Interliminal Design: Mitigating Cognitive Bias-Induced Design Distortion

Format: Papers, RSD2, Topic: Cases & Practice

Author: Deaunne Denmark, Donald Harker, and Andrew McCollough

The presence of cognitive biases and heuristics induces design distortions, unintended mismatches between desired and actual design outcomes. Interliminal Design is an intentional, adaptive and imaginative design process that mitigates design distortions. The process involves intentional and agile maneuvering between various personal cognitive and structural systems, thereby overcoming negative impacts of cognitive biases and heuristics.Cognitive heuristics are mental shortcuts adapted to enable rapid interpretation of the complex environment in which we evolved and live. These heuristics are inherent in human cognition and resist modification. When applied outside the appropriate context, these heuristics often give rise to systematic errors in human reasoning. Cognitive biases are the result of the context-inappropriate application of cognitive heuristics. Unfortunately, cognitive bias in design thinking often goes unnoticed and unaddressed, resulting in all degrees of design distortion that often affect multiple dimensions of an issue.Design distortions induced by cognitive biases are most apparent in failures to address complex, wicked and super wicked problems. These problems are characterized by incomplete, changing, intricately interdependent, yet contradictory, requirements. They frequently have short timelines, no central authority, and are caused by the same entities charged with solving them using existing irrational policies. We propose a design methodology, emerging at the Collaborative Design program at Pacific Northwest College of Art, to specifically mitigate the contributing factor of irrationality to design. The authors developed and taught an MFA course called Design Thinking and Cognitive Biases to explore the influence of cognitive biases on design and formulate techniques to raise awareness and reduce design distortion induced by cognitive biases.
Interliminal Design recognizes design thinking as an ecosystem comprised of evolving individuals in conscious and subconscious relationships with each other where learning, emergence and adaptation are frequent and nonlinear. Individuals in collaborative design groups working on various dimensions of the design process must effortfully mitigate biases on a personal level. In addition, group-level biases must also be addressed. Counter-intuitively, individuals in groups do not “average out” their biases; instead, biases common across individuals, as well as group dynamics, can result in the strengthening of design biases that further distort the design process and outcomes. Thus, the collaborative group as a whole must also work to mitigate bias.

Presentation & paper

Citation Data

Author(s): OCTOBER 2013
Title: Interliminal Design: Mitigating Cognitive Bias-Induced Design Distortion
Published in: Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design
Article No.:
Symposium Dates:
First published: 15 September 2013
Last update:
Publisher Identification:

Copyright Information

Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design (ISSN 2371-8404) are published annually by the Systemic Design Association, a non-profit scholarly association leading the research and practice of design for complex systems: 3803 Tønsberg, Norway (922 275 696).


Open Access article published under the CC-BY-NC-ND 4.0 International License. This permits anyone to copy and redistribute the material in any medium or form according to the licence terms.

Suggested citation format (APA)

Author(s). (20##). Article title. Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design, RSD##. Article ##.

Publishing with RSD

Proceedings of Relating Systems Thinking and Design are published online and include the contributions for each format.

Papers and presentations are entered into a single-blind peer-review process, meaning reviewers see the authors’ names but not vice versa. Reviewers consider the quality of the proposed contribution and whether it addresses topics of interest or raises relevant issues in systemic design. The review process provides feedback and possible suggestions for modifications.

The Organising Committee reviews and assesses workshops and systems maps & exhibits with input from reviewers and the Programme Committee.

Editor: Cheryl May
Peter Jones
Ben Sweeting

The Scholars Spiral

In 2022, the Systemic Design Association adopted the scholars spiral—a cyclic non-hierarchical approach to advance scholarship—and in 2023, launched Contexts—The Systemic Design Journal. Together, the RSD symposia and Contexts support the vital emergence of supportive opportunities for scholars and practitioners to publish work in the interdisciplinary field of systemic design.

The Systemic Design Association's membership ethos is to co-create the socialization and support for all members to contribute their work, find feedback and collaboration where needed, and pursue their pathways toward research and practice outcomes that naturally build a vital design field for the future.


Verified by MonsterInsights