Design for Irrationality?

We humans are very irrational creatures – even this far down the evolutionary path.

I recently finished a course on irrationality that was led by Dan Ariely from Duke University (which already inspired posts on the power of default and the IKEA effect). The course covers other fascinating topics like the pain of paying, the strong attachment to both “free” and things we already posses, relativity and choice sets, how we almost all cheat (but only a little), self-control, and much more.

Why did I take the course? Well, I take a lot of personal pride in being self-aware. It takes a lot of work and it isn’t always fun. I knew I was often acting irrationally and I took the course with the goal of learning the skills I needed to wrestle my emotional responses to the ground and pull out the cognitive side of my brain on demand. I never dreamed that I would instead come to embrace my irrationality. Ariely clearly made his point strongly!

Without having to take the course or read any of Ariely’s books on the topic of irrationality, you can get his perspective very well summarized in this Ted talk. He closes the talk with … “When it comes to building the physical world, we kind of understand our limitations. We understand our limitations and we build around it. But for some reason, when it comes to the mental world and we design things like healthcare and retirement and stock markets, we sometimes forget we are limited. And I think if we understood our cognitive limitations in the same way that we understood our physical limitations, we could design a better world.”

Think about that. Design for a world where we assume people will be (predictably) irrational? Feels counter-intuitive, but he makes a really good case for this approach. As he alludes to in that closing statement, and he is an economist after all, I believe he is mostly thinking about financial and social systems. But why not design for irrationality in everything?

Let’s look at travelabulous. When it comes to design from the product perspective, we are in good hands with Masha. I have never met anyone who comes close in knowing what it takes to draw out the nuances of how people want to interact with software. We want to go beyond software design though. When it comes to designing a company, there are so many more factors than product.

Let’s start with the one of the ways we can design irrationality into travel planning by looking at the emotional state you are in (or more importantly hope to be in) when you are on a trip for leisure purposes. Clearly, people are different in this regard, but I think many of us would say that we want to be some combination of happy, relaxed, inspired, in a state of wanting to explore, and so forth. With this in mind, Ariely is a proponent of planning (or buying) in an emotional state that you will be in when you consume the product, service or experience. Do you feel any of these things when using travel planning sites today? I know I rarely do – certainly not on the sites that actually let me book the travel.

Designing for this is going to be hard – sitting in front of a device and feeling that sense of wonder of you get when being on a trip. But … getting it right will be worth it.

We will be going out with a call for invitation to our closed alpha within the next week and hope to follow up with the working product before we get into the summer months. We really hope you can join us on this journey. We want your detailed feedback. You can even tell your friends that you helped design for irrationality!

’til next time … Kirk, out.

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