Friday, December 09, 2005

A $3 billion user interface error

Slashdot reports on $3 billion trading error made by the Japanese financial services firm, Mizuho. It appears that someone at the bank accidentally sold 610,000 shares, valued at $3.1 billion for 1 yen each. Ouch! The good news is that market rules built into the trading system that limit price fluctuations ensured that nobody was able to actually take delivery of the shares yet; so the actual loss so far has been "only" $224 million. Hey, I'll settle for $1 million.

Following Japanese tradition, Mitzuho president Makoto Fukuda committed ritual hara-kiri before the Economics and Financial Services minister Kaoru Yosana. His entrails were then served for lunch in the company's swank basement cafeteria where employees spend their lunch hour playing Su-Do-Ku. Not really, but that could have happened if Japan were running the world.

Only two posters on Slashdot so far have brought up the issue of a user interface error - although nobody has mentioned any of the words "user", "interface", "design", "usability", "interaction", or "engineering". Don Norman has always made a strong point about designing for error. Errors will happen. That's for sure. The thing is to prevent the occurrence of catastrophic errors, as in Three Mile Island. This particular belonged to the genre erratum catastrophus. How the heck did the designers not anticipate this? This is a nice example to use when arguing in favor of not leaving software development entirely to alpha geeks but to focus quite heavily on interaction design.

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