I suspected on several occasions that we could have an entire discussion in response to the question "What is psychology?". Surprising, considering that many of the people present work in media that effects user reactions, points of view, and perspectives. Perhaps not surprising. The audience contained a wealth of perspectives including graphic artists, developers, interaction designers, researchers, and human factors engineers.
Nonetheless, if I hadn't been standing up I might have fallen off my chair when that question was asked. As it was, you could have seen my eyes pop so wide open they shoved my eyebrows well up under the hairline. Google Search is ubiquitous - do people think there is no ulterior motive behind how Google designs its search engine display and the results? Or that the effectiveness of Google Search happens purely through algorithmic means? Heck no. The people at Google are out to make money as well as provide a service. That doesn't happen by accident. It happens when you understand your user and interact with them in such a manner that they engage with you and ... eventually do what you want.
Phil Ohme, Principle Interaction Designer from Intuit and one of our panel speakers, made that point when he discussed the need to get in users' shoes and sometimes use that understanding to lead them down a path they might not initially want to go. As he put it, "if you lead them down the path everyone wins in the end". This of course, was in reference to working on accounting services and software. As he said, it is Good to Ask the Users, Better to Watch the Users, but Best to Become the Users. How does Phil become a tax accountant? By volunteering as a tax return preparer in a program sponsored by the IRS for low income populations. Ok, that isn't all he does to understand the experience of an accountant, but I was impressed by this level of dedication.
In the next post I have many more interesting (and occasionally outrageous) things to share from this panel meeting. I'm also going to come back to this question of what psychology is in the minds of a commercially oriented audience. It was at the same time mind blowing, fascinating and exciting to listen to what people thought or implied they thought about the role of psychology in UX. (Yes, some thought it played no role at all. Or that it should not play any role at all).
Hop on over to Google's Search Engine and type in something. You choose. What do you get back? What do you think? What is the next thing you do? Ask your pal in the next chair to do the same thing on their computer. What do they get back? What does she or he think? What is the next thing she or he does?
Before I write anything else I MUST mention that this meeting was also a celebration of the one year anniversary of the San Diego User Experience "Speakeasy" group. It has been a great year. I had no idea what to expect when I joined but every time I go I learn something, meet great people and have a good time.