Laurian's Reviews > Predictably Irrational: The Hidden Forces That Shape Our Decisions

Predictably Irrational by Dan Ariely
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's review
Sep 06, 11

bookshelves: ux, psychology, non-fiction
Read in September, 2011

I feel a bit like littlefoot in the Land Before TIme. I've gone from being surrounded by academics, and UX academics to boot, to now be surrounded by mostly CS engineers who say things to me like, "Well, that is the way we originally made it" when I ask why something is placed in the interface I'm working on. While the engineers around me tend to be supportive and considerate, it is a bit disorienting in this brave new workplace. Which is why I went looking for others like myself and found the UX Book Club of DC.

Now, I have yet to go - the first meeting is next week - but, I'm pretty excited. Well, excited like you might be to go meet a set of what you hope are cool people who will understand when you say things like, "Well, I don't like shading my buttons is red because I think it is a false affordance" or "this interface needs to be more post-structuralist" or "users understand contextual elements in an interface because of the step they are in their task." Le sigh. So I'm hoping that I get to meet a great set of people, and in the process get to read a book every month.

This month the book is Predictably Irrational, but Dan Ariely. Fair warning, it is a bit of a pop psychology book. In fact, I would put it right in the bucket with Chaldini's Influence, and others of that ilk - books about why people behave the way they do, and how to understand those behavior. These kinds of books are incredibly useful when your explain things to developers for why interfaces are designed the way they are. Because, believe me, if it were just as easy as saying, "Design an intuitive, simple, and clean interface" I wouldn't have a job. There is a lot more that goes into an interface, and part of that is understanding the user. Books like Predictably Irrational help people understand why users sometimes behave in unusual ways, but how to predict those actions.

The book is very well written. But, that is what you'd expect from a book that has sold a couple million copies. The science behind the experiments presented in the book are well couched with a conversational tone that helps explain the madness in a meaningful way to the reader. The chapters are also well broken down, with some chapters having a follow-up section of related materials in the revised edition.

However, the book is a bit predictable and just a tad preachy. By the middle of the book I had got the gist of the book - people do crazy thing. Some of those include blue collar stealing, why we value our own possessions more than others, why we have problems making choices, and the placebo effect. I mean, I get it. I get that we, as humans, do crazy things. And by about the middle of the book I had lost interest. I wanted something a lot more zany, I guess.

I recommend this book for one and all - I think it has great mass appeal. I look forward to talking to the UX Book Club about it!

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