Context: Fintech and UX
Asking for a designer’s input on how to clean up any interface involving financial data feels like a throwback to the early days of an airplane cockpit design. You have an interface that is almost filled entirely with indicators, levers and gauges, with identical switches and knobs smashed in between them. Oh, and by the way, flipping the wrong switch could potentially mean your demise. In professions that demand incredible amounts of real-time information, how does one allow for the reduction of visual noise so that the crucial information can shine through? What happens if something that was previously considered noise is now the signal? Is there room for clarity of information?
Enter the world of Fintech and stock charting. Due to the nature of the industry, the availability of financial information allows for nearly limitless possibilities on building out functionality. Looking for a stock on the NYSE between 3M and 130M in market cap, holds a P/E ratio between 7.2 and 54.4, and has experienced a 52w price change between 1% and 3%? Want to display it on a chart that adjusts for splits but NOT dividends or bonuses? Do you want another chart adjacent to it that displays a different interval? How about an eight-pronged Fibonacci pitchfork and a VWAP indicator? This can all be done with the availability of financial data and analysis tools, and it’s a lot for any single company to handle.
Figure 1: Don’t press the wrong button!
Now enter the role of the designer in the post-2010 world. Smartphones are taking up residence in our pockets and user experience (UX) is adopted as an absolutely necessary role in software development. The trends in mobile development dictate that information will be more compartmentalized going forward, in hopes that more mobile-friendly responsive solutions will be implemented. User research is key and feedback is more critically assessed. The users can now be advocated for and their best interests are reflected in the interfaces that UXers help design. Whatever the user wants, they get…right? Not quite.
Figure 2: There are so many different ways to filter stocks that building a competent one within a charting interface is an incredibly complicated design task.
The Tragedy of the (UX) Commons
The ugliest truth of UX is that if users could have everything they want, applications would appear overly complex and difficult to use. This presents a particularly cumbersome problem in fintech, a field which lends itself to very nuanced levels of fine-tuning. It’s the interface equivalent of the Tragedy of the Commons: when every individuals’ needs are met, the population inevitably suffers. For example, the above scenario involves a small subset of interface solutions that involve so many sliders, switches, and UI elements that it can lead to clutter and confusion. Even when placing a single new piece into the interface puzzle, all other pieces must be shifted. Before you know it, you have a thousand-piece puzzle with limited table space. This is not to suggest that feature requests are ludicrous to take on, but each individual request must be taken through a design process to avoid the interface mistakes that plagued the past.
Figure 3: Example interface for a Volume Profile indicator.
Clutter was the way of the past and, unfortunately, it’s bleeding into the future. If you look at the popular trading terminals that hold their roots in the ‘90s and early ‘00s, it’s not hard to see that many old-school UI conventions have been grandfathered in by the old guard. This is understandable, given that anyone who was trading in the ‘90s is very unlikely to switch to a more stripped-down and attractive alternative years down the line. Some companies attempt to condense the functional complexity as best they can into toolbars and drawers. However, without limiting the scope of that functionality, users will find themselves bounded on all sides by toolbars packed with ambiguous icons. Watermarks, pop-ups, advertisements, and un-asked-for additions to the chart provide another layer of noise for users to parse and clear away. It’s not enough that the chart is already busy with flashing red and green numbers, a continuously populating graph and trend lines, but now the user has to clean up a mess that the application gave them out of the box.
The goal of financial charting UX design is to allow users to focus on the task at hand and to avoid any distractions. If a trader or investor loses money because of poor interface design, the chances of him or her scrapping the tool for a new one is high. UX designers need to pave the simplest road toward buying and selling, and not distract users with bells and whistles.
Stay tuned, UX Part Two: Enhancing Clarity through Design will dive into examples of great user experience in which options and features are limited without sacrificing the power of the software. We will discuss the mechanisms of intelligent interface design, clarity, and applications of these concepts within fintech.
See how Edgar Online, leader in financial data, met the needs of their customers through UX improvements. Download case study.