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The Dunning-Kruger Effect

The Dunning-Kruger Effect

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Risks of the Dunning-Kruger Effect 

UX designers face several risks when it comes to the Dunning-Kruger effect. Here are significant ones: 

  1. The danger of a client or powerful stakeholder overruling valid design decisions: Power and wisdom may sometimes not be in sync. For example, a client may base decisions on personal preferences rather than the necessary user experience design foundations (namely, design principles and user research). Consequently, they might go against the sound advice of the design team and ignore the best guidance from designers, UX researchers and product managers.
  2. The potential for designers to become overconfident in their abilities and overlook important aspects of the user experience: This can lead to designs that are not intuitive, difficult to use or fail to meet user needs.  
  3. Impaired decision-making: When designers are overly confident in their own expertise, they may dismiss valuable feedback or fail to consider alternative perspectives. This can result in missed opportunities for improvement and a lack of innovation in the design process.  
  4. Hindrance of professional growth and development: If designers are unaware of their own limitations, they may be less motivated to seek further education or skill development. This can limit their ability to adapt to new technologies and design trends. Ultimately, this can hinder their career progression. 

Morgane Peng, Design Director at Societe Generale, explains common issues when designers deal with individuals who do not understand design: 


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Users can also fall victim to the Dunning-Kruger effect. Here are some examples that designers should consider for the overall user experience in a website or app or service: 

  1. Inadequate user onboarding: Users who overestimate their understanding of a product may struggle with the onboarding process. This can lead to frustration and a higher likelihood of abandonment. To address the Dunning-Kruger effect, designers should create intuitive onboarding processes that cater to users with varying levels of expertise.  
  2. Reduced user engagement: Overconfident users may overlook important features or fail to engage with the product in meaningful ways. This can result in a diminished user experience. If they acknowledge the Dunning-Kruger effect, UX designers can implement strategies to guide users to discover and utilize all relevant features.  
  3. Misinterpretation of feedback: Users with limited expertise may provide feedback that stems from misconceptions. This can potentially lead to misguided design decisions if designers do not properly contextualize their input. If UX designers recognize the Dunning-Kruger effect, they can carefully evaluate user feedback and distinguish between valid insights and misunderstandings.  
  4. Decreased product adoption: If novice users encounter difficulties because they have overestimated their proficiency, they may be less likely to adopt the product or recommend it to others. For designers to address the Dunning-Kruger effect, they should create an environment that accommodates users across the expertise spectrum, and foster a positive first impression and encourage continued usage for a wide range of target users.   
  5. Impaired brand perception: A user's experience with a product can significantly influence their perception of the brand as a whole. Frustrations that come from the Dunning-Kruger effect can lead to negative associations and impact brand loyalty. If designers understand and mitigate the effect, they can help cultivate positive brand experiences for users of all skill levels.   

Above all, designers need to keep users on board via empathy with them, as this video explains: 


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Best Practices To Minimize The Dunning-Kruger Effect  

To prevent or minimize the impact of the Dunning-Kruger effect in UX design, designers can implement several strategies:  

  1. Practice self-awareness and reflection: Designers should cultivate self-awareness and regularly reflect on their own knowledge and limitations. This requires them to acknowledge areas where they may lack expertise and be open to learning from others.   
  2. Demonstrate expertise and value​​​: Designers should strive to demonstrate their expertise and the value they bring to the design process. They can achieve this through effective communication and showcasing past successful projects. Plus, they can provide case studies that highlight the positive impact of user-centered design.​  
  3. Seek diverse perspectives: Designers should actively seek feedback from users, stakeholders and other professionals. If they embrace diverse perspectives, they can help uncover blind spots. This can lead to more inclusive and user-centered design solutions.  
  4. Engage in continuous learning: Designers should prioritize continuous learning and professional development. They should stay up-to-date with industry trends, attend conferences and workshops, and seek out new knowledge. That way, they can help combat the Dunning-Kruger effect and ensure they possess the latest tools and techniques.  
  5. Value collaboration and teamwork: It’s essential to create a collaborative environment where designers can openly share ideas, seek input and challenge each other's assumptions. A culture of collaboration and embracing diverse perspectives can foster more innovative and user-centric designs.   
  6. Conduct proper user research and testing: This is essential to validate design decisions and ensure they align with user needs and preferences. If designers involve users throughout the design process, they can mitigate the risk of the Dunning-Kruger effect and create designs that truly meet user expectations. 

 UX Strategist and Consultant William Hudson explains the need for proper user research: 


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  1. Educate clients and stakeholders: It’s vital to teach clients and stakeholders about the principles and best practices of UX design. Designers should provide these individuals with a deeper understanding of the complexities involved. From there, clients and non-design-oriented stakeholders may become more receptive to the expertise and recommendations of UX designers. When these channels of communication are open, valid input and evidence-based insights and rationale for design decisions will be more likely.​ 
  2. Provide user insights and data:​​​ The use of user insights and data can help counteract the Dunning-Kruger effect as they will ground design decisions in empirical evidence. When designers incorporate user research, usability testing and analytics, they can provide objective data to support recommendations. Also, they can illustrate the impact of different design choices on the user experience.​ 

Overall, it’s crucial for designers to continually challenge their own assumptions, seek feedback and remain open to learning and growth. When they understand and navigate the complexities of the Dunning-Kruger effect, they can help create exceptional user experiences that meet the needs and expectations of all users.  

Learn More about the Dunning-Kruger Effect  

Take our course User Experience: The Beginner’s Guide

Read our insightful piece Deformation Professionnelle and the Dunning-Kruger Effect – When Expertise Isn’t So Great

Find further fascinating insights in How to improve Experience Design by managing cognitive biases by Marina Shapria, Ph.D.

Read The Beauty of the Dunning-Kruger Effect in the UX by Pavel Nekoranec for additional information. 

Questions related to Dunning-Kruger Effect

Who discovered the Dunning-Kruger effect?

David Dunning and Justin Kruger, two social psychologists, discovered the Dunning-Kruger effect. In 1999, they published a study showing that people with little knowledge or skill in a particular area often overestimate their abilities. At the same time, those with more knowledge or skill tend to underestimate their capabilities. This discovery highlights a key psychological bias where one's lack of knowledge leads to a false sense of confidence, whereas true expertise may bring about a more humble self-assessment. 

Take our Master Class How To Remove Bias From Your Products with Indi Young, Researcher, Author, Speaker and Coach, to understand more about bias and design.

How does the Dunning-Kruger effect differ from impostor syndrome?

The Dunning-Kruger effect and impostor syndrome contrast sharply in how individuals assess their abilities. David Dunning and Justin Kruger discovered the Dunning-Kruger effect, showing that people with limited knowledge or skill in a particular area often overestimate their abilities. In contrast, those with significant knowledge or skill might underestimate their capabilities. This phenomenon leads less experienced individuals to possess a false sense of confidence, while the more knowledgeable doubt their competencies. 

Impostor syndrome, on the other hand, involves individuals feeling like they do not deserve their success or positions, fearing they might be exposed as a "fraud." This syndrome often affects highly skilled or successful people who, despite external evidence of their competence, cannot internalize their accomplishments. They believe they have fooled everyone into thinking they are more competent than they actually are. 

While the Dunning-Kruger effect reflects overconfidence in one's abilities due to a lack of knowledge, impostor syndrome describes a lack of confidence despite evidence of high competence. Both phenomena underscore the complex nature of self-assessment and the psychological challenges individuals face in recognizing and valuing their own skills and knowledge accurately. 

Get a sharp and clear view of what good design calls for when a designer has the confidence to pursue empathy with the users: 


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What is the difference between the Dunning-Kruger effect and Deformation Professionnelle?

The Dunning-Kruger effect and "deformation professionnelle" are both psychological concepts, but they differ in their focus and application.  

The Dunning-Kruger effect refers to a cognitive bias in which people with low ability at a task overestimate their ability. In contrast, those with high ability may underestimate their competence. This effect is particularly evident in situations where individuals lack the expertise to recognize their own incompetence. "Deformation professionnelle" is a French term that translates to "professional deformation" and refers to the tendency of professionals to perceive the world through the narrow lens of their own profession. It can lead to a limited perspective on issues and an inability to consider alternative viewpoints outside of one's professional expertise.  

The Dunning-Kruger effect primarily focuses on individuals' self-assessment of their own competence, often in comparison to others. On the other hand, "deformation professionnelle" centers on the impact of professional training and experience on an individual's worldview and decision-making processes.  

Take our Master Class How To Remove Bias From Your Products with Indi Young, Researcher, Author, Speaker and Coach, to understand more about bias and design. 

What are the ethical considerations for designers to address the Dunning-Kruger effect in design work?

When designers address the Dunning-Kruger effect, they must consider several ethical points. First, it’s crucial to respect all team members' perspectives. Designers should acknowledge that individuals may overestimate their abilities due to a lack of knowledge. However, they should approach this situation with empathy and support, not judgment. 

Second, it’s vital to promote continuous learning and feedback. Designers should create an environment where everyone feels comfortable seeking and giving constructive feedback. This practice helps individuals recognize their skill levels more accurately and fosters an atmosphere of growth and development. 

Third, honesty and transparency about one's abilities are essential. Designers should encourage honesty in self-assessment and openness about areas for improvement. This honesty leads to more effective team collaboration and better project outcomes. 

Finally, inclusivity and diversity in design teams can mitigate the Dunning-Kruger effect. When designers value diverse perspectives and skills, they can create a more balanced understanding of competencies within the team. This diversity helps to check overconfidence and promotes a more accurate self-assessment among team members. 

These ethical considerations ensure that designers navigate the Dunning-Kruger effect respectfully and constructively, leading to a more inclusive, empathetic and effective design practice. 

UX Designer and Author of Build Better Products and UX for Lean Startups, Laura Klein explains the value of cross-functional teams, given that communication between teams is important to identify abilities clearly.  


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In what ways might addressing the Dunning-Kruger effect improve inclusivity and accessibility in design?

Designers can work to address the Dunning-Kruger effect to significantly enhance inclusivity and accessibility in design when they foster a culture of humility and openness. First, when designers recognize their own limits in understanding diverse user needs, they become more inclined to involve users from varied backgrounds in the design process. This involvement ensures that products cater to a wider range of abilities and perspectives, making them more accessible and user-friendly. 

Second, when designers acknowledge the Dunning-Kruger effect, they encourage themselves to seek out and value expertise beyond their own, especially from individuals with direct experience of accessibility challenges. This can lead to more innovative and effective design solutions that better meet the needs of all users. 

Third, when design teams understand this cognitive bias, they can create more inclusive work environments. They become more receptive to learning from each other, and recognize that everyone has unique strengths and areas for growth. This mutual respect and learning can lead to more collaborative and effective design outcomes. 

In summary, when designers address the Dunning-Kruger effect, it can help break down barriers to inclusivity and accessibility in design. It promotes a more empathetic approach to design, where design teams can not just consider diverse user needs but also actively seek them out and integrate them into the design process. 

See why accessibility is such a vital issue in this video: 


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How does the Dunning-Kruger effect influence client-designer relationships?

The Dunning-Kruger effect influences client-designer relationships in terms of communication and expectations. When designers overestimate their abilities due to the Dunning-Kruger effect, they may promise more than they can deliver. This overconfidence can lead to unrealistic timelines or underestimating the complexity of a project, resulting in missed deadlines or subpar work. 

On the other side, clients with limited knowledge in design might also fall prey to the Dunning-Kruger effect, and overestimate their understanding of the design process. Such clients may challenge professional recommendations, request unfeasible changes, or have unrealistic expectations, complicating the design process. 

To mitigate these issues, designers need to place a key emphasis on effective communication. Designers should clearly explain their design choices, project timelines and the complexity involved. If they educate clients about the design process, they can help set realistic expectations and build trust. 

Similarly, designers should practice humility, recognize their limitations, and be open to feedback. If designers acknowledge that there is always room for improvement, they can foster a collaborative relationship with clients, leading to more successful outcomes. 

An understanding and addressing of the Dunning-Kruger effect in these relationships can lead to better communication, more realistic expectations, and ultimately, higher satisfaction for both clients and designers. 

Take our Master Class How To Remove Bias From Your Products with Indi Young, Researcher, Author, Speaker and Coach, to understand more about bias and design.

Is the Dunning-Kruger effect culturally specific, or is it universal?

The Dunning-Kruger effect is not culturally specific; researchers have observed it universally across various cultures. This phenomenon, where people with limited knowledge or skills overestimate their abilities, and those with more knowledge or skills underestimate theirs, reflects a basic human cognitive bias. It stems from the difficulty individuals have in accurately assessing their own skills and knowledge, regardless of cultural background. 

Studies have shown that while the magnitude and manifestations of the Dunning-Kruger effect can vary among different cultures due to factors like societal values and education systems, the underlying principle remains consistent. For example, cultures that highly value modesty and self-effacement may see a less pronounced overestimation among the less competent. Conversely, in cultures that emphasize self-confidence and individual achievement, the effect might be more evident. 

This universality suggests that the Dunning-Kruger effect is rooted in fundamental aspects of human psychology, such as the way people process information and evaluate themselves. It’s crucial to recognize this bias for personal development and improving skills accurately, regardless of cultural context. 

Get a sharp view of what’s really going on in modern design and what designers truly need to know. Don Norman, the Grandfather of UX Design, shows clear views of what designers need to consider: 


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In UX design, how does the Dunning-Kruger effect influence user research outcomes?

In UX design, the Dunning-Kruger effect can significantly influence the outcomes of user research, often in challenging ways. In user research, this effect can manifest in several ways: 

Participants overestimating their tech savviness: Users with limited technical expertise might overestimate their ability to navigate complex interfaces. This can lead them to provide overly positive feedback on a product that might actually be confusing for the broader user base. 

Researchers' bias: UX researchers, especially those new to the field, might overestimate their ability to interpret user behavior accurately. They might potentially overlook critical insights or misinterpret user feedback due to a lack of experience. 

Design decisions that come from flawed insights: When either users or researchers overestimate their understanding, the insights they gather can lead to design decisions that do not accurately address user needs or solve the right problems. This can impact the product's overall usability and effectiveness. 

To mitigate these effects, it's crucial for UX teams to foster a culture of continuous learning, encourage humility and ensure the team and stakeholders consider diverse perspectives. When teams employ mixed-method research approaches and validate findings through multiple rounds of testing, it can also help counteract the biases that the Dunning-Kruger effect introduces. This can lead to more accurate and user-centered design outcomes. 

Take our Master Class How to Conduct Effective User Interviews with Joshua Seiden, Co-Author of Lean UX and Founder of Seiden Consulting.

What are highly cited scientific articles about the subject of the Dunning-Kruger effect?

  1. Gibbs, S. (2016). The above average effect in an end-user computing context (Doctoral dissertation, Department of Tourism, Sport and Society).   

This doctoral thesis by Gibbs (2016) explores the above-average effect within the realm of end-user computing (EUC), shedding light on how this social bias manifests in a rapidly evolving domain crucial for many workplaces. By merging the concepts of the above-average effect and EUC, the study offers a unique perspective on how personal factors interact with cognitive biases to shape perceptions of skill levels in oneself and others. The research not only confirms the presence of the above-average effect in EUC but also uncovers unexpected interactions between variables that moderate its impact, challenging previous assumptions. Additionally, while mixed evidence regarding the Dunning-Kruger Effect's role presents, the study highlights the complexities of cognitive biases in dynamic environments like EUC. Overall, this work contributes significantly to understanding biases in skill assessment and has implications for training and skill development in modern workplaces. 

 2. Zhou, Q. (2020). Cognitive Biases in Technical Communication. In 2020 IEEE International Professional Communication Conference (ProComm). DOI: 10.1109/ProComm48883.2020.00012.   

Zhou's (2020) paper on Cognitive Biases in Technical Communication, presented at the 2020 IEEE International Professional Communication Conference, delves into the crucial role cognitive biases play in shaping communication within technical contexts. By categorizing biases related to past experiences, stimuli response, decision-making, and social contexts, the paper offers insights tailored for technical communicators and users in engineering fields. This work stands out for its practical approach, providing examples and strategies for addressing and leveraging cognitive biases to enhance communication effectiveness. By highlighting the significance of understanding these biases, the paper contributes to improving engineering communication practices and user experiences, making it influential in the field of technical communication. 

What are highly regarded books on the Dunning-Kruger effect?

  1. Lidwell, W., Holden, K., & Butler, J. (2023). Universal Principles of Design, Updated and Expanded Third Edition: 200 Ways to Increase Appeal, Enhance Usability, Influence Perception, and Make Decisions (Volume 1). Rockport Universal.  

Universal Principles of Design by Lidwell, Holden, and Butler has been influential for its comprehensive coverage of essential design principles across various disciplines. The book's format makes it accessible and practical for designers of all levels. By encompassing concepts from marketing campaigns to complex control systems, this encyclopedia serves as a valuable resource for designers, engineers, architects, students, and anyone looking to enhance their design expertise and creativity. 

  1. Moore, K. (2024). The Dunning-Kruger Conundrum: Decoding Human Overconfidence, Expertise Deception, and the Lemon Juice Heist That Inspired a Psychological Revolution (Cognition Insights Series Book 3) [Kindle Edition].  

The Dunning-Kruger Conundrum by Kurt Moore delves into the intriguing story of the Lemon Juice Heist involving McArthur Wheeler, which led to the discovery of the Dunning-Kruger Effect. Through this captivating narrative, Moore explores the complexities of human overconfidence and the deception of expertise. By unraveling cognitive biases that fuel unwarranted confidence, the book sheds light on the delicate balance between actual knowledge and perceived knowledge. With relatable anecdotes and real-life examples, Moore navigates readers through the nuances of cognitive illusions, offering insights that resonate with personal experiences. This book serves as a mirror reflecting the intricacies of human thought processes, providing a fresh perspective on self-awareness and decision-making in a world filled with illusions. 

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Literature on the Dunning-Kruger Effect

Here’s the entire UX literature on the Dunning-Kruger Effect by the Interaction Design Foundation, collated in one place:

Featured article

Deformation Professionnelle and the Dunning-Kruger Effect – When Expertise Isn’t So Great

There can be quite a bit of confusion when you think about what the word “expertise” means. We all like to believe we have areas of expertise. However, sometimes, this leads to an over-estimation of our capacities. We fail to see our limits and how they might affect our results. A similar fairly painful outcome might happen when we only see the world from our professional lenses. Deformation Professionelle and the Dunning-Kruger Effect are cognitive biases related to expertise assessment that we have to be aware of and take action to prevent them from interfering with our work.

Let’s see how to do it!

Expertise is a matter of professional and personal pride. We need to demonstrate expertise to differentiate ourselves from other people who offer similar services and work that we do. It’s expertise that brings higher salaries than those who lack such expertise.

Sadly, there are times when expertise can obfuscate the way we see the world too. When that happens we can fail to think creatively or logically and we lower our levels of performance. Worse, this can impact on the user experience, the product and our clients too.

What is Deformation Professionelle?

Deformation professionelle (other than being a French term) is a cognitive bias. It stops us from seeing the world the way that most people see it. What it is, is a tendency to view the world through the eyes of our own profession. We stop seeing things as they are and see them only as a designer would view them.

This isn’t always a bad thing but it can be very limiting too. It’s a warning sign that we’ve become over-specialized in our approach. Not everything in life needs “design theory” applying to it and in fact, there are times when “design theory” is plain wrong in light of the facts.

There are situations when it’s better to take an intuitive or common approach to an idea or a problem or to tackle that problem from the perspective of an alternative profession.

When expertise runs wild; it can severely limit the way we solve problems and handle new ideas.

Author/Copyright holder: Kevin Marks. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY 2.0

What’s the Dunning-Kruger Effect?

The Dunning-Kruger effect appears at the other end of the expertise scale. It’s when we suffer from an illusion of expertise when in reality we’re not really all that skilled at something. In its worst form, it’s a belief that we’re good at everything because we’re good at something.

When people suffer from this bias – they have a tendency to massively over-estimate what their competence is in things that they’re not very good at.

Author/Copyright holder: The YPS Group. Copyright terms and licence: All rights reserved Img source

The bias can also manifest when highly-skilled individuals (or experts as we call them) believe that because they have expertise and thus a task is easy to them; everyone has that expertise and thus the same task should be easier for others than it actually is.

How Do We Tackle These Biases?

If you find yourself prefacing your thoughts with; “Well design theory says…” or “It’s well known in design that…” you might want to take a step back and ask; “How would someone with no expertise see this?”

Author/Copyright holder: KoeppiK. Copyright terms and licence: CC BY-SA 3.0

You may then find yourself falling into the same trap as you progress through the process. Keep taking a step back and make sure you’re examining the problem through fresh eyes.

It can be harder to spot the Dunning-Kruger effect at play. You need to be able to ask yourself; “What do I really know about this situation?” and see if you’re over-estimating your ability to cope with a challenge and whether it needs a little more thought.

If you find that people around you are under-performing in your eyes; you might also want to ask “am I being fair?” Does the person actually have the expertise or should you be giving them more time to develop it?

As with all cognitive biases – tackling them by yourself can be incredibly challenging. That’s because we’re programmed (naturally) to not recognize our biases. You might want to consider enlisting the aid of a coach if you really want to rid yourself of these biases and become more effective.

The Take Away

Expertise can be extremely useful in our work; however, we shouldn’t become over-reliant on expertise – there are advantages to seeing the world with a fresh “non-design” pair of eyes at times. It can help us be more creative and get different perspectives on our work.

It’s also important not to become over-reliant on our image of ourselves as an expert. We cannot be experts at everything, and we cannot expect others always to share our expertise either. Knowing when to differentiate these circumstances can make us better at what we do and make it easier for others to work with us.

References & Where to Learn More:

A brutal but funny look at the Dunning-Kruger effect: Here’s Why Stupid People Don’t Realize They’re Stupid.

A slightly healthier perspective on the Dunning-Kruger effect: We are All Confident Idiots.

A case study in the destructiveness of Deformation Professionnelle.

Hero Image: Author/Copyright holder: Copyright terms and licence: All rights reserved. Img

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Deformation Professionnelle and the Dunning-Kruger Effect – When Expertise Isn’t So Great

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