Sunday, January 4, 2009

What User Experience Designers Can Learn From Emotion's Role in Our Economic Downturn


Whenever the stock market goes up or down sharply, you know you will be getting the usual image on all the major news websites. Either really happy trader with fist in air or pensive trader rubbing his eyes.

The reality is most exchanges today have a large, non-human component. Black box trading models aren't something you can take a picture of for a front page story. They are constructed by financial wunderkinds often referred to as quants.

One of the problems these models had over the last year was not being able to factor in emotion. Here are a few excerpts from an article in the New York Times:

Their credibility suffered for it last year. They did not see a recession until late summer. One reason they were blindsided: their computer models do not easily account for emotional factors like the shock from the credit crisis and falling housing prices that have so hindered borrowing and spending.

...

There is a psychological factor that Robert Shiller, a Yale economist, hopes will come into play. "If we have massive infrastructure spending and people feel that it is working, it could create a sense that we are O.K. and people will go back to normal," he said. "The real problem is that we are on hold. Everyone is."

This has been a long running theme in sci-fi books, movies and TV shows. From Star Trek to most recently The Sarah Connor Chronicles, getting computers to be more human has always been an interesting storyline.

When User Experience Designers approach a project, we can easily fall into the same trap of not including the emotional part of product design. This is because it's just not easy, all around. Not easy to gather or measure, hence making them hard to budget for. But the most successful products we all talk about are the ones that strike an emotional chord with us. Let's not fall into the same trap the quants did.

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