Yesterday a few graduate student led by the Dr. Mihaela Vorvoreanu met Mr. John Yuda at the nice restaurant in the indianapolis. Mr. Yuda has been doing interaction design for for the government agency which helps normal people makes an informed decision for the important financial matters like college education or housing mortgage. Mr. Yuda kindly explained his experience and answered questions.
His project was making a website where people can learn more about mortgage product and make wise decision. I was fascinated by the difficulty of the problem. There is two reason why it was difficult. First it try to change the thinking of grownups. You know that adult people is really hard change. For example, smoker will continue smoking no matter what gross image of their lungs is shown. Or how about obesity? Healing obesity is difficult because it requires life style change. Surgery or drug can heal the obesity even though they can help temporarily. Using emotional devices like curiosity and attachment seems relatively effective than the intellectual approach. There is a discipline called persuasive technology, which deals with the issues mainly about this. Games, humor and aesthetics are frequently used device to make change.
However the second reason it was difficult was that they try to teach them very dry subject like financial education. It makes the use of the emotional approach very hard, because it is usually hard for normal people to feel the economics sexy. And it is hard because the end goal is not a pleasant experience but a meaningful experience. This website is not for the entertainment but education. There is a very nice book I am reading recently called “Seductive Interaction Design”. I will blog more about it later. But there is a nice chart showing the hierarchy of the design. It is similar to the paradigms of the design we learned in the class, but has more detail. It shows that achieving meaningfulness is harder than achieving pleasant experience.
So if we suppose this website is human, the tone of the interaction is tricky and important. Also what kind of emotional state we are designing for the readers? I asked Mr. Yuda about it. And he answered even though the team is considering game mechanism also, it should not focus on the fun. It should not be also too erudite. So he proposed a voice of spiritual leader. That seems great.
I always love the interesting problem. So I happen to spend sometime thinking myself, how I would do if I was given the task. I am thinking a metaphor of “economist at the cocktail party”. It’s first time you met him. He seems a plausible guy and try to use the plain language. So you tell him that you are looking for a house to buy. Or considering refinancing the existing contract with excitement which is typical if you buy house. He congratulates and says like this.
“Congratulation! I have been conducting the case study of housing mortgage for years. There is some interesting story I would like to share, if you don’t mind.
There was a myfriend named Jim. He is a good guy and family man. After he got a baby, he bought a house. He earns about $2000 weekly. But he has to pay $1200 for the mortgage. Even though it was manageable, he couldn’t save any money for later after paying his bill and mortgage. However one day Jim’s car is broken and it costed $800 to fix it.
……… (Here goes all the sad story of Jim)
So it would be wise for the Jim, if he bought a cheaper house with smaller montly payment and save a little for the emergency. It could save him a lot of trouble”
How I translate this experience? Well, I prepared a very simple mockup of website. For I am not a visual designer, and has bad aesthetics, it is ugly. But the thing I would like to express is a “friendly economist at the party” who tells you “story that is interesting and meaningful” with “lots of graphics and fewer text”. I considered using cartoons also, but the government has some style of its own. So a realistic picture seems better.
So that’s the end of the today’s story. I would like to thank Mr. Yuda and Dr. Mihaela Vorvoreanu for their kind effort for poor graduate student. Mr. Yuda’s remark about paying forward is venerable. And I would like to thank CGT also. If somebody from the department read this, I would like to remark that after this meeting I began to consider Ph.D in CGT department. And I would like to mention also that Dr.V was educational all the way and responsible driver also. I was happy that we had insurance anyway.