Taming our animal spirits: what interaction design can learn from behavioral economics

Session Title

Taming our animal spirits: what interaction design can learn from behavioral economics


James Box, Clearleft

Session Type: Presentation

Taming our animal spirits: what interaction design can learn from behavioral economics

In the land of standard economics lives Homo Economicus — the perfectly rational human whose sole purpose is to maximise his own utility. First proposed in the late nineteenth century by John Stuart Mill, economists readily turned to ‘Economic Man’ when testing new theories or financial models.

Until now. All of a sudden the world economy is broken and as we search for the reasons why, the collective voice of cognitive science is coming up with its own answers.

And so we see the rise of Behavioral Economics — the fastest growing field in the area — and the first to acknowledge that, given limited time and capacity, we may not be the rational decision makers old economics would have us believe.

As architects of choice, we as interaction designers now face similar questions. Do we design for the predictable, rational user or accept that, in an increasingly complex world, interaction design could be approached differently?

In this talk, James will examine parallels between the two seemingly distinct disciplines of Interaction Design and Behavioral Economics. Along the way, we will discover why smart people make the same mistakes everyday and how expectations have a profound effect on our decisions. And most importantly, what this kind of behavior means for the the way we design.


A self-confessed ‘user experience professional’, James plies his trade in the jolly seaside town of Brighton, England. Part information architect and part interaction designer, when he’s not crafting sandcastles on the beach, James crafts engaging experiences that are both fun and easy to use.

Working at Clearleft [] also means James helps organise the UK’s leading user-experience conference UXLondon [] as well as the grassroots event dConstruct []. Never ones to be idle, Clearleft are also creators of the usability testing software Silverback [] and the soon-to-be-released web-font service Fontdeck []. In between that, and the office hula-hooping tournament, they do quite a bit of client work [] as well.

Thinking about who he’s worked with makes him feel old and grumpy. But give him a few drinks and he’ll prattle on about his work as a Government agent (Directgov, HMRC), his telly-box contacts (BBC, Channel 4) or how he remembers when all these social networks were just fields.

One Comment

  1. Paul Annett
    Posted September 18, 2009 at 8:39 am

    Sounds like a great talk. I’ve seen James present before, and his delivery style is very clear and knowledgeable whilst also bringing humor to a session. If I make it to Interaction 10, I really hope this talk is on the bill!