SUBJECT: Ph.D. Dissertation Defense
BY: Anastasia Schauer
TIME: Tuesday, April 30, 2024, 2:30 p.m.
PLACE: MRDC Building, 4211
TITLE: The Manifestation and Mitigation of Cognitive Bias in the User-Centered Design Process
COMMITTEE: Dr. Katherine Fu, Chair (GT ME)
Dr. Christopher Saldana (GT ME)
Dr. Roxanne Moore (GT ME)
Dr. Jessica Menold (Penn State Sch. of Engineering Design & Innovation)
Dr. Carolyn Seepersad (GT ME)


Usability or safety issues result when products are not designed with the end user in mind. As the majority of engineering degree recipients are men, products designed by engineers are often inadequate for women users. One example of this is the higher fatality rate for women in car accidents when compared to men, due to safety systems in cars being designed by and for men. The field of engineering design lacks formal investigation into how cognitive bias manifests in a way that negatively impacts design outcomes, and particularly how these negative impacts may be inequitably distributed among stakeholders. Thus, the goal of this work is to contribute to the understanding of how cognitive bias influences the early stages of the design process. To fulfill this primary goal, the proposed research was divided into three parts, with each one fulfilling a more specific research objective. Study I explored the usage of makerspaces, a common site for gender inequity in engineering, through observation and ethnographic interviews with makerspace users. Makerspaces have been identified as an environment where gender impacts user experience, both because makerspaces are typically men-dominated and because different areas of makerspaces have strong stereotypes attached. Findings from Study I were used to develop study materials for Study II, which examined how the stereotyping of a design problem, a user’s gender, and information presentation modality influence the designer’s interpretation of customer problems and needs. Finally, Study III built upon the previous work to develop and test a bias mitigation intervention for design problems. The ability of this intervention to mitigate availability bias was validated in a design activity with professional engineers and designers. This work’s main contributions to the field of engineering design include (1) an exploration into the concrete effects of cognitive bias in the design process and (2) a validated process for reducing the harmful effects of designers’ cognitive bias.