Design Leader Insights - Jon Yablonski

January 16, 2023

Alex Smith: Hey, Jon. Thanks so much for joining the show today. 

Jon Yablonski: Thanks for having me. 

Alex Smith: Of course. Yeah. To get started. Can you give the audience a little bit of background on your history and UX? 

Jon Yablonski: Sure. Well, I guess I'll kind of go way back. I was that kid that was always drawing and I guess that, you know, Sci-fi scenes or, or fictional characters and my favorite punk rock band logos. And you know, eventually kind of led me to art school where I realized that I'd been doing graphic design all along, really. So that spurred an interest in, in kind of pursuing that path and, you know, graduated doing graphic design. It just so happened to converge with the kind of launch of the first iPhone. And I got really interested in the digital space and that kind of led me to you know, digital agencies doing websites. Apps of course, but you know, through the process of kind of, you know refining, cultivating my, my design practice, really wanting to make it not only look good, the work that I was doing, but make it work really good too. So it's this kind of natural progression that happens where you get gradually more and more interested in user experience and, and that functional aspect of designs. So that kind of led me down a path to pursuing opportunities and in the UX space and you know, fast forward to now where that's, you know, my sole focus at, you know, large organizations that are trying to tackle really complex engineering challenges and, and focused on user experience overall.

Alex Smith: In particular, one of the things you've been doing as of late, is focusing on biases, which we haven't really talked about a lot in the show, but are super important. Can you explain a little bit about maybe some common biases? And why is that important for designers to be aware of? 

Jon Yablonski: Sure. So, you know, I think a lot of times, you know, designers might be aware of cognitive bias and how that has a tendency to affect judgment and decisions, which obviously plays an important role in the design process. But I don't think it's very often talked about in the context of how it affects us as designers, you know? Of course it affects users as well, but it also affects how designers kind of create designs. So this kind of led me down a path of really being interested in this topic and you know, really kind of investigating how these different biases could affect the design process. You know, so, you know, just kind of drawing on a few examples. I think, you know, we've all been in that meeting where someone says like I, as a user you know, and you know, that's kind of a fundamentally, a flawed way of thinking from a design perspective, because you know, of course, as designers, we're much too close to the work that we're creating. And, it's really impossible for us to separate ourselves from that work. So seeing things from the perspective of users, is particularly challenging for us and that's an example of the false consensus effect, you know, so. You know, that's a fallacy that we can quickly fall into the trap of during the design process that leads us down a path of making decisions or, or forming judgements around work that is, you know, not factual. It's not true, right? So we've all been in meetings where it's like, oh, how should we approach X, Y, Z problem? And someone says, well, how does this company do it? How does our competitor do it? And sometimes, you know, this can be helpful, you know, ideation, but we can quickly fall into this trap of using available information in assuming that it applies to the context in which we're designing for. So you know, the problem that X example might solve, it's completely different from yours, but you're kind of using that available information that you have to form your own decisions, and that can also lead to faulty decision-making and poor judgment.

Alex Smith: Yeah, and this is just the tip of the iceberg in terms of all the cognitive biases. And I think beyond awareness, it's like cognitive behavioral therapy and in psychology, the concept seems easy. Hey, just stop your thoughts and become aware. Anytime you have an anxious thought and then stop it. Like, I think awareness is one thing, but actually, how do you catch yourself in these biases? Because there are tons of them and it seems like you almost have to actively be thinking about every decision you make and say is this bias, does this bias, which seems a difficult and maybe like a time, a lot of time investments, how practically, how can designers stop themselves and say, oh, that's a biased decision or avoid bias design decisions?

Jon Yablonski: Yeah, it's a fantastic question. And unfortunately it's not one that's easily answered. I think that's primarily because you know, our biases are always happening, right? It's only once we kind of slowed down and we really start to evaluate things for an extended amount of time that system two thinking kicks in. System one is that automatic kind of process that, you know, you can't really turn off. It's always happening. It's where our biases live, right? And it kind of helps us just really be efficient. But it's not until we stop and pause and evaluate things closer that system two thinking kicks in. And it's actually the system two thinking that helps us kind of avoid the biases that have the potential to really impact us in a negative way. So, you know, I think really the best that we can do is, is somewhat of a compromise. Learning how to recognize situations in which, you know, our design decisions are likely to be there and be affected by cognitive bias and then try harder to avoid. The mistakes that come with biases when we're, when left unchecked when the stakes are really high.

Alex Smith: So Jon, biases, they all sound scary, but are they all a bad thing? 

Jon Yablonski: Absolutely not. I mean, in fact they're actually necessary, right? Like we have to make thousands upon thousands of decisions every single day and most of which we're not even cognizant of, right? So it's the kind of biases that kick in to help us inform judgment and make decisions. They really help, you know, help us get through our, you know, that onslaught of information that we're presented with. 

Alex Smith: So Jon, there seems like there's a lot of biases out there. Which ones are the top ones that as a designer, you should be aware of that can actually affect the output of your work or the design process?

Jon Yablonski: You know, there's quite a bit. And I think that, you know, the funny thing about biases, once you learn about them, you see them absolutely everywhere. You know, in fact our work is just absolutely riddled with them. So it's really kind of a process of building awareness of them in general.  And knowing about the ones that have a tendency to have the most negative impact if left unchecked, right? So really I think that it's about, you know, understanding our biases and, and kind of overcoming them when we know that they can affect our judgment and decisions in a negative way. And then also understanding our biases, the biases of others which can help us obviously improve user experience overall.  And you know, I've done quite a bit of thinking about this and it's led me down this process of kind of you know, extensive research and really kind of honing in on the ones that I think have the potential to have the most negative impact. And then also the ones that have the tendency to surface more frequently. And I've kind of aggregated those in a resource called Bias by Design which is available online at And yeah, I mean, I think really it's a, it's a kind of an ongoing resource. It's not a comprehensive kind of list, but you know, truth be told there's thousands. There's lots of different ways that biases can affect our design, our decisions. And you know, I try to kind of use this aggregated resource biased by design to really kind of collect the ones that I think have the potential to have the biggest, you know, negative impact.

Alex Smith: Nice, I need to dive deeper into that resource. Thanks for sharing that and learn about my own biases. Awesome. Thanks for doing that because I'm sure it's helping designers become more aware of that, which ultimately helps the end-user. Jon, thank you so much for being on the show today. 

Jon Yablonski: Thanks for having me.