Being Wrong

“To err is to wander, and wandering is the way we discover the world; and, lost in thought, it is also the way we discover ourselves. Being right might be gratifying, but in the end it is static, a mere statement. Being wrong is hard and humbling, and sometimes even dangerous, but in the end it is a journey, and a story.” ~Kathryn Schulz, Being Wrong

We are all flawed. Our brains like to take shortcuts. Generally for good reason — these shortcuts often helped us survive as a species. But nonetheless, these flaws are there. The important thing is that we recognize it, and compensate when appropriate.

One big flaw: Confirmation bias. We’re prone to seek out information that agrees with us. Just as often, we ignore or downplay information that contradicts our current beliefs. While this form of generalization often helps us make decisions more quickly, it also blinds us to possibility and stifles our curiosity.

Good design requires a constant battle against confirmation bias. At any given point in the design process, your brain is working against you — trying to make you think that you know. Instead of following that voice, we have to build checks into our process — data, research, testing, validation. (Even the word “validation” suggests we’re looking to see if we are right, but we continue to fall in the trap of using it.) In our recent studies of small business owners here at Automattic, I have to push myself to focus more on the things I didn’t expect than the things I did.

Start from curiosity. Welcome and seek out difference.

~Automattic Design Principle

My advice to young designers: Look for where you are wrong. Say “I don’t know.” These are powerful words. Seek out data that disagrees with you — whether through feedback from other designers, talking with real customers, or testing your work in the real world.

Being wrong is where things get interesting. It’s a competitive advantage in a world where most are only looking for proof of being right.