence of unconscious bias. He addressed a community of people interested in design, art, and technology at the Designers + Geeks October event.

Rafael proposes that interjecting diversity through design and technology is the key to transcending the intended and unintended consequences of the unconscious bias operation. Rafael suggests the following 5 bias buster tactics and technologies to challenge your thinking and beat your personal biases. Personal biases shape institutional and platform biases. Many progressive organizations have begun to introduce de-biasing programs to help employees overcome their biases.


  1. Recognize bias and name it
    1. with analytics; with better information we can make better decisions
    2. with everyday awareness; seek to bridge your blind spots and broaden your perspective
  2. Mitigate bias in decision making
    1. in employment; technology isn’t the only outlier industry
    2. in the legal system; explore the use of AI to eliminate institutionalized bias
    3. in the sharing economy; use tools such as Debias Yourself to normalize platform bias
  3. Build new narratives: by leveraging storytelling platforms such as The Techies Project
  4. Visualize invisible and systemic forces and data to surface otherwise hidden, complex correlations
  5. Enable empathy with immersive experiences which can help one shift from a position of sympathy to empathy


  1. Analytics and data science
  2. Artificial Intelligence
  3. Story telling
  4. Data visualization
  5. Virtual reality experiences

Rafael is a designer and social entrepreneur. He is experienced in tackling challenges from emergency shelters in disaster zones to rural agricultural systems in India and Africa. His work ranges from physical products to software applications and systems. Prior to joining IDEO.org, Rafael was lead designer at Solar Mosaic, helping the company enter the market and grow to ten thousand users. As an industrial design consultant, he has created products for manufacturers and founded Uber Shelter, a company known for designing emergency shelters in Haiti, Venezuela, and Japan. Rafael is also a mentor for the Unreasonable Institute where he advises entrepreneurs on how to apply rapid prototyping and design thinking to their businesses.



Image Credit: CC by Steven Depolo

Rohinee Mohindroo :Rohinee Mohindroo is a Transformational Technology Leader, helping organizations elevate customer and employee experiences by delivering scale, speed, and stability. Rohinee is available in a consultancy role to startups who are scaling up and to enterprises who are strategically focused on digital transformations.