The Curse of Knowledge in UX

As UX experts, we bear the responsibility of introducing the brand or the product to our target audiences in the best ways we can. And to achieve this, we need to make the users understand everything to properly deliver the brand, product, or the copy to them. However, in doing this, there is something we need to watch out for. This is called the curse of knowledge , or the ability to assume people would know the things you know, which leads you to believe that they understand you better than they do.

This article, The Curse of Knowledge in UX , will help you understand the concept of the curse of knowledge, why people experience it and see how you can take this into account as effectively as possible to help you become better at teaching, communicating, and predicting user behavior .   

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What is the curse of knowledge?

Elizabeth Newton’s “tappers and listeners” experiment

What does the curse of knowledge mean for UX design

What are strategies to overcome the curse of knowledge

Be aware of the existence of the curse of knowledge

Essentially, this means that when a person is more knowledgeable than others in a certain area, they often struggle to take into account the difference in knowledge. This hinders the person in many ways like difficulty in communicating with others as an example. In UX design, this can hinder experts from predicting people’s behavior.

Let us take this psychological experiment as an example:

Elizabeth Newton’s “tappers and listeners” experiment

A Stanford University psychology graduate student named Elizabeth Newton illustrated the curse of knowledge by studying a simple game composed of two groups of people: the tappers and the listeners.

The task given is simple: the tappers were asked of a song and were instructed to tap the song on the table. The listeners were asked to listen and figure out the song that the tappers were tapping.

When asked to predict the result of the short experiment, the tappers were 50% certain that the listeners could guess the song they were tapping. However, this is not what the results showed. Only 2.5% of the listeners guessed the song correctly. The result showed that the tappers overestimated the success ratio of being understood.

The result showed that the tappers suffer from the curse of knowledge , wherein they inaccurately assume that the listeners would know the song they are tapping. 

In this experiment, we are shown that we cannot assume things. The tapper (person) and the listener (the other person) don’t acquire the same conclusions all the time simply because they do not share the same level of knowledge. In the experiment, the listeners weren’t able to identify the song since they only heard a series of tappings.

To simply put, the experiment is a good example of the curse of knowledge. This has shown us that when we are knowledgeable, experienced, and skilled in a certain topic or domain, we tend to assume that other people also acquire the same knowledge, experience, and skills as us. Now applying this situation in UX design can cause a lot of misunderstandings between the brand and the user.

What does the curse of knowledge mean for UX design?

Chances are, you may have already encountered the curse of knowledge in your UX career. Just think of the time when you are just starting in the industry and you weren’t familiar with a lot of jargon that your senior coworkers often used at work. And as you get used to the working environment, you forget that other people don’t know what you know now.

The same thing can happen in UX design . If you are not careful, that can mean disaster for your messaging or conversion rates. On top of this all, the whole user experience would also suffer. 

While you and your team are accustomed to certain concepts and industry terms, your customers are not. #curseofknowledge #uxdesign

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In UX, you need to become completely aware of the curse of knowledge so you can properly tell your users about your brand, product, or service in a way that they won’t be left with confusion or more questions in their heads.

Fortunately, the Userpeek team has laid down several tips for you to break the curse of knowledge:

What are strategies to overcome the curse of knowledge?

Although it can be a challenge to completely avoid the curse of knowledge, we can ease its influence to some degree. The following sections will show you how you can reduce the impact of the curse of knowledge in UX and also some important guidelines on how you can take this bias into account.

Be aware of the existence of the curse of knowledge

Logically, one of the ways to reduce the impact of the curse of knowledge is to become aware of the concept. You are aware it exists and you now have an understanding that everyone has different levels of knowledge

By reading this article, you should have at least grasped the basics of this concept. This article is a good head start for you to recognize the curse of knowledge concept, including when and why people experience it. By acquiring this knowledge, you can identify the type of situation you are in, in which you also become aware of its influence.

Know your users

Never assume the amount of knowledge your users have about your product or brand since you may have users with different personas and different levels of knowledge. To properly present the right information to your target audience , you will need to find out more about your users and how much information they know about your brand or product. To cater to all your customers, you need to make sure that you have the proper information to address all of their questions and concerns. This applies to both your less knowledgeable customers and your more advanced customers.

Ask for feedback

Asking for users’ feedback is probably one of the best ways to account for the curse of knowledge. The feedback from users and the people you are communicating with helps you confirm that they understand everything you are saying. This will also help you assess the different levels of knowledge between yourself and others, which will help you account for the difference properly.

Explain in detail

Another way to prevent the gaps in knowledge is to ensure that you have explained everything well. This means that you have discussed in detail all technical terms and concepts that your users need to know. And even if these are all self-explanatory to you, do not assume that other people would be able to understand what you are saying.

Give a test run

In UX design, no matter how hard you try to place yourself in your customer’s shoes, it remains a challenge to perceive what your customers are thinking or experiencing your product. The best way to resolve this kind of situation is to gather your ideas together, conduct wireframing and prototyping, and test the product in front of the users before you launch it. It is very important to also survey your users about their experience with the new product so you can improve it more before marketing it to the public.  

Present with visuals

Rather than explaining, offering people screenshots, videos, and animations of your product or message is more effective in terms of communication. Showing illustrations of what you are offering brings in more clarity and context about your company or your product.

Use of debiasing techniques

These are techniques to account for and reduce the influence of cognitive bias and help us better understand things more rationally. One debiasing technique is called self-distancing language or the process of distancing to your perspective when it comes to assessing experienced events and emotions. 

Another debiasing technique you can do is to slow down your reasoning process and improve your decision-making activities, which would help you think in a clearer, more rational, and less-biased manner.

Predicting user’s behavior

When you have a better understanding of the curse of knowledge and are aware of all the biases that come into play when it comes to other people’s way of thinking, then you can predict their behavior. 

Like for example, becoming aware that we all have different levels of knowledge, we can take this information and use it to predict the behavior of our target users. We can safely assume that those users with less knowledge of the product or brand will likely fail to understand the message we are promoting. This kind of information will greatly help us in understanding market behaviors and will help us in constructing the right tools and in coming up with the proper approach on how we can bridge this knowledge gap between the brand and the users.

Conclusions

To sum up, we have learned that:

  •  The curse of knowledge is a cognitive bias, wherein we failed to take into account the fact that there are people who do not share the same level of understanding as we do.
  • The curse of knowledge means that those who have a higher level of knowledge in a certain domain will struggle to account for the difference in knowledge between themselves and others. This, in turn, causes a struggle in communicating with other people and a struggle in predicting the behaviors of others.
  • The curse of knowledge can hinder UX experts to get to know their users and to understand their users’ behaviors, which may cause failed UX design, unsuccessful marketing campaigns, and no sales or conversion in return.
  • The curse of knowledge fails us to view things from other people’s perspectives since we are more inclined to think from our viewpoint only.
  • In UX design, we can overcome and lessen the effects of the curse of knowledge by practicing different strategies which include:

- Awareness of the curse of knowledge concept

- Knowledge of our target users and their behaviors

- Ask for user feedback

- A detailed explanation of all terms and concepts, especially the

technical ones

- Conduct a product test run

- Use of visual presentation

- Use of debiasing techniques

- Predict user’s behavior

When you acknowledge the existence of the curse of knowledge, you can avoid the common mistakes in UX design. You also become more aware of your customers and their behaviors. There is no place to assume things when it comes to gathering human insights, especially on the level of understanding that your customers have in terms of understanding your product or brand.

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